Monday, May 23, 2011

Osama: A Cathartic Killing.

The killing of Osama Bin Laden has been dissected in international media. While the world heaved a collective sigh of relief at not just the killing but the near total absence of any outcry from the proverbial Arab street. The latter, specifically, is making analysts sit up and take note.

Are Americans wrong to celebrate the killing of Osama? How different is such an American from those who celebrated 9/11 watching the towers fall? Stunned by Obama's action that looked very much like Bush  the world at large gave a muted appreciation but the ubiquitous finger wagging intellectuals added a "nevertheless its not nice to celebrate a person's death" and for good measure compared it with the celebrations that erupted in parts of Middle East seeing civilians leap to their death from the towering inferno. Such moral bracketing is despicable and loathsome. Celebrating the death of a mass murderer is NOT the same as celebrating seeing innocent men and women leap to their deaths. I had aptly compared it to Diwali in my earlier blog .

Like World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, First Gulf War, this was not a war that America sought out. America in the midst of a recession was busy addressing its economy. George Bush came to office forswearing nation building. He had declared that "America is not the world's 911" (911 - number for all emergencies in USA). John Cherian, writing for Frontline magazine, claimed that America went to war to capture one man. An insulting sleight of hand. America did not go to war with Afghanistan just chasing Osama. Afghanistan was the hot bed global terrorism running practically schools were terror tactics were taught to jihadists. That terror network had to be dismantled.

Some have pointed out that unlike common belief that this attack is indeed covered by international law. More than a few sought to lecture America that  this is not justice but sheer vendetta, justice would be to arrest Osama and indict him in a court of law. America did that to Ramzi Youssef who had bombed the towers in 1993. Youssef, too, was picked up in Pakistan, arraigned in a court of law, defended by a lawyer paid by US taxpayer and is in a supermax prison sentenced for life (no death penalty). What good did it do us? Would the likes of Osama be mollified by such trials? Even if such a trial was carried out a would-be-Osama (and not a few intellectuals) would still mock it as a staged trial. It would be free dangerous propaganda circulating on youtube. Osama's culpability in 9/11 was proved beyond doubt by any standards of investigation, including his own despicably boastful videos that nailed his guilt.

Some brushed it as inconsequential killing that may unnecessarily inflame passions again. The treasure trove of intelligence unearthed has shown that Osama was not just in hiding but actively plotting with his sick mind. There are those who would still say such intelligence was 'planted'. I've no arguments for instinctive Anti-Americans who loath America. Let me reiterate that Obama is the president under whose watch all of this is happening. Now the anti-Americans would drool "all American presidents are the same". Trying to convince them is like having a conversation with a dinner table. The killing has deep symbolic effect across segments and it has perceivable impact in real terms too.

When the Japanese launched Pearl Harbor their idea was that America lacked guts and courage for a prolonged bloody war. After decimating American navy when the planes headed home, General Yamamoto, who spear headed the campaign, educated in USA, is reported to have said "all that we have done today is to wake up a sleeping tiger". Osama thought the same. The nation of Playboy, Bay Watch etc would run away with its tail in between its legs. Osama repeatedly referred to how US ran away from Vietnam and Somalia. The Vietnam debacle especially emboldened him. If bicycle riders could humiliate America why not mule-riders? Destroying that comfort is valuable.

I did not want to write blogs on the operation itself immediately when the details were sketchy. Unlike my initial reaction this was not a 'kill' operation. There were preparations done to take him alive. However that was a very remote possibility. The SEALS were operating in very hostile territory, under darkness racing against time and against an opponent who valued his life very little hence their decision to kill him cannot be second guessed from arm chairs. The decision to bury him at sea was a brilliant one. I don't buy the reasoning given for that like "no country would accept him", "according to Islam we had to bury him in 24 hours". He was killed on land and taken to sea to be dumped for the fishes. I hope they had a feast or maybe they found him too distasteful for their morals.It would take another 5 years minimum until some investigative reporter pieces together the story for a prize winning book.

The killing of Osama provided yet again an opportunity for anti-americanism to come out in its full rich spectrum. Anti-Americanism is a rich tapestry woven out of many strands that mirror the colors of the soul of the beholder. The spectrum of such animosity ranges from sheer loathing to supposedly well meaning criticism couched in intellectual bromides.

A few days after the killing The Guardian newspaper from UK, no friend of America, printed a column that said the greatest myth about Osama was that USA/CIA created him. Soon after Peter Bergen, who had interviewed Osama in person in 1997 for CNN, wrote an op-ed for Washington Post titled "top 5 myths about Osama". The first myth was that Osama was a Frankenstein created by CIA. From Bergen's column:

"Instead, all U.S. aid to Afghanistan was funneled through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the ISI. Brigadier Mohammad Yousaf, the ISI officer who coordinated Pakistani efforts during the war, explained in “The Bear Trap,” his 1992 book: “No Americans ever trained or had direct contact with the mujaheddin.”
Since 9/11, al-Qaeda insiders have responded in writing to assertions that they had some kind of relationship with the CIA. Bin Laden’s top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in his autobiographical “Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet,” wrote, “The truth that everyone should learn is that the United States did not give one penny in aid to the [Arab] mujaheddin.”
I just finished reading "Looming Tower" by Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer awarded. The radicalization of Osama and the jihadist ire against America has got very little to do with American foreign policy or Israel. Osama declaring war on America follows a tortuous route spun with several threads that culminated in a fateful ideological conclusion. I plan to write on the various in the days ahead. 
What does this killing do for Obama? Not much in real terms. The 2012 election is far away. The Obama team is very well aware that Bush Sr lost the election after winning the war. Bush Sr lost to a relatively unknown Bill Clinton. Unfortunately for Obama the economic situation mirrors that of Bush Sr. But so far the GOP has not produced a Bill Clinton. Obama may yet win 2012 but this killing, while giving a welcome and richly deserved boost, is not enough to guarantee a second term. Its, still, the 'economy stupid".
I shall part with just one more thought. Just like Yamamoto many of the intellectual (if you can call them that way) leaders of Al Qaeda were educated in American universities. They and the 19 hijackers were guests of a generous America. What is it with American education and anti-americanism????

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Anna Hazare: Inspiring A Nation and Combating Naysayers.

I had been waiting to write this blog for a long time. I was waiting for the results of Tamil Nadu assembly elections. Now I am emboldened to flesh out a narrative given the verdict, that is nothing short of revolutionary, by the TN voter.

Like many Indians I had no idea of who Anna Hazare was until I saw Facebook postings and news items of a frail man with a Gandhi cap going on a fast unto death until corruption was rooted out of India. Corruption, with its many tentacles, is like an octopus stuck on the face of India. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can escape the venom of corruption that courses along the veins of India's body. Can we eat a fruit from a vendor without pondering if it was infected to hasten its fruition? Can we buy a bottle of water without pausing to think if it was tampered with? Passport office, RTO, Government secretariat, a traffic stop, a doctor's prescription, a medical laboratory reusing a slide used for examining stools, a college, a postman delivering a pensioners meager pension, banks, schools, scams running into numbers that the average man cannot even comprehend and much more.

Is any Indian naive enough to think that all would change with one fasting? Not in the least. Not the voters who have the maturity not to be lured by money and boot out the most corrupt regime in TN's history (surpassing Jaya's 91-96). Whatever Hazare achieved or did not he certainly achieved in unifying a wide array of critics across the political spectrum. Let's look at the critics first.

There is the well meaning intellectual who is horrified at an ultra-constitutional authority like the Jan Lokpal. Their concerns are very valid. Then comes the realist who reminds us that India is not corrupt for want of legal framework or legal avenues hence this is one more attempt that may very well scupper. So far I am with them. Another set of critics projected their own prejudices and pet causes as a template within which Hazare was judged as a hypocrite or liar or fundamentalist or plain buffoon.

Arundhathi Roy takes issue that Hazare is trying to root out corruption while not opposing the liberalization policies which in her mind are the fountain head of corruption. Opposing corruption while not opposing economic liberalization is a non-starter for her. Corruption did not start after 1991 when India launched privatization and unshackling the economy. Its government programs, especially social welfare programs, that are notoriously corrupt.

Gnani is angry that Irom Sharmila's fasting did not evoke the same level of public sympathy. In his eyes this is middle class hypocrisy. He upbraids the middle class, who constituted most of the sympathizers, as protesting against corruption only because it interferes in their 'comforts' or 'enjoying life'. Jeyamohan aptly criticized this as misplaced anger. Hazare touched an issue to which every Indian in every station of life could relate to. India is a subcontinent with diverse problems and each has its own intricacy. Divided by language and culture not many issues achieve a pan-Indian unity. As much as the northern India does not care for Tamil Nadu fisherman being slaughtered in the ocean the south India does not care much for India's brutal repression in parts of North India.

The media attention came in for lot of flak. Some commentators wryly noted that  in between World Cup and IPL this was a welcome TRP generating entertaining. After all the media, as enablers of corruption, was one of the key features of the despicable Radia tapes saga. Some alluded to extended jingoism coming out of a world cup victory. Even if we were to concede all that I am tempted to ask "so what?". Its not like the media was beaming jhatka-matkas to tick up viewership. Its not like people are clamoring for something dishonorable. Its not like a people rose up to say "release Barabbas".

Hazare's companions, the Bharat Matha depiction, praising Modi, Bhushan affairs were all fodder for criticism. Why hold Hazare responsible if Pappu Yadav offers support from within Tihar Jail? Hazare did not solicit Pappu Yadav. What is wrong with a Bharat Matha picture? Political correctness has run amuck when such objections are voiced. Swami Agnivesh is a respected social worker, just because he is a 'swami' its churlish to paint all of them as 'Hindutva'. Again none of them were agitating for anything ignoble or devious. They were all coming together to try to shake a nation to address a cancer that is eating into the body of the country. What is wrong with imagery of religiosity? Have we not seen the venality of so called atheists in Tamil Nadu? Atheism does not bestow any virtue as much religiosity by itself does not do so. EVR's pet project was erecting statues for himself while he was alive. Jayakanthan aptly observed that DK members are not atheists its just that their god is EVR.

Is undertaking a fast a blackmail? Is fasting to get one's nominees and oneself included in a panel 'Gandhian'? Yes, fasting is a sort of emotional blackmail if one chooses to call it as such. Was the fast as farcical as Jaya's fasting or MK's comical one? Not by a mile. More to the point Hazare was not putting his life on the line to gain electoral advantage or score brownie points. That Hazare wore a Gandhi cap and went on a fast prompted the label hungry media to call him a 'second Gandhi'. One could ignore that and move on.

Why did Hazare's fast yield results while others, most notably Potti Sriramulu's fast for Andhra, fail? Whether its the storming of Bastille or a guy setting himself aflame in Tunisia, revolutions and popular uprisings are characterized by an indefinable chemistry. Revolutions and momentous uprisings succeed or fail on a multiplicity of factors. When Gandhi announced his Dandi march nobody, not even Nehru and Patel, thought it was worthwhile. Irwin thought it was a joke. By the time Gandhi raised a fistful of salt he had shaken the foundations of an empire. Cable TV, social networking and above all the fact that every Indian has been singed by corruption personally made it possible for Hazare to succeed. The way many have asked "why did not the Indian government suppress this one like it habitually does?" kind of makes me wonder if they wished Hazare to silenced in some encounter. Again, very different dynamics operates here. Hazare is not a gun toting Maoist who is blowing  up schools and is plotting to overthrow the government. Also Manmohan Singh is not Indira Gandhi. Hazare is not JP either.

Jan Lokpal is ultra-constitutional. No doubt. Jaya has formed a 33 member ministry, the largest so far in Tamil Nadu. She could not go higher because the Supreme Court has restricted the number of ministers a cabinet can have. Why should the Supreme Court interfere in the liberty of a CM? What can we do in a country where ministries where used to lure party hoppers. Kalyan Singh's jumbo ministry in UP, I think he had 100 ministers, is a shameful episode. Much of what the election commission did is unfair. That before election a state's entire law enforcement machinery was deemed unreliable gave them no other option but to seek measures that only had a fig leaf constitutionality. People love this only because politicians have been crooks.

In a country where the constitution was written in such a ham handed manner where prosecuting a sitting CM or PM is next to impossibility such measures are inevitable. Paula Jones was a nobody yet she could prosecute the sitting President of the USA. To prosecute Jaya, a sitting CM, Swamy needed the permission of Channa Reddy the then Governor. Reddy and Jaya's parties were in alliance.The Founding Father's of USA agonized over balance of power and how checks and balances were incorporated. India while throwing off the yoke of colonialism retained the colonial mindset of treating the rulers as a superset subject to different rules from the common man. It was funny listening to Veeramani shedding tears for respecting the constitution. This from a man whose organization and its progenitors took pride in burning the constitution when it did not suit them.

When a government servant, a gazetted officer, applies for passport the mandatory police verification is waived off. Other hapless lesser mortals have to be verified. This is constitutionally sanctified class stratification. Government rules stipulate that a pensioner has to present himself/herself physically to a government officer periodically to certify eligibility for pensioner. Imagine you live in a village on a meager pension and you can imagine the dictatorial power that a clerk can have over you for certifying that you are alive.

The constitution, the government rules are all breeding grounds for corruption rendering a population that is intrinsically corrupt to the extent that many have lost completely all sense of ethics. An education internet user from Australia wrote in comment section "buying a black ticket is not unethical or corrupt. The buyer is paying the seller a premium for 'services' rendered such as not having to stand in queue". There is more than a shade of truth in decrying middle class hypocrisy. However political corruption stands out for many reasons and should be considered the head of this venomous snake.

The black ticket seller and buyer would run at the sight of a cop or at least try to be more surreptitious. Whereas its only a politician who would smile and wave when arrested. When CBI raided the premises of Kalaignar TV Cho drily remarked "if CBI recovers any incriminating document the management should be arrested for sheer incompetency given that the raid was very well expected and took more than a year to happen". Jaya's cases still grind through the lower courts, 15 years after they were filed.

Before any reader smugly asks "is there no corruption in USA or UK?" let me say "Of course there is but not of this scale where everyday life is a torture". Even when it happens justice is swift and impartial. My brother recently wrote, "In Britain, The Daily Telegraph newspaper exposed the scandal of MPs' expenses claims a year or so ago. Following that the worst three offenders were charged and the case came to court withing a year and all three were sent to prison for sums that would be considered loose change by Indian politicians. Sadly such a justice system is light years away in India.". I could cite many such cases in USA. Tom De Lay and Charlie Rangel are famous examples. Bill Clinton suffered mightily for his indiscretions.

Last year as soon as I came back from India I had to take my vehicle for annual inspection to our local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) in New Jersey. I looked up the DMV website for what papers I needed to take. Just basic stuff. I checked on the webcam online to see how the queue was. I went to the DMV, waited in queue for 5 mins, I was early. When my turn came I handed over the registration, gave my keys and stepped out. Within 5 minutes the inspection was completed, it was free of charge, I got my car and whizzed home. I told my cousin that I should blog that and draw the contrast with India. My cousin said 'People will think you are crazy'. Only those who have been through an RTO office with its scum bag touts will appreciate what I just narrated. 

That a state's CM was openly bigamous provided good fodder for jokes and innuendo. This was not a mere infraction. Rajathi was well aware that in the event of anything happening to MK she and Kanimozhi would be left hanging dry hence she let loose an avarice that set tongues wagging. Not only MK several of his cabinet ministers like Veerapandi Arumugam were openly bigamous (manaivi + Thunaivi -- Tamil words that rhyme for wife+concubine). Every house repeated the story. If one started analysing the ethical implications of a culture that shrugged of this one would open a can of worms that needs a separate blog by itself. 

Veeramani and his acolytes organized protest meetings to "unmask" Hazare. Remember this was the same guy who a few months back organized meetings to celebrate A.Raja. Suba.Vi, a suave talking professor, decided to discredit Hazare in broad strokes. Suba.Vi alleged Hazare was against social justice (euphemism for quota based reservation). There is no proof of that. Even if it be so, its a disconnected issue. Just because I don't like quotas should I not protest against bribery? Veeramani and Subavi then proceeded to deconstruct Hazare as a paper tiger, as a front man for vested interests, as the mask of Hindutva etc etc. 

V.P.Singh is a favorite idol for DK/DMK. When V.P.Singh took on Rajiv Gandhi he too was called a paper tiger. V.P.Singh was then derided as propped up by pseudo intellectuals in Express. Just as many DMK worker wished that 2G spectrum will not be an issue so too back then many wished Bofors would not be an issue. After all what does the common man care for corruption, what does the common man understand of Bofors or Fairfax or 2G. The common man has answered resoundingly. 

Hazare's campaign coming weeks before the election did have a salutary effect on many complacent voters. For having tapped into the higher yearnings of the common man and for inspiring a nation to reach for higher goals we owe Hazare a big thanks. Lets criticize his ideas or remedies. If he too has feet of clay let him fall. But mere vilification only shows the nature of the vilifier it does not diminish Hazare.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Take Your Daughter's To Work

I want to take a break from the deluge of Osama related news. For a change I want to write about something that I had been thinking for a very long time. I'd say this blog is for my daughter and for every girl child out there.

The last Thursday of April is observed as "Take your children to work day" in USA. It originally started in 1993 as 'Take your daughter's to work day". Gloria Steinem, the feminist, was the force behind this. Today companies organize events and really go all out to make the day enjoyable for children who accompany their parents to work. It is  to inculcate a spirit concerning work chiefly for girls. Women as a working force received big impetus during two pivotal wars in USA. The first was the Civil War and then World War II.

The idea behind this blog germinated when I was reading historian, now Harvard University Dean, Drew Gilpin Faust's "Mothers of Invention: Women of the slave holding South". Faust is considered one of the most pre-eminent historians of the Civil War. She later became the first woman dean of Harvard in 2007 amidst a furore. In 2008 she published another bestseller, "This Republic of Suffering:Death and American Civil War", this was Pulitzer finalist. Dr Faust draws attention to how Civil War reshaped the mores of America. US lost more men in Civil War than in any other since. This completely changed gender relations. With men away at battlefield women, especially in the conservative atavist South, stepped out of their traditional boundaries. Thus began a new era for women.

While their men folk went out to war the women ran the households, that includes doing chores that a 'lady' never did before. By the close of the war when the slaves were freed the women were compelled to do menial chores too. During the war women would knit socks for the men at the war front but when they ran out of cotton they had organize purchase of cotton. Simple but a landmark event in 1860's. Deprived of men to work women stepped into the professional arena. Chiefly, teaching and nursing. When women were sought to become teachers the society confronted an entrenched discrimination. Until then most schools for girls did not teach math and science like the boys were taught in their schools. By 1860's scientific discoveries, all by men, were shaking up the world chiefly in Europe. This discrimination formed the background for a controversy which enabled Faust to become Dean of Harvard.

During World War II women were recruited to do jobs that were usually the dominion of men and "Rosie the Riveter" as the poster campaign was known was born. The iconic poster was

Drew Faust's mother tersely told her, "It's a man's world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that better off you will be". Faust, a rebellious daughter, did not pay heed. She went to Bryn Mawr and later to University of Pennsylvania to do her PhD. Princeton did not accept women graduates till 1960's. As PhD student, having completed her requisite coursework that required her to be at the University newly-married Faust asked her professor if she could complete the thesis from remote so she could accompany her husband. The professor jeered, "if you want to be with your husband why are you doing  PhD". This to a woman who as 9 year old wrote to then President Eisenhower decrying racial segregation.

When Hillary Clinton campaigned in 2008 in New Hampshire men holding T-shirts that said "go and do laundry" appeared at her rallies. A WSJ opinion poll stated that, in 2008, USA more ready to elect an Afro-American man than a woman. If Hillary's make up was not sharp the press read meanings into it. If her jacket had less than conservative neckline it was noted. Her pant suits were made fun of. An MSNBC commentator referring to Chelsea's lobbying of delegates remarked "they are pimping her out". A remark he would not have made if the child campaigning was male child. Hillary Clinton remains the ONLY presidential candidate to have ever won a primary election.

Women, an IBM study says, lose approximately 7 years in their career due to motherhood. Only recently Clinton signed the FMLA giving 12 weeks paid leave for maternity. Women are traditionally paid less for doing the same job as that of a man.

Larry Summers, former Secretary of Treasury, highly respected economist, commented during a conference that we should study as to why women are not adequately represented in science and math. Summers was already facing some opposition at Harvard as Dean and this controversy simply blew the lid. He was caricatured as a dinosaur and booted out. Then Harvard set about searching for a dean. They finally hired, for the first time in their history, a woman as dean. Faust was dean at Radcliffe at that time.

The 2009 Nobel Prizes were a windfall for women scientists. Other than Madame Curie and her daughter I cant remember any other woman Nobel laureate in the sciences. 2009 changed that. Check out . Women were introduced to the sciences only in 1860's, women enrollment in colleges, in Ivy League universities, did not become an accepted fact until the post-war period. Even today if we go to "Pottery Barn kids", an upscale shop for kids, we could see it divide in halves. The boys half, decorated in blue, would have toys of guns, cars, building kits etc. The girls half, in pink, would have kitchen sets, bedroom sets, make up kits etc.

But then things change. I am seeing change for the better in America as recent improvement suggest. Corporations now like to boast that they are rated high as work place of choice for mothers. Diversity, racial and gender wise, is a stated goal and companies do invest money to promote diversity. The wage gap is fast closing. Now, for the first time, women outnumber men in workforce. Woman CEO's are no longer eyebrow raising. A credit card company is now running an ad showing a young girl child as an entrepreneur.

When Faust was reminded about her being the first woman dean, she said "I am not the woman dean of Harvard, I am the dean of Harvard". Hillary conceding the nomination to Barack Obama referred to the votes she received as "18 million cracks in the glass ceiling". America redeemed itself with Obama's election. One more redemption is pending.

I started this blog referring to "Take your daughters to work day" only as I finish I realize that coming Sunday is "Mother's day". Three cheers to my mom and to my wife.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

America's and Obama's Moment of Glory

Its Diwali time in America. Its the one metaphor that can capture the mood of the country. America has slain a beast that had brought unfathomable destruction to lives and the American way of life. 9/11 has a very personal meaning for me. Our family, my wife in particular who worked in Wall Street, endured unspeakable horror and anxiety. That was a day, as an Indian, I felt comforted that I was in America. I was sure that my wife would reach home safely. Volumes have been written about that day, Giuliani becoming America's mayor, the steely resolve of New Yorkers, civilians committing suicide to foil the plans of barbarians and so much more. I shall not rehash those now.

My favorite columnist Lance Morrow wrote a vitriolic column in Time laying out the "The case for rage and retribution' . "A day cannot live in infamy without the nourishment of rage. Let's have rage. What is needed is a unified, unifying, Pearl Harbor sort of purple American fury, a ruthless indignation that doesn't leak away in a week or two" and Morrow asked Americans to "relearn why human nature has equipped us all with a weapon (abhorred in decent peacetime societies) called hatred". In prescient words he closes, "the worst times, as we see, separate the civilized of the world from the uncivilized. This is the moment of clarity. Let the civilized toughen up, and let the uncivilized take their chances in the game they started".

All these years many have mocked that America, with all its technical glitz and unparalleled power, could not bring to justice one individual. Not many realized that the America we see in movies is not the America in reality. This escapes even the well informed many times. Very coincidentally Time magazine's cover story for this week is Robert Mueller, chief of FBI. The story highlights that  prior to 9/11 FBI did not have agents devoted full time to gather intelligence. Today there are 580 in a new category devoted for intelligence. Now consider tracking a fugitive like bin-laden (in the domain of CIA) who does not use any modern amenities that can be tracked or hacked. Add to that the fact that he lives amidst his fellow tribesmen of undying loyalty. Now compound it with other bizarre facts like not having, almost nil, 'humints' (human intelligence agents), zero agents who even knew rudimentary Pashtun, the language of the fugitive. On 9/11 Bush realized the archaic nature of communications equipment aboard Air Force One. After the demise of communism America took a well deserved holiday and basked in the glory of being not just the super power but a hyper power where the second in line was so far behind that it did not matter. 

Americans are fast learners and learn from mistake so learn we did. America cultivated humints, prosecuted a just war, reshaped a country and then got distracted in an unwise war of choice. No wonder Osama was free for close  to 10 years. The details of his capture are now common place and any reader can find it himself/herself.

This is Barack Obama's moment of glory. While candidate Obama, like any politician, adopted lofty sentiments to shine himself up, President Obama has been a hard nosed realist. Much to the frustration of his voters time and again Obama has reiterated or continued many of Bush's policies that he once decried. What amazes me in the continuity in officialdom despite the fact that key positions are political appointments. When Bush took over he retained George Tenet, a Clinton appointee, as head of CIA. After 9/11 many thought Bush would fire George Tenet as a scapegoat. Bush did not. Obama retained Robert Mueller, a Bush appointee, as head of FBI. Obama literally angered his voters by retaining Robert Gates, another Bush nominee, as secretary of Defense. When Obama got elected but was still yet to assume power he started communicating with Robert Gates. Gates acknowledged that if he got calls from both Bush, his then current boss, and Obama, the president elect, he would give higher priority to Obama as  the incoming CEO. Today when Obama has won a richly deserved glory not one of his republican opponents demurred in praising him. Heck even Rush Limbaugh praised Obama.

While the groundwork for killing Osama began in Bush's tenure Obama deserves all credit for what is a very perilous mission. We are told that for 40 tense minutes anxiety, to put it mildly, hung in the air in the situation room at White House. Any misstep could have landed in a diplomatic hot water or could potentially have crippled Obama's re-election. Like Truman said, "the buck stops" at the President's table. Across the spectrum there was lavish praise for Obama. Krauthammer too. 

It was a week that started with political theater when Obama appeared almost a weakling stooping to disprove Trump's, a republican candidate to be, racist ridiculous charge that Obama was not born in USA thus constitutionally illegitimate. Then he went on a road trip to carry on his battle with republicans over deficit control. On Saturday, in the White House correspondent's dinner, he joked and laughed at Trump and at himself too. All this while he was contemplating an operation that could redefine his presidency. During the campaign when John McCain in a very stupid maneuver suspended campaigning Obama chided him saying 'a president should be able to multi task'. 

Hollywood has a despicable habit of caricaturing CIA as trigger happy thugs, bumbling idiots, insensitive boors, oil hungry organizers of coups and so on to everything except honorable, intelligent officers in the service of their country. Whether its dismantling A.Q.Khan's nuclear bazaar or capturing Al Qaeda operatives or this phenomenal feat CIA has time and again proved that its an organization that keeps America safe. 

Now there are those who rush to say, "we condemn Osama BUT..." and then launch into broadsides on American foreign policy plainly frustrate me. This is the real world there are no angels in the world. Starting with Noam Chomsky down to Tamil bloggers I've heard enough of this moral equivocation. Is American foreign policy completely benign? Of course not. Nor do I wish it to be. Has America made completely egregious condemnable crimes? Yes it has. There is My Lai. Then depending on how much one hates America one can have his or her pick from justifiable to the patently unfair listing of imagined crimes. Chile, the Shah of Iran, Grenada, Haiti, Philippines, VIETNAM then there is Iraq. 

Lets sample Noam Chomsky. Chomsky is considered the greatest genius on cognitive psychology and linguistics yet he is mostly known for his perpetual vitriolic and acerbic criticism of USA and Israel (he is a Jew). Every book store will have some screed of Chomsky's, invariably 100% the blurb on the jacket would declare "Chomsky, the man whom New York Times, calls 'arguably the greatest intellectual alive'". 

Chomsky draws a contrast between Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the US led war in his interview to Frontline, "This is quite different from the Soviet invasion. The Soviets were facing a major mercenary military force, backed by the United States and other powers. They also had additional constraints: they never bombed cities or destroyed them, and they never used what amount to weapons of mass destruction, like carpet bombs or daisy-cutters". A very specious distinction to put it mildly. Soviet Union destroyed civilians as policy unlike US. The civilian casualties in Soviet repression ranged from 1-2 million. If this is not intellectual dishonesty pray what else is?

Nothing angers me more than the tongue in cheek condemnations of 9/11 which are laced "yet did not US bring about the attacks due to its policy". The 19 hijackers came from well heeled families who were not even remotely touched US policies. If even one hijacker was a Palestinian or a Vietnamese or a Chilean or a Filippino or a Haitian I could remotely understand. Those 19 thugs had nothing but hatred fueled by religious fundamentalism.

Krauthammer in a searing column in Time eviscerates these foreign policy clingers, "Al-Qaeda always invents some excuse, some historical injury to justify its barbarism. Today Iraq, yesterday Palestine and, when all else fails, Andalusia, a bin Laden staple that refers to the Muslim loss of Spain to Ferdinand and Isabella (in 1492!). Various casus belli are served up as conditions change. Only the gullible and the appeasers buy them. Now we're told that the Iraq invasion has increased al-Qaeda recruiting". He adds damningly, "In fact, the 1990s was the decade of Muslim rescue: the U.S. intervened militarily, and decisively, to save three Muslim peoples--the Bosnians, the Kosovars and the Kuwaitis--from conquest and catastrophe. Yet it was precisely during that era of good feeling that al-Qaeda not only recruited for but also conceived, planned and set in motion the worst massacre of Americans in history. So much for the connection between American perfidy and anti-American terrorism." Only a conservative columnist can provide that crystal like clarity in brief passages. The entire column is a compelling read. 

"Oh was not Osama America's Frankenstein?". "American recruited fundamentalists to defeat communism unmindful of long term consequences". Both only carry a shade of truth but serves as convenient mental constructs to simplify a world thats labyrinthine. 

New York Times, in a manner that only the Times can do, published a nice section called "A survey of Books on Osama" has highlighted some good books on Osama that were reviwed in the Times. Choose especially Lawrence Wright's Pulitzer winning "The Looming Tower". Wright painstakingly lays out the winding roads that map out Osama's radicalization from Holywood watching anti-communist to jihadist anti-American. The crystallizing event for Osama is the stationing of US troops in Saudi after Gulf War-I. A war that US fought, mostly at the behest of Saudi and other Arab nations which were shivering to their boots lest Saddam run over them.

I am sick of hearing complaints about US unilateralism. Western Europe was resurrected after the ravages of war by unilateralism on the backs of American taxpayers. Hundreds of billions of dollars under the Marshall Plan stabilized western Europe. When a Libyan town faces genocide from its ruler only American cruise missiles and American tax payer money rush to its aid. Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil. Yes there is oil involved but did pontificating France put its money and weapons on the table. As a commentator observed US is NATO and NATO is US. Nicholas Kristof, resigned to pragmatic real world, wrote,"Critics argue that we are inconsistent, even hypocritical, in our military interventions. After all, we intervened promptly this time in a country with oil, while we have largely ignored Ivory Coast and Darfur — not to mention Yemen, Syria and Bahrain.We may as well plead guilty. We are inconsistent. There’s no doubt that we cherry-pick our humanitarian interventions.But just because we allowed Rwandans or Darfuris to be massacred, does it really follow that to be consistent we should allow Libyans to be massacred as well? Isn’t it better to inconsistently save some lives than to consistently save none?". Arguments anyone. Today in Iraq and Afghanistan women go to schools, vote in elections and even contest elections. In the entire Middle East today Iraq is the only country to hold a democratic election, even the ever waffling UN certified that the elections were fair and free. 

Vietnam is another albatross. Who went there first and instituted a regime of terror? Who terrorized Algeria? Which country treated North Africa as its foot stool? The lover's of liberty and egalitarianism the preening French. The conduct of France in African colonies would make American imperialism look like picnic. Vietnam is a blot on America. 

When Soviet Russia marched into Afghanistan Margaret Thatcher asked Indira Gandhi, as key member of NAM, to condemn it. Indira refused saying it was not aggression. This same India today rushes to condemn US. Non-Alignment. Bollocks.

When America gets attacked the custodians of human rights and flag bearers of anti-imperialism smugly lecture us about our evil ways. We never hear such lecturing when Russia is attacked as a direct consequence of its brutal suppression of Chechnya. I love to see Hindu N.Ram tie himself up in knots condemning US imperialism while being palanquin bearer for Russia's state sponsored terrorism. 

After 9/11 N.Ram worked himself up into a lather foaming at the mouth advising America to "go all out to bring its authors to stern justice - justice under the rule of law and through the law courts, by marshaling and laying out evidence to convince the world, through the collective agency of the United Nations, and through pro-active international diplomacy". The title of that editorial in the Frontline Issue dated Sep 29th 2001 is "Dangerous implications of America's unjust war". Remember it was referring to the Afghan War not the justifiably contentious war of choice that Iraq was. Not content with his pontificating he orchestrated a scolding of America by Noam Chomsky at Chennai. What could be better than having a white American, that too Jewish, to scold America.

On Jan 24th 2011 Chechen rebels attack Moscow airport and kill 35, here is N.Ram's editorial in HIndu dated 26th Jan 2011, "in recent years, the virus of terrorism has spread to other predominantly Muslim territories in Russia's south and mutated to patently jihadist insurgency, which has joined hands with al-Qaeda to create an ‘Islamic caliphate' across the Caucasus...Monday's atrocity should serve as a wake-up call for Russia to curb terrorism in the Northern Caucasus as it prepares to host the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Football Cup".

Russia should curb terrorism so that Winter Olympics could go on unimpeded. That when the casualty was 35. When America is attacked in the most stupendous manner killing 2600 any declaration of war is unjust we must supplicate the UN, marshal evidence, wait for a constable to serve summons to bin-laden. Today Barack Obama served the summons as bullets to bin-laden. A Fox news viewer aptly summed it, "I am happy to know that the last man Osama saw before dying was an American".

Incidentally NYT asked Chomsky as to whether he ever thought of renouncing his American citizenship given how much he hates America. Chomsky replied, airily with no hint of sounding hypocritical, "America is the greatest country on earth". 

As the news broke out around 10:30 PM EST crowds gathered in front of White House and Ground Zero in NYC. Today as I was speaking to my father the metaphor of Diwali struck me as appropriate

I found the picture above (From NYT) very interesting. Its a photo of the scene in the situation room at the White House. The President of USA is sitting on the side while some military person is sitting at the head of the table and conducting the operation. Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers" talks about America has one of the lowest "power distance" equations where people are more comfortable approaching or challenging a superior. This is important when results matter.

This killing does not mean that the hydra headed terrorism is finished. Far from it. This is a pivotal turning point. A powerful symbolism but only a symbolism. It is elementary knowledge that Al Qaeda has many local variants across the globe and they are still very much alive or awaiting to come alive. Obama reiterated that. Every sensible columnist has cautioned on triumphalism. 

The picture below says it all. I pass through this place every week. 

A passerby at Ground Zero in NYC

Near White House.