-Sun-Tzu, The Art of War
With the killing of Osama bin Laden by a 79-member JSOC hunter/killer team inside Pakistan, the nation has entered yet another of those moments when a news media that professes independence has become an unashamed cheerleader for militarism.
No one can deny the JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) Seal Team executed its killing mission with great competence and aplomb. They were also lucky that the bin Laden entourage had apparently become so confident of its safety that it was a bit lackadaisical.
Ever since the Desert One debacle in 1980 in Iran, US special operations commanders were determined that the system evolve into a sophisticated program with double and triple backup plans etc. Apparently a motto in the Seals is, you come out of an operation either as "a Zero or a Hero." In this case, it's "Hero" in spades.
The competence exhibited by the team is especially welcome in many quarters in the US following a decade noted for too many examples of huge and really bad decisions that were examples of what happens when you link incompetence with great power.
Just to name a few of the big ones: There was the decision to insert into Afghanistan an incredibly expensive army and the creation, there, of an entire government that involved a network of heavily corrupt loyalties that had to be sustained with payoffs and other blandishments. That decision has led to an incredibly wasteful logistical nightmare. Then there was the completely dishonorable decision to invade and occupy Iraq based on dishonestly misdirected 911 revenge politics. Recently, we have added Libya to the list of mission-creep wars; it has gone from a no-fly zone to a palace bombing that killed three of the leader's grandkids. All this consumes gobs and gobs of tax dollars that could be used in neglected areas at home.
Just to round out the list of disastrous decisions, let's not forget the elimination of financial regulation begun by President Reagan that led inexorably to the 2007-08 economic meltdown, which was followed by a huge tax-payer bailout of the very pirates who got the nation into the mess in the first place. In that bargain, homeowners were supposed to get help, but it somehow never arrived.
West Virginia students revel in killing and John Brennan tells a whopper by unknown
Good people can argue about all this. But what's not in dispute is that the past decade or two has dropped America into a giant economic hole and put Americans into a general state of fear and anxiety. You see it disaggregated into ones and twos everywhere as people's expectations are dashed, jobs are lost and homes are foreclosed on.
We are a nation that likes to see itself as "exceptional," and we suffer from a concomitant unwillingness to face hard truths, which are no fun and suggest we may not be so exceptional after all. In this condition, citizens have become reliant for comfort on symbols; we're all vulnerable to their power. President Reagan understood this better than most, and he manipulated Americans with symbols like a master. Move to 2011, and there is nothing more symbolically powerful than the focused competence of the raid to kill Osama bin Laden. Against the backdrop of the frightening mess we're in, it's a symbol that really works.
Who could blame an American for having a weakness for such a well-planned, well-executed and timely revenge killing of the greatest boogie-man in modern US history? You'd have to be an extraordinary individual -- or an anti-war leftist -- not to be sucked in by all this.
Adults and children across the land are out in the streets pumping their fists in the air screaming, "USA! USA! USA!" My favorite was a You Tube of a pot-bellied cracker roaring toward the camera in an open field, with one hand on the wheel of his all-terrain-vehicle that featured a huge American flag on the back, and the other shooting an automatic pistol into the air as he screamed "USA! USA! USA!"
The trouble is, while highly competent focused killings like that of bin Laden may feel good, they do nothing to address the worsening consequences of all the incompetent and destructive decisions that preceded it and make it so powerful.
The Press as Military Camp Followers
One of the more amazing journalistic exhibitions was MSNBC's Chris Matthews of "Hardball," who for two days following the raid seemed like a teenage girl swooning over Ringo Starr. This is a guy normally completely uninterested in our wars, preferring to follow the stats and keep score of the domestic political game.