President Obama deserves credit and praise for placing professional and technical trust in his commanders’ abilities and the Intelligence Community’s findings. It is obvious that the operation in question was risky but clearly well planned and it would have been all too easy to waive off those risks in favor of asking for Pakistan’s assistance or launching a cruise missile or the like. I for one think that he made the most difficult, but ultimately correct, decision in choosing to go with direct action operators vice UAVs or other unmanned munitions/platforms or placing trust in the Pakis to assist.
Now I believe the White House must authorize the release of bin Laden’s photos. There is some concern about the graphic nature of the photos in question but we must be allowed to decide for ourselves if we are willing to view them or not – it is simply too important that his death be proven at this point. The proof will be subjective as always, but will largely serve to put to rest any developing conspiracy theories both here and abroad. This is highly important for credibility’s sake and OBLs death is simply too critical an issue – both symbolic and realistic – to accept on faith alone. I think Obama is savvy enough to understand this.
So how does the execution of Osama bin Laden relate to our current foreign policy? I have no doubt that at least portions of the Pakistani government, most likely including its intelligence service, the ISI, have known of OBL’s location for some time and have been consistently stonewalling our attempts at locating him within their border. The unfortunate reality for us is that it is not in the Pakistani government’s inherent interests to aid in the capture or elimination of a “folk hero” who has direct ties to the Taliban.
The Pakis endorsed and facilitated the formation of the Taliban in part to prevent ethnic-/nationalistic-based uprisings from spilling over from Afghanistan following the final Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The rise of Pashtun nationalist sentiment was highly prevalent during the subsequent Afghan civil war and Pakistan wanted to simultaneously introduce an alternative force to prevent this Pashtun nationalism from spreading to its own territory (home to the world’s largest concentration of Pashtuns) and to establish a stabilizing presence in its western neighbor to counterbalance the presence of a hostile India on its eastern front. The Taliban represented a more attractive overarching movement for them, an Islamism-based one that dominated and united virtually all ethnicities and tribes under one despotic regime that effectively destroyed any chance of a Pashtun nationalistic movement that could have ultimately threatened Pakistan’s military dictatorship. Ties between the Afghan Taliban and the Paki government, specifically the enabling ISI, were and, I am sure remain, warm.
So what now? It seems that the United States finds itself once again between a rock and a hard place in the region, a position that more often than not seems to characterize our foreign policy. We almost certainly must continue to back the corrupt and inefficient Pakistani government despite its double-dealings as it is the only realistic influence that represents stability there. This of course means that we must accept that at least portions of Pakistan’s government have been working against us from the beginning for its own interests or face the very real possibility of balkanization in the region. On the other hand, we could sever ties with them altogether and/or endorse an internal revolution (or turn a blind eye to it if it occurs naturally), but that would potentially create another chaotic environment from which warlords, terrorists, and fractured militant groups would likely thrive. It would essentially transfer the environment that provided OBL safe harbor in Afghanistan over to Pakistan, but with the added vulnerability that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal represents. In the end, do we continue to launch operations without Pakistan’s knowledge and/or consent to ensure their success – no doubt resulting in anger and possibly outright resistance on their part – or do our mission goals in that region even include Pakistan at all beyond their current involvement?
Naturally I do not have these answers, only the National Security Council does if even them. I do know this, however. Pakistan is a nation on paper solely because the British arbitrarily drew lines on a map before they exited the region stage left following World War II. These boundaries have never taken into account the heterogeneous reality of the area, the divergent languages that proliferate, the stark differences between tribal structures and traditions, and even subtle but important religious differences. The same can be said of Afghanistan as well. To this end, I personally think that nation building is a losing gambit because I doubt very much if democracy can actually exist as we know it in these two countries. Sometimes, other nations and regions simply cannot and will not embrace such a system.