Several months ago the Bush Administration proclaimed the capture (or killing) of Osama bin Laden as a "success that has not yet happened". Much like my Nobel Prize in Medicine, van Gogh quality impressionist painting, and sub 9-second 100-meter dash. Coming from an Administration whose legacy unfortunately is a "tragedy that extends decades beyond its time in office", such pronouncements are as discomforting as they are ridiculous.
Contrary to the posture of the Bush Administration, a meeting of experts recently reconfirmed that getting Osama (and Ayman al-Zawahiri, his deputy) is of high importance in reducing the threats. They still direct traffic, pick targets of opportunity and send jihadists to these various venues to fight.
They have also been strikingly successful in snookering Bush to concentrate US military forces in Iraq, i.e., FAR from themselves. Every time Bush invokes Osama's statements about the central theater of the struggle being in Iraq, Osama and Ayman must have a great chuckle. Bin Laden said years ago that attacking the US was fairly easy because our society was so open, but he probably never banked on us having such a gullible President.
Osama has lost all the battles, but he is winning the war as the US fractures politically, overextends and exhausts its military, stimulates more jihad-recruiting, and abandons its cherished ideals and principles, becoming more like its enemies everyday.
Consider a radically different approach to the entire mess. Bin Laden and Zawahiri are thought to be hiding in various parts of the area in Pakistan called the "Federally Administered Tribal Areas" (FATA). It is difficult military terrain, hard to penetrate, and the people are sympathetic to the Taliban and their cause. The Pakistani Army is not very popular there, and elements of the Pakistani intelligence services were supporters of the Taliban pre-9/11. We have bounties on the head of bin Laden and Zawahiri, but who would ever cough them up, knowing that they and their families would be executed before they would ever see any money?
Taking the FATA region as a whole, there are approximately 3 million inhabitants. The per capital income in Pakistan is about $800 per year (according to figures from 2005, perhaps slightly higher today, but not much). The Pakistani Armed Forces are about 1 million strong. Let us suppose that they earn 3 times the per capita income, and that the people in the FATA region are at the national average.
What if we changed the game completely? Instead of a single bounty on their heads, we offer the 3 million people of the region 3 years of income (i.e., $2400/person) or $7.2B, about 2-3 weeks of operations in Iraq. Large families of 20 people, therefore, would wind up with $48,000, a huge sum in Pakistan. Means for distributing the money would have to be established, and systems to prevent a flood on the market would need to be considered. Aggregating the sums further on a village level would provide the people opportunities to improve the material parts of their lives substantially.
In order to ensure the military was on the same page, we could offer $5000 per soldier, costing us another $5B, so the total cost of this program would be about a month's worth of Iraq spending.
What's the deal? They have to produce both Osama and Zawahiri. Since everyone in the FATA is benefiting, and thus everyone is involved, the risk of execution for producing them is reduced. Because he would have been coughed up by their own people, neither would have been killed by the hands of the Western infidels, or even the Pakistani infidels, and thus the attraction of their martyrdom would be substantially diminished. That would be the ultimate defeat for both of them.
I realize that administering such a program, preventing graft, and ensuring the resources went to the right people would be very challenging. But, as challenging as hunting through the mountains with US or Pakistani soldiers? As challenging as bringing Sunnis, Shia and Kurds to an agreed powersharing in Iraq? As challenging as preventing more jihad-recruiting by military means?
And, here's the beauty of the program: it only is triggered when Osama and Zawahiri are produced. It costs no US soldiers their lives or limbs. And, it does not cost a dime unless we get the result.