Osama Bin Laden

In the War on Terror, hawks and doves are both misguided

Ever since the Revolutionary War’s successful campaign against monarchy, America has developed itself on a foundation of successful ideological battles. In the Civil War, the Union and its form of racially egalitarian industrialism trumped the feudalist Confederacy. The Allied victory in World War II tore down fascism, and the Soviet Union’s collapse at the end of the Cold War asserted capitalism’s dominance over communism as the world’s guiding economic theory.

So why is it, then, that the War on Terror has failed to stop violent fundamentalism?

Part of it has to do with the ideology’s nebulosity. Even while Osama bin Laden was still alive, Islamist extremism had no public face of Hitler’s or Lenin’s stature; no characteristic as defining as slavery. Unlike previous American adversaries, terrorists don’t need a massive infrastructure or powerful state to project their power. All it takes to send the West into chaos is one fanatic with bomb supplies and an Internet connection.

But in even graver problem is that two of the most influential camps in the American foreign policy arena have no idea what kind of threat we’re facing. Even after decades of evidence to the contrary, both hawks and doves in the U.S. remain hypnotized by the idea that America can control how it is perceived in the terrorist hotbeds of the world.

On the political right, neoconservatives believe that by spreading capitalism and democracy, the U.S. can demonstrate the superiority of its value system. This approach might have worked against the Nazis, but it hasn’t had much effect in the War on Terror. Not surprisingly, people in the developing world don’t enjoy a military superpower dictating how they should live their lives, and many of them rebel against what they perceive as unfair American involvement in their national affairs. To make matters worse, attempts to topple dictators can lead to chaotic and violent power vacuums, like the one that emerged after the death of Saddam Hussein and enabled the rise of ISIS.

On the other end of the ideological spectrum, many leftists claim that anti-Americanism in the developing world is nothing more than a consequence of Western imperialism that will dissipate if the U.S. becomes more isolationist. But that philosophy is equally absurd. Islamist opposition to the U.S. dates back to at least the 1940s, when Egyptian religious scholar Sayyid Qutb first called for a jihad, or armed struggle, against American institutions ranging from capitalism to mixed-gender schools to jazz music. To this day, strict adherents of this ideology resent Americans not because of what we’ve done, but because of who we are. Any foreign policy that denies this reality would open the door for increasingly brazen acts of terrorism in the West and empower insurgent groups the world over.

But these challenges don’t make the War on Terror hopeless. Even if it’s impossible to destroy, extremism is only as powerful as its number of adherents, and there are ways for the U.S. to lessen the appeal of terror groups. One easy step would be to stop using drones to assassinate midlevel terrorist leaders. In the decentralized world of jihadists, very few figures carry the influence of bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of ISIS, and misfired drone missiles that kill civilians just inspire more homespun terrorists. Another wise move would be to pressure the governments of American allies like Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority to take steps towards democratization. A lot of civilians turn to terror against the West as a response to repression and disenfranchisement in their home countries, so promoting the development of free and fair civil societies couldn’t hurt. And by maintaining a strong emphasis on domestic security, the U.S. can keep its citizens safe and hold would-be terrorists at bay.

A strategy based on defense and development might not be as glamorous as Sherman’s March or D-Day, but in a conflict as asymmetric as the War on Terror, it’s the only approach that can work.

Shenhar is a Plan II, government, and economics major from Westport, Connecticut.


Jessica Chastain, who stars as Maya in “Zero Dark Thirty,” won a Golden Globe for Best Actress on Sunday night.

For many leading roles, especially those written for females, likability is key, and their ability to charm is pivotal to their film’s opening weekend. For Jessica Chastain, who plays determined CIA agent Maya in “Zero Dark Thirty,” getting on the audience’s good side doesn’t appear to be too difficult for one very simple reason — she’s playing the woman who caught Osama bin Laden. What’s not to like?

Taking place over the 10 years between 9/11 and bin Laden’s death in 2011, “Zero Dark Thirty” methodically lays out the puzzle pieces for Maya and other agents to assemble. It’s a no-frills approach for director Kathryn Bigelow and the film unfolds with the same unrelenting focus as “The Hurt Locker,” her Academy Award-winning last film.

Jessica Chastain gives a performance brimming with complexities, finding genuine humanity between the pages of Mark Boal’s screenplay. Maya’s determination drives her, but it’s the intelligent, infallible confidence that Chastain brings to the role that makes you root for her and her unquenchable hunger for her target that makes her a force of nature. It is a riveting achievement for Chastain and a high watermark in her quickly growing filmography.

The figures surrounding Maya in the CIA are rather thinly defined, but Bigelow intelligently fills Maya’s sounding board with familiar, likeable faces. Kyle Chandler is reliably stern but reasonable as Maya’s exhausted boss and coworkers like the excitable Jennifer Ehle and subdued Mark Strong round things out nicely. Jason Clarke stands out as a fellow torturer and he brings a resigned certainty to his subtle but effective arc.

The story of bin Laden’s capture is a challenging one, both for the scope it requires and the number of false starts and dead ends in the rabbit hole he disappeared in after 9/11. However, Bigelow makes the small accumulation of details and evidence engrossing and it’s a small victory every time Maya cracks another bit of information. Much controversy has been created from “Zero Dark Thirty’s” depiction of torture, but it’s less an endorsement than a simple acknowledgement of the moral grey area inherent to the story it’s telling. Bigelow handles the challenging material with grace and Chastain makes Maya’s acclimation to the CIA’s methods a gradual but chilling shift.

Even as Bigelow hits the audience with an onslaught of names, places and faces, she balances things out with moments of quiet levity and masterfully constructed tension. The film is beautifully paced, and its climax, the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, is taut with intensity and brutal efficiency. It’s a cathartic moment for both the characters and the audience and it feels like an earned victory thanks to Bigelow’s remarkable focus and sparse style.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is an exceptional film top to bottom, but it’s certainly not an easy one to love. There’s no warmth, no soaring violins when bin Laden’s body is identified, but the toughness and lack of sentimentality is admirable. The straight-on approach to the hunt for bin Laden makes the film less of a celebration and something more akin to journalism, a sharply sketched portrait of the woman who found our country’s greatest enemy.

Published on January 14, 2013 as "'Zero Dark Thirty' characterized by strong female role". 

Laura Bush, Julius Glickman, Charles Matthews, Admiral William McRaven, Melinda Perrin and Hector Ruiz are recognized as distinguished alumni by the Texas Exes (Photo courtesy of Mark Rutkowski).

Six of UT’s most distinguished alumni, including former first lady Laura Bush and Adm. William McRaven, traveled to campus Friday to be honored for their accomplishments.

For more than 50 years, Texas Exes, the University’s alumni organization, has annually honored as many as six UT alumni who have distinguished themselves professionally and through service to UT with a Distinguished Alumnus Award. This year, the organization recognized Laura Bush, former first lady and 1973 alumna; Julius Glickman, philanthropist, attorney and 1962 alumnus; Charles Matthews, former vice president and general counsel of Exxon Mobil Corporation and 1967 alumnus; Adm. William McRaven, commander of NATO Special Operations Command, leader of the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden and 1977 UT alumnus; Melinda Perrin, former chair of the Hermann Hospital Board of Trustees and 1969 UT alumna; and Hector de Jesus Ruiz, CEO of Bull Ventures, an education advocate who has served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and 1970 UT alumnus.

All six members were in attendance at the ceremony, along with some of UT’s most prominent figures and former Distinguished Alumnus Award winners.

UT President William Powers Jr. kicked off the ceremony by welcoming each award winner and talking about their impressive accomplishments.

“We’re just happy that we can say we knew them back when, and we are even more happy that we still know them today,” Powers said.

Each recipient gave a speech after accepting their orange blazer, a symbol of the award given to each of its recipients.

Bush talked about her time at UT in 1972, while working on her masters degree in information sciences. She said Austin was an impressive and welcoming place, even back then.

“I felt right at home, even though I was not really hippie material,” she said. “Case in point, I was a librarian who named her cat Dewey after the Dewey Decimal System.”

Perrin and Glickman chose to use part of their speeches to comment on the current debate over funding going on at UT.

Glickman said when he came to UT in the 1950s the state paid for 69 percent of the cost of his education. He said they now pay only an average 13 percent of a UT’s undergraduate’s education cost.

Both commented on UT’s need for additional funds in order to keep up its tradition of excellence.

“To prevail will require our united, passionate, engaged advocacy,” Perrin said. “Together we can help the University of Texas become the best public university in America.”

The crowd roared especially loud when McRaven accepted his award. McRaven organized and executed Operation Neptune Spear in 2011, the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.

In his speech, McRaven talked about the tools that UT gave him, and the way he was able to go on and experience great success, despite his low GPA.

“The school taught me that failure was only a temporary condition,” McRaven said, citing his poor performance in UT classes.

McRaven gave some advice to UT professors with struggling students in their classes, students in the same situation he was in during the 1970s.

“For those professors out there who come across a struggling student, I would ask you to give them a break and never forget that great institutions like the University of Texas can take a common student and give them the tools they need to have uncommon success,” McRaven said.

Printed on Monday, October 22, 2012 as: Distinguished alumni awarded

Keep on Counting...

While the previous Talking Texan post may lament the declining numbers of print newspaper circulation, the audience for online news is continuing to grow. In fact, 2011 marks the first year in which the online news audience has surpassed the print audience, according to Pew’s State of the News Media.

Surprisingly however, that trend is not echoed on college campuses where students are still more likely to pick up the print edition than search for news online.

But it seems that The Daily Texan, and its newly redesigned website, may be bucking that trend, or at least reaping the benefits of some timely breaking news. On Sunday night, the top two search terms on the site were “Afghanistan” and “bin Laden,” demonstrating that people visit dailytexanonline.com for international as well as local and campus news. The third most popular search term, was “fireworks” referencing the explosive showing on West Campus in celebration of the bin Laden news.

From when the new site went live late Saturday night through this writing, dailytexanonline.com has had over 30,000 unique page views.

One of the many things that the Texan has succeeded at in its coverage of a world-wide story is relating that story to the campus community. Tuesday’s front page story on the UT alumnus who helped lead the effort to bring down Osama bin Laden, accounts for half of the total unique page views the site has received.

The multimedia components of the bin Laden story have also garnered a lot of attention, with the video and slideshow of the local reaction getting almost 1,000 unique hits.

However, it’s not just the big breaking news events that are drawing traffic to the site. The third most popular story is about Steve Carell’s departure from “The Office”, which has also generated a number of comments.

The ability for readers to comment on stories, whether they be about news, entertainment, or sports, is a great feature for any website. And it is hopefully just one of many features that the newly redesigned dailytexanonline.com will have to allow interaction between the newspaper and its audience. Greater interaction, and great news coverage, is what will keep bringing people back to the site, and allow the numbers to keep on counting up.


First big test

Nothing like a major, worldwide news event to test a news staff -- and a new website! When the news broke last night that Osama bin Laden had been killed, editors at The Texan, like editors around the world, tore up the front page and went back to work, despite the late hour.

The result of that effort, including reporting, graphics and photos from Austin, is in readers' hands this morning. Our effort in print easily outshone the Statesman. Our images were picked up by AP and are appearing all over the world. I saw one of our shots on "Good Morning America" today. Equally impressive is the work  that went into getting the news up on The Texan's new website. We went from a "breaking news" banner to a full-fledged story with staff art -- and an accompanying video and slideshow -- in a very short period of time. The website and the staff responded in a truly professional manner.

A shout out to managing editor Claire Cardona, design editor Veronica Rosalez, news editor Lena Price, multimedia editor Josh Barajas, Sydney Fitzgerald and Ashley Morgan of the copy desk, Audrey White and Will Alsdorf of the news desk, lensers Erika Rich, Corey Leamon, Trent Lesikar, Andrew Edmonson and the rest of the photo staff and Web angel Michael Redding for all their hard work last night. It's one you one won't forget, trust me.

Bin Laden's death brings back memories of 9/11 for everyone who was alive at that time. I remember it as my day off, a warm, sunny Tuesday, as I watched the planes crash into the Twin Towers. Those planes came from Boston, where I worked at The Boston Globe. I drove into the office and left my family at home, where I barely returned for the rest of the week. Intense work, intense emotion -- that's what I remember. I still find it hard to squeeze any joy out of this.

I urge you to follow coverage of the media and this event on romenesko:


there you'll find this note of interest to copy editors everywhere:

New York Times staffers received this memo early Monday morning:

From: Jolly, Tom 

Date: May 2, 2011 4:15:37 AM EDT


Subject: Two style decisions

At Jill and Bill’s request, we dropped the honorific for Bin Laden.

Without a “Mr.” in front of his name, it was decided that we should capitalize the “B” in Bin Laden on second references.


Tom Jolly

Associate Managing Editor / Night News

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Letters from Osama bin Laden’s last hideaway, released by U.S. officials intent on discrediting his terror organization, portray a network weak, inept and under siege — and its leader seemingly near wit’s end about the passing of his global jihad’s glory days.

The documents, published online Thursday, are a small sample of those seized during the U.S. raid on bin Laden’s Pakistan compound in which he was killed a year ago. By no accident, they show al-Qaida at its worst. The raid has become the signature national security moment of Barack Obama’s presidency and one he is eager to emphasize in his re-election campaign.

Those ends are served in the 17 documents chosen by U.S. officials for the world to see — not to mention American voters. The Obama administration has refused to release a fuller record of its bin Laden collection, making it difficult to glean any larger truths about the state of the terrorist organization.

What is clear from the documents released so far is that al-Qaida’s leaders are constantly on the run from unmanned U.S. aircraft and trying to evade detection by CIA spies and National Security Agency eavesdroppers.

In one letter, either bin Laden himself or his senior deputy tells the leader of Yemen’s al-Qaida offshoot that, in the face of U.S. power, it is futile to try to establish a government that will offer it safe haven.

“Even though we were able to militarily and economically exhaust and weaken our greatest enemy before and after the eleventh,” the letter says, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, “the enemy continues to possess the ability to topple any state we establish.”

Printed on Friday, May 4, 2012 as: Bin Laden secret letters show al-Qaida's troubles during war

Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Exeter, N.H. earlier this month.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Vice President Joe Biden delivered a harsh attack Thursday on Mitt Romney’s foreign policy views, arguing that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is rooted in a Cold War mentality and is uninformed about the current challenges facing the U.S. abroad.

In a campaign speech delivered at New York University Law School, Biden laid out a robust defense of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy record while eviscerating Romney for lacking vision and for “distorting” Obama’s record in a way that has been counterproductive to U.S. interests.

“If you’re looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it’s pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” Biden said, saying Obama’s decisions on both foreign and domestic policy had made the U.S. safer.

Biden cast the former Massachusetts governor as an inexperienced foreign policy thinker who would delegate decisions to staff and advisers. He also hit Romney on his reputation for flip-flopping on issues.

“We know when the governor does venture a position it’s a safe bet that he previously took or will take an exactly opposite position,” Biden said, noting that Romney had originally supported setting a time frame for pulling U.S. troops from Afghanistan only to later criticize Obama’s plan to do so by the end of 2014.

Biden repeatedly used Romney’s own words against him, such as when Romney downplayed the significance of capturing Osama bin Laden during Romney’s 2008 presidential bid and, more recently, when Romney said Russia was the United States’ gravest geopolitical foe.

“As my brother would say, ‘Go figure,’” Biden said to laughs.

In response, Romney adviser John Lehman accused the president of a “gross abdication of leadership” that could have practical and political consequences.

“Why is the United States under Obama abdicating its leadership for keeping stability in the world?” asked Lehman, Navy secretary in the Reagan administration, during a conference call Romney’s campaign arranged with reporters before Biden spoke. “This is a serious crisis and perhaps could be the central issue in the campaign.”

Lehman continued: “The Obama administration in a very studied and intentional way is withdrawing from leading the free world and maintaining stability around the world — what Obama calls leading from behind. But the reality is it’s opening up huge new vulnerabilities.”

Obama has not described his foreign policy as “leading from behind.” Republicans used the phrase to chastise Obama for his handling of last year’s uprising in Libya.

Biden recited Obama’s foreign policy achievements, noting that he ordered the attack that killed bin Laden and fulfilled a campaign promise to end the Iraq war. Biden said Obama repaired alliances with other nations, particularly with geopolitical partners in Europe and Asia.

He also pushed back particularly hard on Romney’s attacks on the Obama administration’s handling of Iran and Israel, two areas where Republicans have been sharply critical of the president.

On Iran, Biden said Romney’s call for crippling sanctions and a U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon simply mirrored Obama’s approach.

“The only step we could take that we aren’t already taking is to launch a war against Iran. If that’s what Gov. Romney means by a ‘very different policy,’ he should tell the American people,” Biden said.
On Israel, Biden said Obama has stood firm in support of the Jewish state — often alone and facing criticism from other allies. He noted that Romney had accused Obama of “throwing Israel under the bus.”

“The governor is falling back on one of his party’s favorite tricks of late — distort and mischaracterize your opponent’s position. Keep repeating the distortions and mischaracterizations over and over again,” Biden said.

Biden said Obama had adhered to President Teddy Roosevelt’s admonition that, on foreign policy, a president should speak softly and carry a big stick.

“I promise you, the president has a big stick,” Biden said.

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Held captive since last fall, an ailing American woman and a Danish man are safely on their way home after a bold, dark-of-night rescue by U.S. Navy SEALs. The commandos slipped into a Somali encampment, shot and killed nine captors and whisked the hostages to freedom.

The raid’s success was welcome news for the hostages and their families, for the military and for President Barack Obama, who was delivering his State of the Union speech as the mission was wrapping up Tuesday night. He did not mention it in his address but dropped a hint upon arriving in the House chamber by telling Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, “Good job tonight.”

It was the second splashy SEAL Team 6 success in less than a year, following last May’s killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

The SEALs apparently encountered some degree of resistance from the kidnappers at the encampment. One U.S. official said Wednesday that there was a firefight but the length and extent of the battle were unclear.

Pentagon spokesmen said they could not confirm a gun battle, although one defense official said it was likely that the SEALs killed the kidnappers rather than capture them because they encountered armed resistance or the threat of resistance.

Special operations forces, trained for clandestine, small-team missions, have become a more prominent tool in the military’s kit since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Obama administration is expected to announce on Thursday that it will invest even more heavily in that capability in coming years.

After planning and rehearsal, the Somalia rescue was carried out by SEAL Team 6, officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a secret mission. The same outfit did the bin Laden mission, the biggest counter-terror success of Obama’s presidency. It was not clear whether any team members participated in both operations.

One official said the SEALs parachuted from U.S. Air Force aircraft before moving on foot, apparently undetected, to the outdoor encampment where they found American Jessica Buchanan, 32, and Poul Hagen Thisted, a 60-year-old Dane, who had been kidnapped in Somalia last fall. The raid happened near the town of Adado.

There are few events I remember clearly from my adolescence. Aside from my afro hair, awkward physical changes and the stupid uniform I had to wear to school, there are not many other details I can recall from that time in my life.

But I remember Sept. 11, 2001. I was in the sixth grade. The normal morning I had woken up to lasted until my third period choir class. The strange whisperings about plane crashes that I had heard all morning finally started to make sense as we turned on the TV and finally saw what was going on.

And the same image kept flashing on the screen — I’m sure you remember the one I’m talking about because every single news outlet showed it. The one of the plane crashing directly into the tower, people screaming, debris flying everywhere and a voice from off camera yelling some variation of “I think it’s coming down! The tower, the tower ... is falling!” This sequence was repeated for the rest of the week. In response to Alan Jackson’s popular query of the time, I knew exactly where I was “when the world stopped turning,” and I first grasped the effects of terrorism.

We are still feeling those effects today. Though Osama bin Laden is dead, the threat of terrorism remains. At least that is the justification given for the increasingly disturbing measures we have adopted since. When you go to an airport and face the handsy TSA agents, shoe robbers and long lines, remember 9/11. When you visit Washington D.C. and realize that you can no longer dip your toes into the reflecting pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial because of fences, remember 9/11. When you encounter rampant Islamophobia and fear of everything Middle Eastern, remember 9/11. When you hear crazy liberals (like myself) lecturing you about the evils of Guantanamo Bay, remember 9/11.

This country has been fighting a war against an enemy that we have yet to defeat for almost half of my life. It’s unclear whether we will ever have peace again. This war is waged against an ideology whose hold might never be fully squelched no matter how much firepower we use. For better or worse, American destiny is inextricably tied with the complex workings of nations far away from us both in distance and in belief systems.

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of this defining national tragedy. For those who lost friends or families in the attacks, the effects are felt on a much more personal level. This fact didn’t sink in for me until I made my first friend who lost her dad in the attacks. I used to judge anyone who supported George W. Bush’s War on Terrorism, but it’s not that simple.

Our safety, our families, our freedom, our everything American that we treasure most was threatened on that fateful day. The need for retaliation was felt nationwide.

But 10 years later, are we any safer? Is anyone sleeping any sounder at night? Have we even helped the constantly tense political situation in the Middle East? Does anyone even understand why we went to Iraq in the first place?

I realize the answers to all these questions are highly contentious. But after 10 years of war, I would hope the answers would be more definitive. Yet since then, we’ve joined another offensive campaign in Libya, and though our presence in the Middle East has changed, our enemy hasn’t. Our war against the amorphous practitioners of terrorism remains.

Are we stubbornly trying to bring peace through war to the Middle East — the equivalent of attempting to force a square peg of Western ideals into the round hole of Iraq? Or were we forced into a corner by the desperate acts of others into the only available course of action?

Whichever side you fall on is irrelevant. The fact that these questions still exist shows the extent to which we are still grappling with the attacks. Perhaps that’s what the terrorists wanted all along: for us to be thinking about them and giving them attention a decade later rather than saving all that energy and money to help our failing economy.

Regardless, this Sunday, I will still remember the events of Sept. 11.

Taylor is a Plan II and rhetoric and writing senior

A -30- Column

The news staff from left to right, Aziza Musa, Bobby Cervantes and Claire Cardona, laugh after having inhaled paint fumes for several hours.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

Something big happens every semester.

At least, that’s what I have come to believe and remember.

This spring, President Barack Obama announced Osama bin Laden died, and the United States had his body. Last semester, it was a public suicide, and during the summer, a continuing murder trial.

And though it may be insensitive, these types of situations remind me — and sometimes, I really need it — of the true reason I got into journalism: to make a difference.

When I tried out for the Texan one year ago, I really didn’t have a purpose. I liked learning new things and piecing together a story about it.

As cheesy as it sounds, I really found my home and my passion at the Texan during the past two semesters.

I couldn’t tell you how many stories I pitched, how many my editors shot down, or how many classes I skipped for the paper. But what I can tell you is how we came together to work together through the toughest times no matter how high tensions ran — and they were pretty damned high.

On Sept. 28, our staff was as most stressed as I’ve ever seen. I covered cops and courts for the paper at the time. That same day, I woke up to a text message from the assigning editor, who asked me if I had heard about an armed man on campus.

They say the only people who rush to the fire are doctors and journalists. Well, despite the warnings to stay away, my assigning editor picked me up and haphazardly drove in the opposite direction. In spite of the events that transpired — a former mathematics sophomore fired several rounds of his AK-47 into the air and ground before taking his own life — we were able to put everything aside and put out some of the best papers.

That semester, I learned more about myself, the staff and the paper than ever before. And after the blood, sweat and tears (“I think I cry at least once a week in this office”) for three long semesters, the Texan has been one of the most beneficial experiences during my college career — not just professionally, but also personally.

All I know is when I walk out of the door and trudge up those 25 steps in a record minute (unlikely) Thursday night — just like our last Trudy’s run — I will already miss what I left behind.

Hook ‘em.

Aziza Musa is a journalism and psychology senior. She joined the Texan in spring 2010 and worked as an associate news editor in spring 2011.