Friday, May 6, 2011

World's Apart: Reactions to the Killing of Bin Laden

I am not a legal or moral scholar so I am ill-equipped to get into a sophisticated argument about the legalities of Bin Laden's demise.  Yet, I have to note that the sentiments in Europe (or at least Germany) are a stark contrast to those in the US.*  See here for a short review of the criticisms thus far
* Yes, there are Americans are who most critical of this, but not the mainstream.  Michael Moore proved himself out of the mainstream and out of touch by claiming that this is where the US lost its soul.  If the US had a soul to lose, it would have been lost after Dresden, after My Lai, after Iran-Contra, after the invasion of Iraq or the revelations of Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, etc.  Moore is in desperate need of some perspective sauce.

My reactions to particular takes on this:
Der Spiegel, under the headline “Justice, American Style,” reports an expert’s view that it’s “questionable whether the USA can still claim to be engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaida.”
But Hamburg judge Heinz Uthmann went even further. He alleges that the chancellor’s statement was nothing short of illegal, and filed a criminal complaint against Merkel midweek, the daily Hamburger Morgenpost reported Friday.
“I am a law-abiding citizen and as a judge, sworn to justice and law,” the 54-year-old told the paper, adding that Merkel’s words were “tacky and undignified.”
In his two-page document, Uthmann, a judge for 21 years, cites section 140 of the German Criminal Code, which forbids the “rewarding and approving” of crimes. In this case, Merkel endorsed a “homicide,” Uthmann claimed.
  • Huh. Merkel can be tacky, no doubt.  But going so far as to prosecute her for saying she is glad Bin Laden is dead?  Oh my.  How would this guy feel about Valkyrie?  The effort by German officers to kill Hitler?  Were they homicidal maniacs?  Yes, comparing Bin Laden to Hitler is a bit much, but they both committed mass murder and neither one declared any intent to cease and desist before they died. 
I would really like to see a poll taken of Europeans (I am sure this is already in the works): are you glad Bin Laden is dead? Do you approve of the US effort to kill Bin Laden?  I think the elites might just be out of touch with their populace.  I cannot help but note the contradictions--that Europeans Germans seem to be more upset that there are more Muslims in their society (almost entirely peaceful) and upset that the US killed the one Muslim (technically and avowedly but a bad one, given how many Muslims he helped to kill) who actually was responsible for killing significant numbers of Europeans (and Africans, Arabs, Americans, Australians, Indians, etc).

On the other hand, this is actually somewhat consistent.  After all, the Germans opposed the effort to take down Qaddafi (ok, Merkel did, the parties disagreed).  So, the basic approach is to let Muslim leaders kill Muslims, but that it is wrong for Americans to kill Bin Laden. 

I have not read the European press.  The piece linked above focuses solely on the Germans.  What are the Dutch, the Danes, the Poles, the Italians, the French, the Brits, the Spaniards, and all saying about this?  Will public opinion vary by which countries got hit by AQ terrorism?  After all, with regard to AQ, Germany has only hosted terrorists and have prevented all (or nearly all) attacks.  I doubt the Brits or the Spaniards feel quite the same way.

All I can say is that it is easy to be smug when one's hands are not near the wheel.  But when one has choices, very difficult ones, then you must make the best call possible.  Afghanistan and Pakistan always, always present us with a set of bad alternatives and the hard part is figuring out which is least bad.  The Obama administration faced a very difficult set of choices.  Better lucky than good, although on that night, the troops (and dog) were both. 

1 comment:

Felix said...

What I’m wondering is why so few people talk about the long-term strategic significance that bin Laden was killed rather than detained and tried? Of course, detention and a subsequent trial would have been much harder (location of the trial, possible vengeance attacks etc.). than simply killing the guy. But the arguments for a trial outweigh the points against it. For one, it would’ve opened the possibility to get this whole “war on terror”-thing away from the (in my opinion rather senseless) “war” rhetoric to more of a crime/law enforcement perspective. Of course, right now it is a war, but only because we made it one. Second, we missed the chance to learn about the true magnitude of Bin Laden’s crimes. This would’ve not only silenced most bizarre conspiracy-theorists but also would’ve shown AGAIN the magnitude of Bin Laden’s crimes against muslims – and thereby undermined Al Qaida’s legitimacy in the Arab world. Third, we missed an opportunity to come to terms with history. Throughout history, societies have benefited a great deal from trials as a process of reconciliation/acknowledging their history (Nuremberg, RAF trials in Germany, Eichmann-Trials etc.). Finally, a trial and a conviction would have shown the qualities of a system that is based on the power of law rather than on the law of power (i.e. eye for an eye…).

I’m not saying that I don’t understand Obama’s decision. Detaining a terrorist in Pakistan is quite unlike sending a SWAT to capture a local drug dealer in L.A. It probably was, as you say, the “least bad decision” in terms of operational constraints. But the most pragmatic/easiest solution is not necessarily the strategically wise solution. (Money Quote Yoda: “A Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight” The easiest way’s not always the best/right one *g*).

Also, yeah, I’m kinda relieved that guy is no longer around doing bad stuff. This is not what bothers me (so, in my opinion, all that talk about being “glad” or not is rather bizarre).

But I am wondering why Obama (as a law professor) has not stressed (or even mentioned) the possibilities a trial would have offered. He could have framed the whole thing differently – and could have silenced a lot of critics.