It’s easy to get caught up in nationalist zeal when a wave of positive emotion sweeps past. Make no mistake: I am as pleased as anyone that Bin Laden is dead. His culpability was unquestionable — the man proudly owned the atrocities he helped mastermind. But here are a few facts that feel incongruous to the elated response (especially from my left-leaning friends).
1. The US sent operatives into Pakistan, and it isn’t clear the extent to which Pakistan was informed, when it was informed, and whether its government was given any real opportunity to consent. WSJ reports a Pakistani helicopter was involved in the raid, suggesting there was prior notice and opportunity for involvement. But let’s get real: the United States was sending its forces into the nation regardless. You might think this is quibbling. I think it would mean a lot to you if another country sent forces into America to get a man it wanted more for emotional gratification than strategic gain. Am I saying it wasn’t worth it? No. What I am saying is that it’s an important moral question for us to consider.
2. Bin Laden was brutally murdered, by all accounts, after a gun fight. Luckily no Americans were killed, but Bin Laden was shot in the head. On January 8, the nation shook when an individual few really knew but who quickly became beloved to most was mercilessly shot in the head by an armed gunman. Some on the left went too far, but most agreed that eliminationist rhetoric had to go. Apparently, that posture only affected domestic policy. I’m not comparing Giffords to Bin Laden, I’m comparing the subsequent responses by people receiving the news of violent shooting. Murder, attempted or successful, isn’t cause celebre. I don’t feel bad for Osama, and have been quite receptive to the levity by some on Twitter. But really, launching fireworks and chanting in the streets following murder is uncomfortably reminiscent of the kind of behavior we are allegedly fighting to change in the Middle East. Speaking of which…
3. Nothing was said tonight about what this really means for the War on Terror. The Osama takedown has come after several years of an ostensibly liberal president largely continuing policies regarding terrorism that make civil libertarians cringe. We are all glad that we got good intelligence and scored a huge symbolic victory, but what good is symbolism if this doesn’t lead to some kind of shift to a more desirable level of foreign engagement (that is to say, less)? If the War on Terror continues along the same trajectory after tonight, we’re all going to wonder what we were dancing in the streets for.