War on al-Qaeda: more questions than answers

On the U.S. operation [1 May 2011, in Abottabad, Pakistan] to take out Osama Bin Laden [OBL or UBL] here are a few answers [none from official sources] to some of the remaining questions — though there are still more questions than answers.

For a discussion of some of the questions, and some answers, see our post here.

Meantime, there’s a very useful graphic published by the Washington Post, in an article published here, entitled “Breaking Down the Situation Room“, with contributions from a number of the WPost’s “in-house experts”:

Washington Post graphic - id of those in the photo watching the Osama kill
1. Vice President Biden
2. President Obama
3. Brig. Gen. Marshall B. Webb
4. Deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough
5. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
6. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates
7. Adm. Mike Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman
8. National security adviser Thomas E. Donilon
9. White House chief of staff Bill Daley
10. Antony Blinken, national security adviser to Biden
11. Audrey Tomason, director for counterterrorism
12. John O. Brennan, assistant to Obama for counterterrorism
13. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.

And, here are excerpts from some of the WPost’s staff’s comments:

Body Language [Sarah Kaufman, Dance critic]: “… the president’s taking up the least amount of room. In contrast to Vice President Biden, with that broad open torso, spread out, filling out his seat, Obama has drawn inward, sucked himself into a small place. If this were a stage, you’d never guess the buck stopped there. It is Hillary Clinton who seizes the audience. With the gesture of the hand to the mouth, as if masking a gasp, she is expressive, emotional and human, a Cassandra who stands out amid the lockjawed, impassive ensemble”…

Etiquette [Judith Martin, Miss Manners + Etiquette expert]: “A ‘We Got Him!’ gathering is the ultimate come-as-you-are occasion. On a Sunday afternoon, the president came in off the golf course. It was fortunate that no one showed up wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with words that might be considered, uh, off-message … this is the rare White House event at which formality is unseemly. When a death is involved, even the death of an enemy, any signs of jubilation and partying are vulgar. That must be why, in a White House crammed with sets of china, coffee was served in paper cups. It may also be why the official picture shows everyone with a properly somber and dignified expression, taken before the outcome of the mission was known. Had it been taken at the moment of success, an official explanation would have been required, stating that any signs of rejoicing were only because the Americans were safe, and not because Osama bin Laden was dead”.

Tech [David Ignatius, Espionage expert]: “In the photo, the participants all seem to be eyeballing something in real time. It’s possible, though unlikely [n.b. – CIA Director Leon Panetta has since thrown cold water, perhaps deliberately as a ruse, on the insistence on Day One of the White House Press Secretary that these guys watched the whole thing, including Osama Bin Laden’s death, “in real time”], that they were watching the actual raid through a videocam carried by a member of SEAL Team 6, just like in a Tony Scott movie. In Sit Rooms and command centers around the world, there’s often a video feed from Predator drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles, sometimes known as ‘Pred porn’ because it’s so mesmerizing. I’ve seen Predator feeds of a car meandering down a road, or of a dark cave in Afghanistan, and wondered: ‘Is he there? Am I glimpsing [Ayman al-]Zawahiri or Osama?’ Look at the tension and anticipation on the faces in that White House picture: A decade of watching and waiting, and now it’s about to happen for real. I like the little details in the picture: Which men are wearing ties? Why is the president sitting away from the action, almost in the second row? (Perhaps that defines him.) Why is Tom Donilon, the big-cheese national security adviser, standing, while his deputy Denis McDonough has a front-row seat? The stiff military officer in the uniform — is he allowed to unbutton his jacket? And that paper in front of Hillary Clinton that’s so sensitive it has to be fuzzed up — what’s that about, please?”

The Photograph [Philip Kennicott, Art Critic]: “At least two basic metaphors of power are at play: being in the room and at the table. Both metaphors expressly exclude us, the viewers of the photo, who are not there, not in the loop. The photograph fascinates because it represents the most basic aspects of political power: knowledge, access, influence and proximity. The photograph thus puts the viewer in a subordinate position. But the chain of meanings continues at least one more step. The anxiety on the faces shows the degree to which some of the most powerful people in the world can’t control events. They (and their administration) are subordinate to chance and fate, to unknown unknowns and known unknowns. So the sequence is this: We have less power than they do, and they have less power than reality. The photographer creates a kind of ‘V’ of sightlines to emphasize this drama: We look in from one angle as they look out at another, almost a perfect mirror image. We enjoy narratives of great power because we have so little power in our own lives over things such as errant buses, disease, death and the vicissitudes of love. The photo reveals that sometimes even people who seem to have invested in them the talent and power to be masters of their fate are frightened, worried, tense and uncertain. And so by excluding us from the world of one kind of power, the photo reminds of a more fundamental powerlessness. It keeps us out of one room but puts us all in another, from which there is no exit”…

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