(Today's entry is cross-posted with Vote Obama 2012.)
Today marks the 11th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and the failed attack on other presumed targets in DC. Last year, the man responsible for the plot was killed by American Navy Seals on the orders of President Barack Obama, and I remain deeply conflicted as to the means and ethics of his death. There is one vengeful part of me, frankly, that rejoices to have seen the man "brought to justice." There is another that recoils from the use of violence to resolve the issue, the incursion into another state's territory that was required to accomplish the action, the cold brutality of it. Such deeds were common in other eras, and in other parts of the world. I find it sad that our species still finds such acts necessary and acceptable. Most vile, to me, is the repeated nationalistic chants of "USA, USA!" that invariably accompany mention of Bin Laden's death.
What does the action have to say about the President? Certainly that he has a boldness many thought he lacked; a ruthlessness, even--and I believe that this is a quality that a leader is sometimes required to dredge up from the depths of his being. It's a quality that I have to grudgingly admire, but only when brought to bear as a last resort. It's not one I would wish to cultivate in myself, but I am not a leader in the great tide of human events. I feel the same about the decision to back that ruthlessness up with the use of deadly violence. In today's world, it is required of any President of the United States. I suppose it is not very Buddhist of me to write those words, but I'm afraid they are true to my beliefs. Pacifism is but an aspiration in a world where violence remains prevalent. To repeat the truism that violence begets only violence is hardly helpful, especially when it comes to self-defense--which can, and sometimes must be pre-emptive.
Obama's resort to violent means remains deeply troublesome to me personally. The build-up of troops in Afghanistan, the use of drone strike against terrorist targets--inevitably also causing civilian deaths--are actions that instinctively revolt me. And yet it remains true that the latter have severely weakened the power of organized terrorism in the world; they are, in that sense, effective--and more humane, in a perverse way, than conventional warfare. The Afghan strategy remains arguable. But the President was left with little choice, given the inheritance of that war, other than to come up with the least bad of strategies. Walking out and leaving the country in worse shape than we found it would not, in my view, have been an ethical course of action.
Afghanistan, too, was the place where this whole mess originated. It was the Taliban regime that welcomed and supported the gang that hatched the plot, and eventually succeeded in bringing down the towers of the World Trade Center. It remains a complex and perplexing problem, where no easy solution offers itself. I for one am grateful to have a president now in office who treats it as such, acknowledging that any solution is provisional and that the outcome is uncertain; and who directs his policy with watchfulness and caution.