Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Don't be so not hard on yourself

In the last few days since the news that the U.S. got bin Laden, reactions have been interesting to watch. Personally, I see it as another small "personal history" moment. As a young person who came of age in the 90s and aughts, there weren't too many events that seemed to make it onto the national consciousness that I was aware of (the time I found out about the collapse of the USSR three years late is a story for another time).

The Americans, by and large, saw the take-down, dubbed "Operation Geronimo" (an insult to the real Geronimo, IMO) as a pretty solid victory. The operation was potentially a risky move that could have blown up in Obama's face, but as it happened to fortunately unfold, a well-executed victory.

But after every victory, some people like to reflect. As we say in second grade, "What could we do better?"

According to Pakistani officials, not a damn thing:

The ISI official told the BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones in Islamabad that the compound in Abbottabad, just 100km (62 miles) from the capital, was raided when under construction in 2003. 
It was believed an al-Qaeda operative, Abu Faraj al-Libi, was there. 
But since then, "the compound was not on our radar, it is an embarrassment for the ISI", the official said. "We're good, but we're not God."

Thanks for clearing that up. Incidentally, I'm not sure you're all that "good," either. That's not to say you aren't doing some things well, but talk about letting yourself off the hook. "Don't feel bad, guys. We just got word- we're not God. Consider this one a freebie."
He added: "This one failure should not make us look totally incompetent. Look at our track record. For the last 10 years, we have captured Taliban and al-Qaeda in their hundreds - more than any other countries put together."
Defensive much? I know Pakistan has to walk a thin line when it comes to helping the US without alienating its native population, but come on, guys. Incidentally, I'm not sure you get to give yourself such a giant pat on the back for "catching more Taliban & Al Qaeda than anyone else" when your country is used-- and perceived-- as ground zero/safe haven for Taliban and Al Qaeda training. That's like bragging that your town has the highest pedophile conviction rate in the state. It's not a bad thing, but it may also mean that your town has too many damn pedophiles.

President Asif Ali Zardari admitted Bin Laden "was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be". 
But he denied the killing suggested Pakistan was failing in its efforts to tackle terrorism. 
Mr Zardari said Pakistan had "never been and never will be the hotbed of fanaticism that is often described by the media".

Red herring, Mr. President. Pakistan isn't a hotbed of fanaticism, but it isn't full of gumdrops and teddy bears, either. While neither Al Qaeda nor the Taliban have Pakistani approval levels anywhere near 2008 levels (25% and 27%) these days, (18% and 15% in 2010), those numbers are up from 2009. So clearly there is a segment of the population that needs to be paid attention to, especially if they're the ones with the guns, bombs, what have you.
"Pakistan had as much reason to despise al-Qaeda as any nation. The war on terrorism is as much Pakistan's war as it is America's."
I agree. You might want to talk to that 18% of Pakistanis that don't.
Mr Brennan had said it was "inconceivable that Bin Laden did not have a support system" in Pakistan.
Come on, Mr. Brennan! Didn't you just listen to the President? All Pakistanis hate Al Qaeda. There must be another explanation. Maybe the house was built by magical Al Qaeda elves, using magical elf concrete. Or, you know, those evil Jihadist day laborers from El Salvador. There's nothing they won't do for a quick rupee.
Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir tried to draw a line under the matter, saying: "Who did what is beside the point... This issue of Osama Bin Laden is history."
Nice attempt at a brush-off. "Don't mind our screw-up, the important thing is that he's gone. Why are we even talking about this guy? He hasn't been relevant in like, sixteen hours. Osama who?"

After reading this quote for the eighth-hundredth time and making sure I hadn't suffered some sort of aneurysm from the cognitive dissonance, I must confess to some protracted writer's block. What would be the best comparison to make here? It was truly an epic struggle. (Not quite as big a struggle as Pakistan's rhetorical back-flips, but pretty close.)

I considered going historical (Allies sticking Napoleon on Elba, where he promptly ran away, or the US funding mujehadin in Afghanistan who later shot them in the ass), or even look to ancient myth (Pandora and her dumb-ass box, Eve and her apple/pomegranate/what-have-you).

But no. I decided that in order to show just how absolutely ridiculous the Pakistanis are being, I had to go big.

So here we go: Pakistan, you're like the bozo engineer in Atomic Train or Unstoppable who accidentally unleashes a runaway death train carrying killer chemicals which could kill everybody but magically avoid so at the last minute. AND THEN BRAGS ABOUT IT.

"Look, the important thing is the train got there, ok? Who cares who forgot to make sure they were at the controls of what?"

Seriously, Pakistan. If you can't think of anything particularly face-saving to say, then just stay quiet on this one. Right now, you're not doing yourself any favors.


Consrvative apikoris said...

dubbed "Operation Geronimo" (an insult to the real Geronimo, IMO)

I don't think it was an insult, but using such a name is a breach of military intelligence protocol. These sort of super secret operations are not supposed to have names that bear any connection to the mission being describe. They are code names, after all.

Now the use of "Geronimo" as a name is totally related to the mission. Just like Bib Laden, Geronimo spent years eluding increasingly frustrated US military forces and inflicted bloody casualties, though, of course, nothing as spectacular as what Al Qaeda did. If the wrong person heard any people talking about "Geronimo," it would wave been a strong clue to the existence of the mission. And the whole point of having a code name for the mission would be so that people could talk about it in unsecured places. They should have picked a totally innocuous name that had not relation to Bin Laden or Pakistan, or even to the military. For example, the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943 was called "Operation Husky." It had nothing to do with Italians, or Scilians, or invasions, or anything. The code name for the Normandy D-Day was "Overlord," which, if you ask me was a bit too militaristic, but I suppose it wouldn't imply to the Germans that it was the Big Invasion. So they should have names the Bin Laden mission something like "Traffic Cone" or "Briefcase," or "hair tonic," or something like that.

Garnel Ironheart said...

There ought to be an "honesty in politics" day out there. One day in the years where politicians have to say what they're thinking and tell the truth about what they've done. Imagine the press conference in Pakistan:
Well yeah, okay, we were sheltering him because while we don't like Muslim fanatics we feel we have common ground with them against the US so we were trying to play both sides but hey, we got caught. Sorry about that old chap!