Bin Laden Furor: It’s All Theater

The UK Guardian ran a story Monday about a secret deal between the US and Pakistan, reached in 2001, shortly after Osama bin Laden gave our troops the slip at Tora Bora. (Heckuva job, Rummy!)

According to active and retired officials from both nations, if the US got a shot at bin Laden, they were authorized to make a unilateral strike inside Pakistani territory. The Pakistanis, in return, would scream and holler about it for the consumption of the Pakistani public, but really they had no problems with it. The pact was renewed in 2008, when Pakistan transitioned to a civilian-led government.

It’s interesting, because it describes exactly what happened when the US figured out where bin Laden was hiding. We took him out and Pakistan screamed and hollered. The US press, which has not picked up on the Guardian piece, has spilled several barrels of ink describing the myriad ins and outs of US-Pakistani relations and how the bin Laden raid may or may not affect them. How about this for a headline: “Bin Laden Furor: It’s All Theater”?

We know that. (By “we,” I mean you, the people who continue to read these depressing commentaries and me.) We’re jaded. We expect our government’s activities – foreign policy especially – to be theater.

This particular play has several acts. Remember how then-candidate Hillary Clinton frothed at the mouth when then-rival-candidate Barack Obama said in a debate that he would order a unilateral strike inside Pakistan if he was president and learned bin Laden was there?

Is it possible Sen. Obama heard about the US-Pakistan deal in a classified briefing and decided it would be a bold stroke to “call his shot” in a televised debate? Make him look decisive and commander-in-chief-like? Is it possible Sen. Clinton (and later, Sen. John McCain) spewed froth from their lips not because Mr. Obama was reckless, but because they hadn’t thought of the gambit first?

(Sen. Clinton: “I’ll show him. I’ll use his own tactic against him. I’ll make a commercial about answering the White House phone at 3 a.m. That’ll get him.”)

(Sen. McCain: “I’ll show him. I’ll whine about it in a sing-song voice to remind everyone I’m like their cranky grandfather.”)

Aside from the Pakistanis’ lines, we’ve had the political spectrum from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to former Secretary of State Condi Rice trash-talking the Pakistanis for not knowing Osama was camped out a quarter mile from an elite military academy. (Not sure the philosophical distance between Ms. Feinstein and Ms. Rice constitutes a “spectrum” but willing suspension of disbelief is required from theatergoers.)

Amid all the threats and imprecations, I have been waiting for someone (anyone!) in the US government to make the one obvious statement to the Pakistanis: “We found Osama bin Laden sitting in your front parlor. That makes you look bad. There are still high-level Al Quaeda leaders at large. If we find them in Pakistan, we’ll take them out and you will look bad again. If you find them in Pakistan and take them out, you’ll look good. So, find them and take them out. Look good.”

Is that hard? Or obscure? Or elusive to common sense?

Maybe it’s just not in the script.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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