Obama V Osama | My (abridged) letter to The Australian

So I wrote in on Friday to voice my frustration at the contents of a letter by one Richard Shankland the previous day: namely the idea that we on “the left” must be trembling with confusion after Barack Obama (unquestioned idol to us all, of course) succeeded where for eight years George W. failed: by finding and killing Osama bin Laden.

Shankland’s letter can be found here (scroll down slightly) while my response can be viewed (and tweeted or “recommended” on Facebook, since we’re all into that sort of thing) here.

The thing is, in their infinite wisdom, the folks at our nation’s premier daily broadsheet saw fit to cut my letter’s length by removing its last few sentences, leaving the published version to finish on a tantalisingly under-realised “furthermore”.

The full version read thus. I’d be interested to know how much you think the last section matters:

RICHARD Shankland is misguided in his attempt to use the President Obama-led operation against Osama bin Laden as a club with which to bludgeon the Left.

While some might be conflicted about bin Laden’s killing under the watch of a liberal US president, most are not. That is because, despite the unsettling victory celebrations of some Americans, Obama himself remained appropriately calm, sober and matter-of-fact. He may have misused the word “justice”, but his speech was still in stark contrast to the various old American-west cliches spouted by George W. Bush, such as “dead or alive” and “with us or against us”. Furthermore, the biggest problem with Bush was not so much the actions he took but the way in which he justified them with open, bold arrogance.

…and the part they didn’t publish…

The central question of the bin Laden killing is did the Americans plan to capture him if they could, or was assassination always the intended goal? If the latter, then I expect most on “the Left” will indeed criticise Obama for that aspect of the operation. But words and rhetorical tone do make a difference. For that reason, Obama’s sober announcement and his refusal to employ self-congratulatory slogans like “mission accomplished” demonstrate why he is rightly seen as a greater statesman than George W. Bush ever was.

I’ve been told that actions should always carry more weight than words, but it seems to me that when actions are inevitably fraught and complex, where clear options and perfect solutions are not possible, then words provide a valuable guide to the underlying principles that are guiding those actions.

Of course actions are ultimately what matters, but the way that one person or nation’s complex actions are portrayed and perceived can, in turn, affect the behaviour of others. The cowboy rhetoric of George W. Bush, which celebrated the idea of revenge and greeted successful military or security operations as if they were sporting victories, promoted a culture of violence and arrogance which then encouraged and justified such behaviour among other, even less civilised governments around the world.

In contrast, Obama’s approach, while itself flawed and burdened with the weight of conservative middle-America still baying for blood, at least demonstrates that for this President the killing of Osama bin Laden, even if deemed nessesary or desireable, was not an act committed lightly.

War and violence are sometimes nessesary. The questions of when, why and under what circumstances are open to furious debate. But it’s a step in the right direction when killing a wanted terrorist is no longer treated, at least by the President, like winning a football game.

The rest of (red) America should take note.

Discuss, and see ya next time.


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