As news of Bin Laden's death broke last night Gulf News moved my column up to Tuesday's paper, instead of my usual Wednesday slot. You can read the finished column here. Please return to this page to leave comments.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden. America, as a society, clearly needs a sort of collective form of closure and it has been obvious over the last 12 hours that Bin Laden's death offers that.

At the risk of being a party-pooper, however, I think it is important to offer two warnings. The first, outlined at greater length in the column, is that we do ourselves a disservice if we believe that Bin Laden's death 'ends' something. The man is gone, but the vicious ideology he came to embody is far from dead. Closure regarding 9/11 is good in a narrow sense, but just as it was always a mistake to think of ourselves as being at 'war' with a tactic, it is an equally grave mistake to believe that killing one man will make that tactic go away.

Second, it is difficult to see how the circumstances surrounding Bin Laden's demise can do anything other than complicate our already-difficult relationship with Pakistan. It is simply impossible to believe that Bin Laden could have been living for an extended period in a suburb of Islamabad - a suburb reportedly popular with retired Pakistani generals, and in a compound only a few hundred meters from a military academy - without some very senior Pakistani officials being aware of that fact. In his statement Sunday night President Obama declared that the Pakistanis had offered unspecified assistance in the Navy SEAL operation that killed Bin Laden. I find this very, very hard to believe and think we must assume those comments were little more than an effort to help the Pakistanis save face.

Not that we really needed further evidence, but here, again, is proof that Washington and Islamabad are playing from vastly different scripts where both Al-Qaeda and Afghanistan are concerned. We and the Pakistanis are clearly stuck with each other, and this is only going to make our shotgun marriage that much more dysfunctional.
 
 

This essay by Thomas Ricks, written for the Foreign Policy Research Institute is an important contribution to the national debate on Iraq that we sometimes seem collectively determined to avoid.

Ricks begins:

There are three things the American people don’t understand about the war in Iraq right now: (1) how difficult the surge was and how different it was from the previous four years of the war; (2) that the surge failed, judged on its own terms; and (3) that the war is not over. In fact, I suspect we might be only halfway through it, which is to say that President Obama’s war in Iraq may well be longer than George Bush’s war in Iraq, which was five years and ten months old when Bush left office.

It is particularly refreshing to hear a major, respected analyst of the war say that the surge has failed. Throughout the presidential campaign candidates on both sides spent so much time singing the praises of the surge that it became effectively impossible to question that received wisdom. Those of us who pointed out that the surge was supposed to have a military side and a political side and that while the former had been successful the latter had not were rarely heard. Even in hyper-liberal Vermont I could see the shock on people's faces when I made this point during talks or panel discussions.

Ricks' argument for why we are likely to remain in Iraq for a long time to come makes compelling, if unsettling, reading.


Also worth special attention are two items from the latest issue of the New York Review of Books. In this essay the always-compelling Robert Malley & Hussein Agha argue that the search for a workable Israeli-Palestinian peace will continue to fail if it continues to be driven by outsiders.

One of Bush's least noticed but most profound and pernicious legacies in the region might well turn out to have been this transformation of the concept of Palestinian statehood from among the more revolutionary to the more conservative, from inspiring to humdrum... For many in the US, the notion of such radical change often is reduced to the question of whether or not to talk to Hamas. That is a diversion. The challenge is whether Obama can speak to those for whom Hamas speaks. They are the people who have lost faith in America, its motivations, and every proposal it promotes.

The same issue of the Review also contains an excellent piece by Ahmed Rashid. Titled "Pakistan on the Brink" it picks up where Rashid's recent book Descent into Chaos leaves off.