HOW 9/11 AND PRESIDENCY BROUGHT ABOUT A SEA-CHANGE IN OBAMA’S ATTITUDE TO JIHADI TERROR

July 23, 2013

In my last blog (21st July) I had shared with readers The New York Times summary of the Pakistan Government’s Inquiry Report on the Abbotabad Raid and killing of Osama Bin Laden.

 

book-the-finishBy now numerous books must have been published about this Operation Abbotabad.

 

The first one that I saw was “No Easy Day” by one of the Seals who participated in the raid. He wrote the book under a pseudonym, Mark Owen.

 

Last Sunday I saw the Pakistan Government’s official 336-pages document as produced by the four member commission headed by Justice Javed Iqbal, but as published on its Website by Al Jazeera English Television which had managed to procure a leaked copy of the document declared classified by Government. Now we understand that upset by its failure to keep the document in wraps, the Pakistan Government is planning to release the report officially.

 

Today’s blog is based on the third book on this subject which I found very interesting. This book is titled “The Finish : The killing of Osama Bin Laden” written by Mark Bowden which highlights how U.S. President Barack Obama’s attitude towards Jihadi terrorism has changed radically in the first decade of this century.

 

The first Chapter, dated September 11, 2001, is captioned “A Definition of Evil.” The last but one Chapter, dated May 1-2, 2011, bears the caption “The Finish.”

 

When nine-eleven occurred, Barack Obama was Illinois State Senator.

 

When the ugliest chapter in the history of terrorism ended ten years later with the killing of bin Laden, Barack Obama was in his second term as President of the United States.

 

mark-bowdenIt would be educative for readers to quote from Bowden’s book the author’s analysis of Obama’s state of mind and thinking on both these occasions.

 

The opening paragraph of the first chapter reads:

 

Just before eight o’clock on a brilliant sunny Chicago morning, Barack Obama was driving up Lake Shore Drive when the music on his radio was interrupted by a news bulletin. A plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Centre towers in New York City. He thought little of it. He assumed it meant some poor Cessna pilot had screwed up badly.

 

A little later the chapter says:

 

obamaObama represented District 13 at the northern edge of the South Side. He had two other jobs, one practicing law for a prominent Chicago firm and another as a senior lecturer in constitutional law at Chicago University’s Law School. 

 

He looked and sounded like a law professor. What he did have was “cool,” a word people applied to him in both a good and a bad way. He was cool in that he had style and presence; he was tall and lean, poised and charming. But he was cool in the other way, too. He often seemed distant, aloof, even superior. He had turned forty a month before, too old to be considered a prodigy. His black Jeep Cherokee was the car of a family man. He and his wife, Michelle, had two daughters: infant Sasha and Malia, who was three.

 

Meanwhile messages were stacking up on his BlackBerry. “The news from lower Manhattan flowed in from a thousand points at once. The second tower had been hit. Both planes were commercial airlines. The towers were on fire. This was no accident.  This was coordinated attack”

 

The two men who would lead the United States in the next decade of warfare had markedly different immediate responses to the attacks.

 

Bush felt outrage and an urgent desire for revenge. Someone had dared attack America, they were going to pay, he felt.

 

In his remarks on the night of the attacks he expanded the range of this anticipated retribution: “We will make no distinction between those who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” The president’s eagerness to hit back would continue to pick up speed.

 

bushIf Bush’s response on 9/11 was to start looking for somebody to bomb, Barack Obama sounded ready to launch some kind of global antipoverty campaign. 

 

Few people were all that interested in the thoughts of the Illinois state senator, but in the days after the attacks his local newspaper, the Hyde Park Herald, solicited his reaction along with that of other local representatives.

 

In his response for the Hyde Park Herald, he called for an examination of the root causes of terrorism. “It grows from a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair,” he said. He called for America “to devote far more attention to the monumental task of raising the hopes and prospects of embittered children across the globe – children not just in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and within our own shores.” It read like left-wing boilerplate and, right or wrong, was clearly out of step with the nation’s anger.

 

Four years after the attacks, after his election to the U.S. Senate sparked a wave of electoral enthusiasm that would eventually carry him to the White House, Obama wrote a new prologue to his memoir.

 

About 9/11, he wrote “It’s beyond my skill as a writer to capture that day and the days that would follow. The planes like specters vanishing into steel and glass, the slow-motion cascade of towers crumbling into themselves. The ash-covered figures wandering the streets. The anguish and fear. Nor do I pretend to understand the stark nihilism that drove terrorists that day and drives their brethren still. My powers of empathy, my ability to reach into another’s heart cannot penetrate the blank stares of those who would murder innocents with abstract, serene satisfaction.”

 

He spoke more harshly of the attackers than he had years earlier. He condemned anyone “who would seek under whatever flag or slogan or sacred text, a certainty and simplification that justifies cruelty towards those not like us.”

 

The first chapter of the book as indicated earlier has been captioned “A Definition of Evil”. Let me quote here the last paragraph of the chapter which I feel is significant in so far as nine-eleven’s impact on the man then aspiring to be President was concerned.

 

The paragraph reads :

 

When Sasha emptied her bottle that night in 2001 he lifted her to his shoulder and patted her back gently. The terrible images of the day replayed before him on the screen. He wondered what the future would hold for her and her older sister Malia. He felt the attacks personally, as a civilized man, as an American, and as a father. He was working his way towards a personal definition of evil.

 

By the time that day ended I am sure a realization must-have taken roots in his mind, as the author of this book writes that in this case, the suicidal killers would turn out to be neither embittered sons of poverty, nor especially hopeless or ignorant. Most were well-to-do young Saudis whose families had shipped them overseas for expensive college education. They were religious fanatics, led by a man who had inherited a fortune. Their grievances were not economic-they were political and religious.

 

adm-william-h-mcravenThe chapter titled “The Finish” is the one dealing with the Operation Abbotabad. The Seals Team led by Admiral McRaven was kept in full readiness at Jalalabad, Afghanistan. On Saturday April 30 afternoon, one day before the operation was due to commence, President Obama rang up Mc Raven and spoke personally to him. “Godspeed to you and your forces”, Obama said. “Please pass on to them my personal thanks for their service”. The President also told the Admiral, “I will personally be following this mission very closely”.

 

Shortly before 11.00 p.m. local time at Jalalabad, the final order came to the Admiral. “Go in there and get bin Laden; and if he isn’t in there, get the hell out”. Exactly at 11.00 p.m. two Stealth Black Hawks lifted off from the air field at Jalalabad, and within ten minutes crossed into Pakistan.

 

Bowden has mentioned earlier

 

“Part of the reasoning for choosing the SEAL team, according to several top Pentagon officials, was that in recent years it had successfully conducted about a dozen secret missions inside Pakistan. They were used to conducting these raids with high-level commanders looking over their shoulders, linked by live audio and video – the men called it “General TV.”

 

  In this chapter, the author writes:

 

“With the full array of national security assets at his disposal, McRaven was able to monitor exactly what the Pakistanis were doing… and as the minutes went by, it became clear that they were doing nothing. The task force had entered Pakistani airspace before, on covert missions into the tribal areas, so they had been confident they could slip in unnoticed, but it was nevertheless a relief when it had been done. The admiral had precalculated a point where, even if the Pakistanis woke up, the mission would proceed.  Soon enough they had passed even that point. Now, as the blacked-out choppers moved toward Abbottabad, there was nothing to do for about an hour but wait.”

 

The choppers landed back in Jalalabad at three a.m. local time. None of the men who went on the raid had been hurt. They had lost a helicopter but they had avoided Pakistan’s defenses completely. And they had killed Osama bin Laden.

*  *  *

In the days after the raid, an album of photographs was delivered to the White House, a series of shots of the dead bin Laden. There would be much discussion that week about whether these photos should be made public, as proof of death, but the president had firmly decided that they would not. The decision was made easier because no one disputed the fact of bin Laden’s death.

 

Admiral McRaven’s men were, in the early hours of Monday morning, at work preparing for the disposal of the Sheik’s body.

 

After much discussion and advice, it had been decided that the best option would be burial at sea. That way there would be no shrine for the martyr’s misguided followers.  So the body was washed, photographed from every conceivable angle, and then flown on a V-22 Osprey to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson cruising in the North Arabian Sea.

 

As a formality, the State Department contacted Saudi Arabia’s government and offered to deliver the body to his home country, but bin Laden was as unwanted there in death as he had been in life.  Told that the alternative was burial at sea, the Saudi official said, “We like your plan.”

 

Procedures for a simple Muslim burial were performed on the carrier. The body was wrapped in a white shroud with weights to sink it.

 

The last sequence of color photos in the death album were not grotesque. They were strangely moving. A navy photographer recorded the burial in full sunlight Monday morning, May 2. One frame shows the body wrapped in the weighted white shroud. The next shows it diagonal on a flat board, feet overboard. In the next frame the body is hitting the water with a small splash. In the next it is visible just below the surface, a ghostly torpedo descending. In the next shot there are only circular ripples on the blue surface. In the final frame the waters are calm.

 

The mortal remains of Osama bin Laden were gone for good.

 

 

L.K. Advani

New Delhi

23 July, 2013

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