Was Pakistan Involved In Killing Of Osama Bin Laden?

My first thought when I heard the news that Osama Bin Laden was killed was where do we go from here.  I was not expecting the news on a late Sunday night that the most-wanted man in the world had been killed.  When I did hear the news my mind did not go back to 9/11 but instead searched for news on how this event occurred within Pakistan.  At a time when Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda had a wide swath of support in the country that neighbors Afghanistan, how did the Pakistan government play a role in the killing?

This will be one of the major spokes of this story, and I have been following that part of the news for a couple of hours.

There are many reports from NBC and CNN over what happened in Pakistan, and how much the Pakistani government and military were aware of what was being planned that finally ended with the killing of Bin Laden on Sunday.  These reports are very important, and how this took place in Pakistan over the past days and weeks will have a huge impact on how this region moves forward in the months to come.

NBC is reporting that for U.S. security needs Pakistan was not informed about  the months of preparation for the attack on the compound where Bin Laden was living.  It has long been reported that the internal security forces in Pakistan have members who support Al-Qaeda, and have posed problems with leaks about planned attacks.   That is easy to understand, and makes sense from a U.S. military planning perspective to keep the mission secret.

However, CNN reported online that Pakistan had members of Pakistan’s intelligence service – the ISI –  on site in Abbotabad, Pakistan, during the operation that killed  bin Laden.

Later CNN reported much the same as NBC.

 A senior administration official told reporters that U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration did not share intelligence gathered before the attack on bin Laden in Pakistan with any other country – including Pakistan – for security reasons.

As much as the world is correctly lifted by the news over the end to Bin Laden, the very last thing we need would be for a totally unilateral effort where Pakistan was not involved with, or privy to the plans until the time military action was underway, or until after it was completed.  The complexity of the reasons for keeping Pakistan stable and in a working mode with US interests is vital.  Having the U.S. take the bold but necessary steps it did without Pakistan’s involvement will roil those elements hostile to the current Pakistani government, and make our mission in the region far more tenuous.  It will make Pakistan look weak if their airspace was invaded, and  a mission of this scope took place without their knowledge or involvement.

It may seem like there are no good military or diplomatic options at times in many places around the globe.  Often that is the case, and tonight we are witnessing one of those moments seemingly play out.

We now know which story is going to drive the week.

Newspapers Have Right To Publish Leaked State Department Cables

The New York Times had it right today when they wrote about why they went to press with the leaked State Department cables.  These cables were going to be made known one way or the other, so why not deal with the story in a professional journalistic method.

Of course, most of these documents will be made public regardless of what The Times decides. WikiLeaks has shared the entire archive of secret cables with at least four European publications, has promised country-specific documents to many other news outlets, and has said it plans to ultimately post its trove online. For The Times to ignore this material would be to deny its own readers the careful reporting and thoughtful analysis they expect when this kind of information becomes public.

While I think the stolen cables will make for troubles with crafting foreign policy, and working with international contacts, I also recognize the value in knowing what our government does in our name.  We all should care about that.

The New York Times addressed that matter today.  I have always stood by the press when reporting stories for these reasons, and do so again at this time.  There will be the usual remarks about the press, and The New York Times in particular. Those comments are now so often used they are beyond trite.  Those who scream the loudest are the ones least able to understand the need for a free press, or the role the press serves in our democracy.  For the rest of us the need is obvious.

But the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

Other newspapers around the world had this state department cables story dominate their front pages.  The Guardian in an editorial comment made this statement. 

 Anything said or done in the name of a democracy is, prima facie, of public interest. When that democracy purports to be “world policeman” – an assumption that runs ghostlike through these cables – that interest is global.

The job of the media is not to protect power from embarrassment. If American spies are breaking United Nations rules by seeking the DNA biometrics of the UN director general, he is entitled to hear of it. British voters should know what Afghan leaders thought of British troops. American (and British) taxpayers might question, too, how most of the billions of dollars going in aid to Afghanistan simply exits the country at Kabul airport.

No harm is done by high-class chatter about President Nicolas Sarkozy’s vulgarity and lack of house-training, or about the British royal family. What the American embassy in London thinks about the coalition suggests not an alliance at risk but an embassy with a talent problem.

Some stars shine through the banality such as the heroic envoy in Islamabad, Anne Patterson. She pleads that Washington’s whole policy is counterproductive: it “risks destabilising the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and the military leadership, and provoking a broader governance crisis without finally achieving the goal”. Nor is any amount of money going to bribe the Taliban to our side. Patterson’s cables are like missives from the Titanic as it already heads for the bottom.

The money‑wasting is staggering. Aid payments are never followed, never audited, never evaluated. The impression is of the world’s superpower roaming helpless in a world in which nobody behaves as bidden. Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, the United Nations, are all perpetually off script. Washington reacts like a wounded bear, its instincts imperial but its power projection unproductive.

America’s foreign policy is revealed as a slave to rightwing drift, terrified of a bomb exploding abroad or of a pro-Israeli congressman at home. If the cables tell of the progress to war over Iran or Pakistan or Gaza or Yemen, their revelation might help debate the inanity of policies which, as Patterson says, seem to be leading in just that direction. Perhaps we can now see how catastrophe unfolds when there is time to avert it, rather than having to await a Chilcot report after the event. If that is not in the public’s interest, I fail to see what is.

Clearly, it is for governments, not journalists, to protect public secrets. Were there some overriding national jeopardy in revealing them, greater restraint might be in order. There is no such overriding jeopardy, except from the policies themselves as revealed. Where it is doing the right thing, a great power should be robust against embarrassment.

What this saga must do is alter the basis of diplomatic reporting. If WikiLeaks can gain access to secret material, by whatever means, so presumably can a foreign power. Words on paper can be made secure, electronic archives not. The leaks have blown a hole in the framework by which states guard their secrets. The Guardian material must be a breach of the official secrets acts. But coupled with the penetration already allowed under freedom of information, the walls round policy formation and documentation are all but gone. All barriers are permeable. In future the only secrets will be spoken ones. Whether that is a good thing should be a topic for public debate.

International Students At Our Dinner Table, “Too Many Who Hold A Rifle Never Have Held A Pen”

I have long contended the best way to spend time is with a great meal and leisurely conversation.  The only way to improve on that is to add some international flavor to the faces around the table.   Such was the case today at our home.

Two international students, Manzoor from Pakistan, and Ferit from Turkey found out how some of the traditional Thanksgiving foods are served and tasted.  As they enjoyed the flavor of an early holiday the remarkable dinner conversation will go down as one of the best that has taken place this year around our table.

Both of the men are in college and are also immersing themselves in American culture when they are not cracking the books.  They are older than the traditional students so their level of maturity and seriousness was already known to us.  After all, they had been invited to our home weeks ago but felt they could not take the time away from studying.   They wanted to keep pace with others in the class. There are certainly relatives on the other side of the globe that can be mighty proud.

What struck me about both of these people is the insightful way they view the world.  Traveling to other lands does provide that larger clue to how all the international pieces can fit together.

Both Manzoor and Ferit connected the dots from viewing our news coverage that much of the real story is never told about international events.  The old saying ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ when speaking of what gets press attention was not lost on our dinner guests.   They each found that troubling as the real story of nations far from our shores is not really known to Americans.

Manzoor lamented that too many people think that all of Pakistan is in disarray and turmoil.  In fact, it is not.  He spoke of most Pakistanis not being embroiled in the tensions that make the front pages of the newspapers.  Islamic extremists are a small minority of his country.   Manzoor says he would estimate that apart from the region near Afghanistan only 1% of  Pakistan is made up of Islamic fundamentalists.

As a tour guide in the mountain regions near China Manzoor spoke of the 20 languages that one can find in his country.  He speaks three of them, and also English.  I reminded him that some Americans can barely speak one.

Both of the men follow Islam and resembled every other person of that faith I have ever met.  In other words, the average every-day people.  I wished that all those who have grabbed headlines this year for anti-Muslim remarks could have eaves-dropped into our kitchen.

After all, it is all about education.

When I asked about the clerics who foment divisiveness in Pakistan Manzoor said: “Too many who hold a rifle never have held a pen.”   The line was direct and perfect.  All the ills of the world boil down to a lack of education.

Manzoor spoke fondly of Greg Mortenson and the work he does in the region by building schools.  The book “Three Cups Of Tea” and the work behind it is the source of hope for many.  Educating children and changing realities is where we should be spending our money and time when it comes to foreign aid dollars.

Both of these guys were more in touch with life and priorities than many men their age I know in America.  I am sure it has everything to do with how they were raised, and the culture they carry with them.  It was so refreshing.  So noticeable.  There was no macho type of language or attitude.  It was a level of genuineness that made for easy laughs and deeper thoughts to be voiced.

Ferit spoke about the need for traditions to be honored.  He asked about how Thanksgiving and Christmas were spent, and James and I told of our childhoods.  We spoke of the old ornaments that hang on the Christmas tree, and special foods that transport us back to childhood memories.  We told of the stockings and how Santa visited.  Ferit spoke of watching American films about Christmas when he was younger and wanting Santa to stop at his home.

Several times Ferit made note of the importance of honoring one’s heritage.  That to me was wonderful to hear from someone of an age where that type of sentiment is rarely heard.  He spoke of values and used the word over and over.  That was not lost on me.  It made me aware again that good parenting is priceless.

The taste of apple pie has made quite an impact on Ferit during his time in Madison.  With the promise that we would get him the recipe for his mom back home, we, in turn, served homemade pumpkin pie.  With a smile, I told him he needed to learn how to put on whipped cream topping.  “You need more!” I told him after he had only added a small spoonful.

At the end of our meal and conversation, Ferit looked at me and stated he needed to ask for permission.  I thought he wanted to use the bathroom and was about to say ‘down the hallway’.  But he quickly added that it was a custom to ask permission to end the meal and leave.  I looked at Manzoor and he added it was also customary in Pakistan as well.  It was perhaps the most polite ending to a meal I have ever encountered.

I wanted to ask, “what happens if people say no”  but left that joke for another day and another meal.

As they left our home I thought of how big the world is, and how little of it I come in real contact with.  I also was left with the wonderful sense of something I have long felt.

People are so much more alike than we are different.  That fact was again made clear thanks to Ferit and Manzoor.

Why Would Anyone Want To Be President?

The current trip by President Obama, like every other trip by presidents of either party, has merit. Presidents really do not fly all over the world just for fun.

In the case of President Obama going to India and parts of Asia it should be noted that there are over 250 business people with him and staff to make sure trade deals are struck. There is all ready talk of a $5.8 billion aircraft sale by Boeing. Not bad.

India is one of the nations we should welcome as a stronger business partner since they are growing at about 8% a year when we are trying to struggle at 2%. I read in the paper today that bilateral trade is expected to be worth more than $50 billion this year alone. This trip by this president, and others like it matter!

Had we run campaigns this fall on issues (GASP!) citizens might be better educated for the need of a more comprehensive Asian strategy. Had any of the candidates talked about something other than how angry they are we might have more from them on record about the need to balance the Pakistan-India divide, as an example.

Lets face it, anger was easier for most than issues.  That goes for the candidates.  That goes for the voters too.  No one gets a pass at not being stupid this election year.

The chatter of how much this trip costs has been a political point for talk radio. The forces that protect the President are not talking, and never do about the cost of making sure all are safe on foreign trips, This chatter is just more politics from those who would bite at Obama if he did nothing to stir the economy, and now snap at him when he does. They would rant if he did not work to keep the nation safe, and chatter when he does.

Why would anyone want to be President?