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.