The Expendable Bin Laden

As I’ve noted elsewhere (see here and here), the Washington Post‘s leftist columnist Dana Milbank covered my speech yesterday and writes a predictably disapproving take on it today. In it, toward the end, he mis-describes my exchange yesterday with his fellow lefty, Adam Serwer of Mother Jones.


Serwer evidently doesn’t understand the rudimentary difference between being an Islamist and being sympathetic to Islamists — or at least he pretends not to understand. So he thinks Obama’s support for same-sex marriage somehow destroys my argument that Obama is supporting the Brotherhood. This is a silly line of attack and I’ve addressed it a number of times, including in The Grand Jihad and at yesterday’s event (it’s in the Q&A section after my speech, over an hour into the event). Islamists and Leftists disagree on several points, but that does not prevent them from allying and collaborating, as they often do, on their many areas of mutual interest.

Following on Serwer, Milbank also distorts my prior assertion that the Muslim Brotherhood had concluded Osama bin Laden was “expendable.” Milbank writes:

Serwer also asked McCarthy about his 2010 suggestion that Obama was free to kill Osama bin Laden because “the Islamists [Obama] wants to engage have decided al-Qaeda is expendable” and counter to their peaceful takeover of American institutions. [Emphasis added.]

Contrary to Milbank’s suggestion, my statement about bin Laden being expendable had nothing to do with the killing of bin Laden, which happened a year later. When I made the statement in 2010, I was addressing the seeming contradiction between (a) Obama’s laudable aggressiveness in attacking al Qaeda safehavens in places like Pakistan and Yemen, and (b) Obama’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood. The point was about political calculations — I never remotely suggested that Obama needed or thought he needed the Muslim Brotherhood’s permission to do anything.


By the time Obama became president in 2009, bin Laden had exhausted whatever use he had to the Muslim Brotherhood. Brotherhood leaders were by then condemning the 9/11 attacks, but not because they condemn terrorism — which they usually applaud. Unlike jihadist attacks in other places, strikes against the American homeland are counterproductive from their perspective. They are making good progress on their agenda of mainstreaming sharia through non-violent stealth jihad; terror attacks against our country, however, are guaranteed to provoke an aggressive response — at least in the short term. That would have the effect of rolling back the Brotherhood’s gains.

By contrast, the Brotherhood has supported al Qaeda’s attacks against U.S. personnel operating in Islamic countries — a straightforward application of classical sharia. Yet, many jihadist outfits besides al Qaeda now conduct those attacks. For purposes of the cost/benefit analysis the Brotherhood calculates on everything it does, al Qaeda’s contribution to that effort is welcome, but it is not necessary to sustain the effort.

Consequently, the U.S. attacks on al Qaeda served the interests of both Obama and the Brotherhood. From Obama’s perspective, they were popular politically and they insulated him from claims that he was weak on national security, which gave him a wide berth to cultivate the Brotherhood and Islamists overseas. From the Brotherhood’s perspective, there was much advantage in being courted by an American administration, and if the price tag on that was to mute their criticism of Obama’s attacks on al Qaeda, it was a price they could afford to pay: the Brotherhood’s stealth efforts have profited greatly from the atmosphere of intimidation created by al Qaeda’s violent campaign, but that atmosphere was already well established by 2008 — they didn’t need al Qaeda for that anymore.


Again, in making these points, I never came close to suggesting that Obama somehow thought he needed the Brotherhood’s permission to kill bin Laden. I pointed out the obvious yesterday: The United States remains at war with al Qaeda, and Obama is the commander-in-chief; in that connection, Obama approved the mission to kill bin Laden. The Muslim Brotherhood had no bearing on, or involvement in, that mission or its approval. Obviously, bin Laden’s killing is a fact that had consequences for the Brotherhood, just like it has consequences for all of us who were not involved in its occurrence. The Brotherhood could have protested. Indeed, the Brotherhood did complain a bit for public consumption in the Middle East (since bin Laden was largely celebrated in Islamist circles there). But the Brotherhood did not complain much, nor did it cut off its ties with the Obama administration, which now serve the Brotherhood’s purposes more than al Qaeda’s savagery does.

For the Brotherhood’s present purposes, bin Laden was expendable.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage assembled from a modified image.)


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