Two Worthwhile Af-Pak/OBL Reads

1. I didn't watch Obama's interview on 60 Minutes last night. But the transcript -- on CBS's site, along with video of the full 34-minute session with Steve Kroft -- is surprisingly engrossing, direct, and specific. In contrast to the chaos of some of the initial White House explanations of the raid -- armed, unarmed, human shield, whatever -- Obama is quite deliberate about the process of building intelligence, the nature of the risk he accepted, and his lack of squeamishness about, as he put it, "taking bin Laden out." The last exchange of the interview:

>>KROFT: Is this the first time that you've ever ordered someone killed?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind that, you know, every time I make a decision about launching a missile, every time I make a decision about sending troops into battle, you know, I understand that this will result in people being killed. And that is a sobering fact. But it is one that comes with the job....

As nervous as I was about this whole process, the one thing I didn't lose sleep over was the possibility of taking bin Laden out. Justice was done. And I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn't deserve what he got needs to have their head examined.<<

I watched that exchange, the final minute of the online clip. You could imagine these words being delivered in a crowing, triumphalist, or otherwise offputting manner. Instead the presentation was both unapologetic and sober. "Justice was done." There is a lot more to know about this episode, but this interview deserves study, for content and tone -- and for the revelation of Obama's reasoning process. (The Atlantic Wire has an item on it now.)

2. Leslie Gelb -- long of the State Department and Pentagon, the NYT, and the Council on Foreign Relations -- argues in the WSJ that with the death of bin Laden, the United States has a chance to declare "Mission Accomplished," and mean it this time. He begins:

>>Afghanistan is no longer a war about vital American security interests. It is about the failure of America's political elites to face two plain facts: The al Qaeda terrorist threat is no longer centered in that ancient battleground, and the battle against the Taliban is mainly for Afghans themselves.<<

Why is this significant? Because -- as I tried to argue just after the news broke, and also this weekend on NPR -- the death of bin Laden offers America its only chance for anything resembling a clearcut "victory" in the post-9/11 struggles. We are never going to eradicate the threat of terrorism, from al Qaeda or others. Within human time scales we are not going to modernize Afghanistan. So if we are to have an alternative to permanent commitment there, plus "permanent-emergency" distortion of Constitutional rules at home driven by reaction to terrorism, this is as good a moment as will ever come.

Of course bin Laden's death doesn't mean the end of al Qaeda. Of course it does not end the likelihood of attacks within the US, nor the need to take steps against them. But it is the best chance we'll get to alter policies that need to be changed. 

3. Bonus: Steve Benen, in the Washington Monthly, on the ongoing embarrassment to the nation of the remaining torture apologists, led by Liz Cheney.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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