Saturday, May 07, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

Shortly, I will attempt to offer some stream of consciousness thoughts about the major news story that broke late Sunday night. I have a lot I want to say, and I could probably spend an hour or more constructing it, but as a mere amateur writer, who is usually averse to proofreading on my own blog, I will just see what comes to mind.

First though, let's briefly touch upon the GOP Presidential debate that occurred Thursday night in South Carolina. Only five potential candidates took part, with all but Tim Pawlenty considered severe longshots for capturing the Republican nomination. Gary Johnson and Ron Paul stood their libertarian ground, while Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain attempted to appeal to more traditional conservatives. One South Carolina insider quipped that the first debate was like a "beauty contest with only ugly women."

Viewers of the debate, and a Fox News focus group came away extremely impressed with the little known Cain, and he was deemed by many to be the winner of the debate. That focus group also concluded that Santorum was second best. My take on the debate was that Pawlenty did reasonably well in this first encounter, but that being overshadowed by someone like Cain is far from an ideal outcome. In that regard, Pawlenty might have been better off to also skip the debate. I also noted how the candidates who were present, declined when given the opportunity to be overly critical of other potential Republican candidates who were not at the scene. Pawlenty passing on an opportunity to attack Mitt Romney was especially noteworthy.

The debate produced no major headlines (which was to be expected), but before 2011 is over, we can expect to see at least a few fireworks among Republican candidates on nationally televised cable debates.

Of course, this debate occurred during a week when most of Americans were fixated on a monumental and significant historical event; one that sort of makes all that birther stuff last week seem pretty trivial by comparison. There was irony though in the fact that the news broke during and pre-empted in part an episode of Donald Trump's "The Celebrity Apprentice."

After nearly fifteen years of being the world's most wanted terrorist, and nearly a decade after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden had justice brought to him by a group of United States Navy Seals in a large house in a Pakstani city, where the Al Qaeda leader is now believed to have been holed up for a matter of years. Though there has been some confusion and controversy this past week as to what exactly happened and when, and some changing stories from the Obama Administration on the narrative, all of Americans should rejoice in the fact that the personification of evil in the modern world is dead. Even though it may very well be that he has been not nearly as influential in planning terror since 2001 as other jihadist leaders, due to his time on the run, his death is at least a powerful and cathartic symbolic victory for the United States of America and all those who wish to see a world devoid of tyranny and terror.

Since Sunday, there has been much talk as to who "deserves credit." In my view, there is more than enough credit to go around. Primarily, we should be grateful to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces and of our intelligence communities for the years of toil and hard work. Credit is also due to the civilian leadership of the United States and those who have worked for them over the past decade to finally eliminate public enemy number one.

Both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama deserve an enormous amount of gratitude, as well as those who have worked in either or both of those Presidential administrations. The previous Republican President, who was in office when 9/11 occurred tried mightily to find and eliminate bin Laden, but was unable to do so. The plans and strategies to achieve that result were laid though during those years, and thankfully President Obama, despite some previous campaign rhetoric, has followed through on those steps to this ultimate conclusion.

As a fan of GWB, I am not at all claiming that he deserves credit above all else, but his steadfastness and resolve is worthy of mention and what should be bi-partisan thanks. His father George H.W. Bush was President when the Berlin Wall fell and when the Soviet Union ceased to exist, and while he was able to claim as President that the Cold War had ended, most recognized that it was the policies of other Presidents, especially Ronald Reagan, that did the trick.

As mentioned, bi-partisan credit should also be extended to Barack Obama. He is the President who got the job done, and for whatever else we Americans think of him, for good or for bad, this was a great accomplishment. It seems to me that most Republicans have been willing to say as much. It is inevitable that Obama's poll numbers would rise in the immediate wake of such a great event, and they have of course, although perhaps by not as much as some anticipated. The somewhat sloppy way the White House has handled the aftermath of this victory may play a part, but that should not obscure from the fact that the Commander in Chief signed off on a specific mission, despite risks, and that it succeeded. I happen to believe that any President, who had actionable intelligence on the location of Osama bin Laden, would have also acted, but as the current President, there is no doubt in my mind that Barack Obama should be saluted by the nation for this victory in all of our names.

Despite all this, many different questions have arisen, from the religious Muslim ceremony the military provided for the murderer of thousands, before dumping his body into the ocean, to just how much the Bush Administration policies once criticized by Obama such as terrorist detention camps, enhanced interrogation techniques, and the "assassination squad" itself played a part. Some on the left have raised a bit of concern as to if more of an effort to capture bin Laden alive should have been given, but an overwhelming majority of Americans are just glad he is dead. Once again, despite some 2008 campaign liberal rhetoric, and despite the Administration's unwillingness to even use the phrase "War on Terror", the Obama White House has waged the fight against Islamic terrorists in much the way a Republican President would have. For that, I am grateful.

Among further unanswered questions are just what the Pakastani government, ostensibly our ally in fighting Al Qaeda knew about this location and for how long. Many Americans are going to want to see our relations with that nation examined, especially as they are publicly expressing outrage on the unilateral decision to take action inside of a sovereign country (which is another thing that many would have perhaps criticized if done by a Republican Administration.) We learned also this week that the U.S. was in belief of Osama's location for months and had it under surveillance without taking action. I will not claim to be an expert on how these operations should work, but part of me wants to know why we could not have gotten him several weeks or months earlier.

While I would personally go to lengths to see photos of a dead Osama and perhaps find it enjoyable, I understand the Administration's decision (despite some severe mixed messages) in not releasing the photos. They may eventually leak out somehow, and I have no qualms about "spiking the football", but if these photos could in any way endanger our troops or our nation further, or since they would certainly be one of the most viewed images in world history, and be quite disturbing to children, I can accept the government's decision to keep them private. Those who believe that it all may be some grand "hoax", are the types of people who will always find something to consider a conspiracy.

When news of this event spread on Sunday night, spontaneous crowds of people formed in front of the White House and in New York City. Many in the crowds were young children when the 9/11 attacks occurred and have lived much of their lives with the specter of Osama bin Laden haunting their country. These crowds waved American flags and chanted "USA, USA." I cannot think of anything remotely close happening in American history since the end of World War II.

In so many ways, it was a heartening and proud scene and I think completely appropriate. I had some qualms though still. As Americans, even though bin Laden is dead, we cannot now assume that the War on Terror will be over, or somewhat less of a challenge. In the short term, with calls for reprisal, things may even be more dangerous now, at least for a while. It would be a tragedy if we use our justified feelings of triumph as an excuse to lessen our vigilance in being mindful of the dangers we continue to face, and the resolve we must continue to have towards capturing or killing anyone else who would do us harm.

Watching the crowd gathered outside the White House on television though, I spotted people happily waving campaign placards for both Obama/Biden and Bush/Cheney. As Americans, we have, and will continue to have our major political differences on domestic and foreign issues. That is the hallmark of our democracy.

That small symbolic and coincidental demonstration that I caught on television though, of Democrats and Republicans celebrating together was a fitting and moving example of what May 1, 2011 should always mean to us all.