04 May 2016

Why Barack Obama could not be euphoric about killing Osama Bin Laden

Osama bin Laden was assassinated on May 2, 2010. That's six years ago, almost to the date.US President Barack Obama watched it all.  Live.  And he made a speech.  Six years on, things haven't changed.  They've got worse.  'Afghanistan' and 'Pakistan' have been cloned and the clones deployed in other parts of the world. A good time as any to revisit Obama's 'Osama Moment'.  This article was first published in the Daily News of May 4, 2010. 

The news of Osama bin Laden being killed naturally saw an avalanche of internet comments; after all, US forces have been searching for the man for almost a decade now.  As I searched for Barack Obama's ‘I-killed-Osama’ speech online, I was surprised to find a comment that seemed unusually down-in-the mouth.  David Brody, Chief Political Correspondent, CBN News, had apparently wanted to see a chest-thumping President Barack Obama.  Obama was not euphoric enough, according to Brody. 

It is reported that wild celebrations had swept across the United States of America. They celebrated and demonstrated such triumphalism that the less informed might have thought the US had wiped Al Qaeda off the face of the earth.  Obama, like his predecessor had set a modest target (capturing and killing a single individual). He had in the process killed hundreds of thousands more, and turned more than half a million people into IDPs. These could not have been the main reasons for Obama’s somber response.

Brody himself has offered an apology of sorts. He says he should have read Proverbs 24:17 in the Bible before posting his comment (‘Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice.’), and believes that in word and tone Obama had embodied the quote.  Had he read more of the Bible he might have found the real reason for Obama’s low-tone response. 

I am pretty sure that Barack Obama was appropriately humbled by Matthew 5: 38-48 (Judging others), Matthew 7: 1-5 (Love for enemies), and Matthew 7: 12 (‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets’).Barack, Brody should have known, has more intelligence than Dubya Bush, and he knew who cast the first stone.  He knew whose friend Osama was before he was tagged ‘Enemy No 1’. 

Barack’s low-tone, one might think, had to do with a decision to write his own speech (given the importance of the moment), and having his speech-writer blue-pencil huge chunks of this draft.  Barack can correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the following paragraphs would have been deleted.

‘On the 30th of April, a missile fired by a NATO warplane, with our full blessings, hit a house in Tripoli.  This house belonged to the son of Muammar Gaddhafi, Saif al-Arab.  The missile killed Saif al-Arab.  It also killed his 3 little children, all under 12 years of age.  I regret to say that this was not anticipated when we moved to establish a No-Fly Zone.  Wars are not the surgical affairs we make them out to be.  This is why we turned ‘collateral’ into a military term.  I am happy to inform you that in just two days, we’ve demonstrated a marked improvement in precision. We went from killing babies to killing the world’s most ruthless terrorist, Osama Bin Laden.

‘As I wrote those words, something occurred to me that sobered me no end.  Bin Laden was not the world’s most ruthless terrorist until 2 years ago.  He earned that dubious title courtesy the Sri Lankan security forces.  And if I sound less euphoric than you expected me to be, it is because, whereas our forces took out a terrorist leader who was more figurehead and less strategist, their Sri Lankan counterparts politically, ideologically and militarily not just outmaneuvered all efforts to scuttle the military offensive launched against terrorism, but took out both leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran and the entire terrorist leadership of the dreaded LTTE.  Let me add, that my chagrin also derives from full knowledge that my representative in Sri Lanka, contrary to our declared policy of zero-tolerance, did his utmost to bail out the terrorists right up to the last moment. 

‘I am sobered, therefore, even as I report, and we celebrate the fact of Bin Laden being killed; even as we reiterate that he was a terrorist responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children, we must acknowledge that in the process of finding and killing this man, our forces killed thousands of innocent men, women and children.  Ladies and gentlemen, 2752 innocent people were killed in the 9/11 attacks.  Ladies and gentlemen, I am ashamed to say that we’ve put to shame the notion of eye-for-an-eye.’ 

Barack Obama’s grimace would have got worse when he realized that his speechwriter had deftly cut-pasted a perspective-giving paragraph, making it out that what he had said about the impact of US military action was in fact about the victims of 9/11:  
And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.’
The last sentence had read, ‘Over one hundred thousand people given the collateral tag; easy for the tag-giver, but leaving nothing but a gaping hole in the hearts of those whose loved ones were killed in the name of our National Security.’
Here’s another crossed-off section. 
‘Ladies and gentlemen, there were no civilian casualties in this attack.  I was proud of the team that carried out this operation.  On the other hand, I remembered once again how Sri Lanka tackled terrorists.  I asked myself a few questions:

‘“If Bin Laden surrounded himself with a human shield of 300,000 people, including children, pregnant women, the elderly and the sick, would I have risked the lives of my troops to save them? Would I have entertained any suggestion by anyone to negotiate a surrender, or worse to facilitate Bin Laden’s escape?  Had our troops eliminated the Al Qaeda leadership and rescued those innocent civilians, would we have treated them any better than we have treated the half a million refugees that the execution of this operation to capture a single man has produced?”

‘The answer to all these questions, ladies and gentlemen, is “no”.  Sadly.

‘We stated that we were not at war with Islam, but the harsh truth is that it is those who belonged to this faith that we slaughtered in their thousands, almost as though non-Christians were by the very fact “fair game”.’

Barack, I am sure, frowned as he read the following lines: 

‘Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies.’
If consternation on Barack’s face turned a shade darker at this point, Brody might have wondered why.  Perhaps it’s because it is a copy-paste of something Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka said after defeating the world’s truly most ruthless terrorist outfit, the LTTE. 

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malindasenevi@gmail.com. Twitter: malindasene