In Afghanistan, the reaction to Osama’s death was the same as it was Salida, Colorado; nothing. I was in Zaranj when the news broke and aside from being congratulated by my Afghan and Pakistani project managers, not a peep from anyone around me. Killing bin Laden was a huge victory for Americans because it was personal for us but the Afghans, having a much more pragmatic view of the event, immediately concluded that killing bin Laden will make it easier for us to leave. They are correct, but they don’t know how this is going to play out, and neither do I.
It doesn’t have to be this way; we should be letting the successful hunting down and killing of bin Laden re-energize our efforts and refocus our mission while leveraging this impressive achievement with our political “allies” Pakistan and Afghanistan. But we lost control of the story because the administration has too much invested in the on-going investigation of the very intelligence people who extracted the information that started this hunt. The administration has too much invested in the narrative that George Bush and Dick Cheney were off the reservation, acting illegally and recklessly when they set up the enhanced interrogation program. Now the president lectures us about the Osama death photos, saying “We don’t need to spike the football” that as Americans “we don’t do that”. Don’t do what? What the hell is he talking about?
An experienced leader would know a thing or two about how not to let a huge victory go to waste. He would also know that those photos will leak at some point in the future and frankly there is nothing he can do to stop it. President Obama might well have used this remarkable event to elevate his stature and to seal another election victory, but only if he was big enough to act like the leader of the most powerful nation on earth. As the leader, he could have focused his praise on the people who worked years to put us in the position where we could launch the raid. Months ago when the mission started to come together, he could have told the Attorney General to quietly drop the investigations targeting the very people who performed the enhanced interrogations. He could have positioned himself to use this victory as a blunt instrument with which to forward the goals of the United States throughout this entire region. What other country can work ten years at tracking down one man and when they find him fly stealth helicopters into the middle of another country to shoot him in the face? We’re so bad ass that we sent sailors to do the shooting – that’s how deep our bench is.