Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden

Article excerpt

THE FINISH: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden.

Author: Mark Bowden

Published by: Grove Press UK, London, 2012, 266pp, 16.99 [pounds sterling].


In The Finish senior journalist Mark Bowden, with nine books already to his credit, including Blackhawk Down, constructs an engrossing account of how the Obama administration prioritised, strategised, debated, planned, and executed the long-distance assassination of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. A more informative analysis of the politics of an international manhunt would be hard to find.

Bowden draws on interviews, declassified documents, and other sources to introduce the reader to key actors in the president's entourage and to describe how they interacted as the manhunt unfolded from 2001 to 2011. As vividly as in a detective novel, Bowden sets out how bin Laden was pursued unsuccessfully for eight years, provisionally located in 2010, and targeted successfully in 2011.

Of particular interest to students of US policy-making will be the descriptions of what specific officials, all identified by name and role by Bowden, brought to Obama's search team, and whose views prevailed at key points in what the military called the 'find-fix-fire' sequence. For example, the 28 April 2011 meeting in the Situation Room found State's Hillary Clinton, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen arguing for a helicopter-borne assault by a SEAL team. Opposed were Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman James Cartwright, who favoured a drone-borne missile strike. These three feared another disaster like the botched Tehran Embassy hostage rescue mission in 1979 and the Blackhawk Down fiasco in Mogadishu in 1993. President Obama finally opted for the SEAL assault, but not before presiding over weeks of robust debate on alternate attack scenarios and evaluations of their potential political fallout.

Bowden concludes by dispelling several myths about the assault, including that

* President Bush had neglected the manhunt in favour of the Iraq War (he encouraged both);

* Osama bin Laden was an inactive and irrelevant figure retired in luxury in Abbottabad out of touch with al-Qaeda activists (from his shabby hideout he was ordering attacks to the end);

* Osama bin Laden fought back using his wives as human shields (he died without a weapon in his hands);

* The burial of the body at sea was hasty, unilateral and insensitive (US officials cleared it with Saudi officials and the Navy observed Muslim rituals). …

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