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The politics of killing bin Laden


Leaving aside all legal considerations, a mission that reflected a rational anti-terrorism policy — at least in a country not in the grip of continual hysteria — would have aimed to capture him alive.

Instead, the White House opted for justice the catharsis of sudden violent revenge and the advantages of cheap political theater. That as a matter of practical domestic politics it probably had no choice is ironic testimony to how far bin Laden actually succeeded in his crusade against the United States.

Update: Speaking of strawmen, I’ve written nothing that criticizes the SEAL team for their actions, since those actions are most reasonably interpreted as a precisely calibrated carrying out of their orders. Unlike the commentators who seem to think the SEALs shot bin Laden because they were frightened by the possibility that he might set off a booby trap of some sort, I have no doubt that the SEAL team would have captured bin Laden rather than shot him if their mission had been in fact to capture him, whatever concerns they might have had about danger to themselves.

Anyway the whole “booby trap” line of thinking is rather absurd — if OBL had booby trapped his bedroom then attempting to kill him rather than capture him would only slightly reduce the risk to the team, if at all. If OBL was going to set off a bomb he had several minutes to get himself ready to do so, and I doubt he would have given the team a chance to shoot him first. It’s just a bald rationalization to make the mission look more ambiguous than it was (it’s instructive that I haven’t seen a single right-winger argue that this was anything other than a kill mission, even though in their eyes that interpretation actually makes Obama look better).

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