It was one of those defining moments predictable in near every US presidential debate. The moment when a speaker steps out of the crease so to speak, and hits for the boundary (cricket talk). Usually, these moments appear when caution is thrown to the wind; and they often give a deeper insight into a candidate’s true feelings and character. But sometimes these moments are scripted. Sometimes they are exquisitely calculated: especially when the candidate is as cunning and cerebral as Barack Obama. One of these moments came during the last presidential debate-cycle. I remember it well. I have referred to it in one or two columns since, because I found the statements candidate Obama made that night to be quite profound. I now deem them “surreal”.
The issue was relative to the pursuit and capture of then international-terrorist-fugitive Osama bin Laden. Let me rephrase, expand and sum up what Barack Obama essentially told the audience. He basically said that if he became president of the United States and reliable intelligence information found Bin Laden hiding out somewhere specific in Pakistan, that he (Obama) would do something contrary to the bounds of diplomatic propriety (my words here). Obama intoned that he was willing to violate international norms and borders to capture Bin Laden.
Essentially, he was showing his hand, by saying that he will act unilaterally in the arena of international politics, in a region of the world which is arguably the most problematic in modern-day history: just to capture or kill this brilliant but fiercely evil man called Osama Bin Laden. A man we Americans created with our own central intelligence agencies -the CIA and its many offshoots.
Expectedly, the republicans attacked Obama as being naïve, unqualified and unprepared; but I don’t think they really sensed what was being said here. That night, Barack Obama eloquently articulated what is seen today as a “haunting” position-take. He said that if the same intelligence information was available to the Pakistani military-general- ruler (Pervez Musharraf) who wouldn’t act on it; then he (Obama) will send in US military forces to flush out, capture or kill Bin Laden. In other words, he was willing to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty in this endeavor.
The very next day Obama’s campaign walked back the statement slightly, by changing one word: “if Musharraf wouldn’t act on it” became “if Musharraf couldn’t act on it”; but the meaning and intent were quite clear; though the amendment did display Obama’s political astuteness.
Maybe Obama was telegraphing that he didn’t trust the Pakistanis. Maybe he was prophesying because he is that “special one” Oprah Winfrey said he was. In my gut I knew he meant every word, even as I found the statement a bit strange: given that it was coming from a man who vociferously opposed the last US-led Iraqi-invasion. I also sensed that BO was deliberately putting this out there for international consumption; as a politician he hardly ever does things spontaneously.
To me, the statement brought back images of too many US invasions in this region. It also brought images of too many US-sanctioned (or US-led) military adventures all around the world. I thought about previous military actions in Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, El Salvador, Panama and Venezuela: just to name a few. I also remembered the invasion of the tiny Caribbean island named Grenada, during the Ronald Reagan Administration. Somehow I sensed this comment by BO was an epic of things to come. Somehow I sensed that one day we would be revisiting these words: and last Sunday we sure did.
It now appears that about six months after Obama took office in January 2009, he sanctioned a clandestine operation targeting Bin Laden. In retrospect we can see that our agents were rather selective with the intelligence information they shared. It seems that for many months this operation zeroed-in on Osama Bin Laden unbeknownst to the Pakistanis. And last Sunday they nailed him in an urban Pakistan suburb. Every aspect of this military exercise appears to have been brilliantly planned and executed. This was Obama’s dazzling leadership skills on full international display: and the world was forewarned.
Just as he said that night, President Barack Obama went into Pakistan without alerting the Pakistani authorities, and today Osama bin Laden is Osama bin laid to eternal rest. I say good riddance. I also say great job Mister President (even though I wish Bin Laden was captured alive/ but that’s another column).
Yet, I can’t seem to fully celebrate what happened last Sunday. As much as I can appreciate the reasons why so many American citizens openly and publicly celebrated this successful mission that culminated in Bin Laden’s death, there is something inside that troubles me. I have ambivalent feelings about all the dancing going on in US streets.
You see, we went into Iraq under false pretences and took out their leader Saddam Hussein. We also went into Panama a few years ago and took out their leader (Noriega). In fact, we brought him to face a drug-trial and eventual conviction in a Florida court. And it seems like we are always looking to take out some leader or the other (usually people with whom we once had close working relationships). Whether it be an attempt on Fidel Castro’s life (the former Cuban leader); or the assassination of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic; or the assassination of President Allende of Chile; most times, we appear to be working on behalf of our too powerful-rich-citizen-dictators, or at the behest of our military-industrialist-capitalist-profiteers (like Dick Chaney and others). And as a country, we always seem to end up with blood on our hands.
Maybe I am just an idealistic fool who was educated at some left-leaning schools (and universities), but I have had the words of Malcolm X echoing in my brain since Sunday: “chickens always come home to roost”. I hope they are not trying to tell me something sinister.
Stay tuned-in folks.