Streetwise Professor

May 5, 2011

Obama to Us: You Can’t Handle the Truth!

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 4:22 pm

On 17/18 November, 1941, a team from Britain’s 11 Commando launched a raid on a building in Beda Littoria, Libya that had been identified as the headquarters of Irwin Rommel, the legendary commander of the Afrika Korps.  The mission was to kill Rommel, who had beaten the British badly in the North African desert.  The mission failed.  Rommel wasn’t even there.  All but two of the raiders were killed, along with 3 German supply colonels and a soldier.*

Afterwards, the tragic failure of the mission (“Operation Flipper”) was lamented, but its ethics or morality weren’t questioned.  In other words, in war it is perfectly legitimate to target the enemy’s commander.  Indeed, it would be interesting to hear an explanation of why in a war it is legitimate to slaughter poor privates wholesale, but the generals who command them are sacrosanct.

One interesting coda to Flipper.  The raid commander, LCOL Geoffrey Keyes was killed.  Rommel had him buried with full military honors.  Even Rommel apparently considered an attempt to murder him in cold blood in the dead of night to be a legitimate act of war.

The raid that culminated in the termination (with extreme prejudice) of Osama Bin Laden was no different in conception or objective than that launched by 11 Commando on a rainy, inky Libyan night almost seventy years ago.  Commandoes were dispatched to dispatch the commander of enemy forces during a war.  End of story, you would think.

But no.  In various quarters, some expected (e.g., various self-appointed spokesmen for Muslim opinion) some less so (e.g., large swathes of the German political and intellectual establishment) have questioned the legitimacy of American action in Abbottabad.

Apparently such fears have spooked the administration.  Initial stories regarding Osama being armed are no longer operative, so an alternative narrative was trotted out: the SEAL who pulled the trigger thought that Obama was reaching for a weapon.  The only thing missing from a bad police drama would be the SEAL carrying a drop weapon to plant at Osama’s side.

Why the need to provide such excuses anyways?  Apropos the Rommel raid, enemy commanders are fair game.  By pretending that it needs to prove self-defense or somesuch to justify popping two caps into Osama, the administration is buying into the idiotic view that we aren’t at war with Al Qaeda.  Not all is fair in war, but Osama’s fate was.  Just say so.

It’s passing strange that the administration that made Death by Drone its preferred MO in dealing with terrorist threats (including an attack today) feels obliged to provide other justifications for killing Osama.  If firing Hellfire missiles from 20K feet at terrorists is just fine, why is firing a couple of rounds at point blank range against an unarmed Osama any different?  If Osama was defenseless against a SEAL, the targets of Predator strikes are equally defenseless against a Hellfire.  And the end result is the same.  And Obama’s qualms about just leveling the Abbottabad compound were that civilians would be killed and that definitive evidence of Osama’s demise would be absent, not that Osama would be killed without any legal due process or opportunity to defend himself.

So why not just say?: Yes.  The SEALs went there to kill the commander of a force with which the US is at war.  They did.  That’s war.  War is hell.  Deal.  (Oh, and don’t f*ck with us.)

But this is just another example in the administration’s spray and pray approach to the post-mission information war.  I mean, all of these issues–the burial, the photos, the explanation of the SEALs’ mission–were completely predictable before the raid was undertaken, and should have been decided on then, and explained accordingly.

The handling of the photos is still another example.  First Panetta says they will be released.  Then Obama says no, and in so doing insults hundreds of millions of Americans by suggesting that any desire to see the photos is unseemly triumphalism akin to an end zone celebration.  Uhm, no, Mr. President.  Terrell Owens is not the typical American.  You may disagree with the reasons why many–and I would think most–Americans want to see graphic (in all multiple senses of the word) evidence of Osama’s demise, but they have nothing to do with triumphalism.

Obama’s–and the administration’s more generally–handling of the photos and the explanations for what transpired in Abbottabad and why suggest that they believe we can’t handle the truth.  Otherwise, why would they be so economical with it?

In short, we can handle the truth.  We deserve the truth.   If Obama is going to take credit for ridding the world of Osama, he should tell us the truth of why and how it was done, and the aftermath.  No, not the operational details.  But the objective of the mission (shoot on sight?), and some evidence that it was carried out successfully.   That’s not a  lot to ask.  If you think the mission was justified, there should be no hesitancy in defending it on its own terms.

* The sad fate of Operation Flipper and the brave men who carried it out, like the tragic fates of many other commando operations throughout history, illustrates the grave risks associated with these endeavors.  The success of the raid on Osama is a testament to the unbelievable skill of the SEAL operators, the aircrew that inserted and extracted them, and all of the myriad intelligence and military assets that made the raid possible.  Flipper and the other commando tragedies throughout history also suggests that there was a strong reason to deal with Osama from 30K feet with multiple JDAMs.  Yes, there are risks to that too, but arguably far less than mounting a SEAL raid.  That’s probably why the military apparently pushed the bombing option as the best choice.

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  1. Since he did not resist, why was he not captured? After all Saddam, who had no intelligence value, was not killed, even though it was the most practical thing to do (instead of the circus trial that followed).

    Comment by So? — May 5, 2011 @ 8:34 pm

  2. @So? See my last post. “Not resisting” is a highly ambiguous concept in face-to-face combat.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 5, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

  3. Some people have a very hard time understanding that war is not peace, and that things unacceptable in time of peace are completely acceptable in a time of war. It’s one of the reasons why ending wars quickly and efficiently is so important. The other thing those same people have trouble understanding is that the “natural” state of humanity is not peace, but war. In other words, “peace” is not normal, but an artificial state that must be maintained at high cost. Things like the due process of law, police, courts, etc. require a high cost to keep up. Entropy wants to continually sap that organizing order back to the state of war.

    Instead, those people think “peace” is the default state of humanity and that war is some weird aberration. Of course, most of those people have lived almost their entire life being protected the sheltered, so they don’t know any better. They assume the blessed state they’re lucky enough to have enjoyed must be what is natural because it’s all they have known. Thus they insist that the rules during wartime must be exactly the same as in peace.

    Comment by Chris Durnell — May 6, 2011 @ 6:05 pm

  4. Missed the classic US analogy to the Rommel attempt… the successful shoot down of Admiral Yamamoto’s air plane in WW-II. An intelligence success… we learned his travel plans… sent P-38s to intercept and then kept patrols in the area for a number of days so the enemy would not suspect that we had decoded their communications and change them.

    Comment by JavelinaTex — May 14, 2011 @ 4:08 am

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