The Abbottabad Archive and the Silence of the Chattering Classes

 

Earlier this week, Mary Habeck — a military historian whom I first met some twenty-three years ago when she was an assistant professor and I, a visiting professor at Yale — came to Hillsdale to give a talk for our local Alexander Hamilton Society. Over lunch, she told me something that I did not know — which set my mind a-wandering. Just over a year ago, the Central Intelligence Agency posted online nearly all of the materials collected from Osama Bin Laden’s lair by the Navy Seals who effected his demise.

This is no small trove. There are tens of thousands of pages of material, and items in the collection spell out in detail Al Q’aeda’s dealings with the governments of Pakistan and Iran — among others.

That I knew nothing of this is passing strange. I am not a War on Terror obsessive, but I follow the affairs of the Middle East closely, and I read widely. For an historian — indeed, for a journalist or policy wonk — such an archive is invaluable. It allows one to ascertain where previously one could only guess.

And yet . . . when I go to the internet in search of reports concerning what this archive includes and what its contents can tell us about the developments of the last twenty years I find next to nothing. I went to Pravda-on-the-Hudson, I searched, and I found no mention of this material. I did the same on the website of Pravda-on-the-Potomac; and I tried The Wall Street Journal as well; and I found nothing in either paper. It is no wonder that I knew nothing. The only informative article I found in the public prints was a piece by Steve Hayes in The Weekly Standard on the reasons why the release took place.

There was, to be sure, a snippet in USA Today early in November 2017, and CNN mentioned the release at that time, as did ABC, CBS, and US News. Moreover, the Long War Journal did a descriptive piece of some value. But our leading newspapers, such as they are, did nothing. One would have thought that they would have found reporters, versed in Arabic, to go over at least some of the 470,000 documents released. But this they did not do. It is as if no one these days has the resources to do any serious reporting. It is as if no one involved at the editorial level in our leading journals cares a whit.

Someday, perhaps, a scholar — perhaps even Mary Habeck, who eleven years ago published a book on jihadism and remains interested in the topic — will exploit this treasure trove of documents. But, should she do so, would anybody outside a dry academic journal even bother to review the book? In a world obsessed with gender-bending, does anyone within the chattering class care about terrorism, war, peace, and the conduct of foreign policy more generally? Something is very much amiss, and we are apt someday to pay in spades for our silly self-indulgence.

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  1. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Paul A. Rahe: One would have thought that they would have found reporters, versed in Arabic, to go over at least some of the 470,000 documents released.

    Do they really need to be versed in Arabic to write about TrumpRussia?

    • #1
  2. Fredösphere Member
    Fredösphere
    @Fredosphere

    Paul A. Rahe: In a world obsessed with gender-bending, does anyone within the chattering class care about terrorism, war, peace, and the conduct of foreign policy more generally?

    I recall hearing that Bin Laden’s lair contained quite a lot of porn. Maybe that is the angle that will arouse the curiosity of the gender studies set!

    • #2
  3. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    So, what about the old Army of Davids? Sounds like a clear crowd-sourcing project, with periodic reports, here perhaps? Who has the basic language skills? Who has access to communities with the basic language skills?

    What about tackling with automated translation tools for rough translation, leaving the ambiguous parts to human translation? 

    Anyone led/coordinated a mass document dive? 

     

    • #3
  4. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    The Guardian had an article on some (small?) portion of this. But apparently before most of it was released.

    If anybody wanted to translate this cache, the Arab world is full of journalists who can speak Arabic and English. Hire them in Egypt and you probably don’t have a major outlay.

    I suspect that people have dipped into it and found it not worth the effort?

    • #4
  5. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Zafar (View Comment):

    The Guardian had an article on some (small?) portion of this. But apparently before most of it was released.

    If anybody wanted to translate this cache, the Arab world is full of journalists who can speak Arabic and English. Hire them in Egypt and you probably don’t have a major outlay.

    I suspect that people have dipped into it and found it not worth the effort?

    Mary Habeck tells me that the archive is full of juice.

    • #5
  6. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Paul A. Rahe (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    The Guardian had an article on some (small?) portion of this. But apparently before most of it was released.

    If anybody wanted to translate this cache, the Arab world is full of journalists who can speak Arabic and English. Hire them in Egypt and you probably don’t have a major outlay.

    I suspect that people have dipped into it and found it not worth the effort?

    Mary Habeck tells me that the archive is full of juice.

    Not juicy enough for her to bother doing it though? 

    I presume the CIA has gone through it. They are really the ones that need to care. That’s what we pay them for.

    The question is this. Is there anything in there that changes our broad opinion of Binladen? For my part getting more specific about why I should hate the guy doesn’t seem worth it. 

    • #6
  7. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Valiuth (View Comment):

    Paul A. Rahe (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    The Guardian had an article on some (small?) portion of this. But apparently before most of it was released.

    If anybody wanted to translate this cache, the Arab world is full of journalists who can speak Arabic and English. Hire them in Egypt and you probably don’t have a major outlay.

    I suspect that people have dipped into it and found it not worth the effort?

    Mary Habeck tells me that the archive is full of juice.

    Not juicy enough for her to bother doing it though?

    I presume the CIA has gone through it. They are really the ones that need to care. That’s what we pay them for.

    The question is this. Is there anything in there that changes our broad opinion of Binladen? For my part getting more specific about why I should hate the guy doesn’t seem worth it.

    As I understand it, Mary had a book underway on Al Q’aeda, and she is now rewriting it in light of the archive. I doubt that there is anything to change our view of Bin Laden (apart from the porn). But there is apparently plenty that casts light on Iran and Pakistan (confirming our worst suspicions).

    • #7
  8. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Fredösphere (View Comment):

    Paul A. Rahe: In a world obsessed with gender-bending, does anyone within the chattering class care about terrorism, war, peace, and the conduct of foreign policy more generally?

    I recall hearing that Bin Laden’s lair contained quite a lot of porn. Maybe that is the angle that will arouse the curiosity of the gender studies set!

    I’m surprised they would have released anything into the public domain – I would have thought there was a lot of classified and valuable intel in there –

    • #8
  9. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Paul A. Rahe: Something is very much amiss, and we are apt someday to pay in spades for our silly self-indulgence.

    And that scares me.

    • #9
  10. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    I am not surprised that the NYT and WaPo had nothing. Unless one of their favored leftwing activist groups or Democratic operatives bring a story to them to alert them to its political value, they won’t act. This story offers no chance of making Trump look bad, could reflect badly on Obama in some way or worse, be some complicated picture that requires a writer with some geopolitical chops to sort it all out without any partisan hook to the final product worthy of a page one headline.

    There is also the distinct possibility that these docs let the Obama Administration know in detail how deeply Iran was involved with Al Qaeda and they went ahead with the silly Iran nuclear deal anyway. 

    There is just no reason for the NYT/WaPo to look at this given their parochial view of things.

    • #10
  11. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    But wasn’t that the big takeaway from the Russia-stole-the-election hoax? Fusion GPS was taking advantage of a huge hole in news organizations by being the outsource of news for news organizations because they had cut back on reporting. They could peddle a hoax to news organizations with shoddy work as long as it fit into their narratives. If you’re thinking print news organizations can afford to do any independent work, think again. The economics won’t allow it.

    • #11
  12. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    I am not surprised that the NYT and WaPo had nothing. Unless one of their favored leftwing activist groups or Democratic operatives bring a story to them to alert them to its political value, they won’t act. This story offers no chance of making Trump look bad, could reflect badly on Obama in some way or worse, be some complicated picture that requires a writer with some geopolitical chops to sort it all out without any partisan hook to the final product worthy of a page one headline.

    There is also the distinct possibility that these docs let the Obama Administration know in detail how deeply Iran was involved with Al Qaeda and they went ahead with the silly Iran nuclear deal anyway.

    There is just no reason for the NYT/WaPo to look at this given their parochial view of things.

    I suspect the same.

    • #12
  13. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Hang On (View Comment):

    But wasn’t that the big takeaway from the Russia-stole-the-election hoax? Fusion GPS was taking advantage of a huge hole in news organizations by being the outsource of news for news organizations because they had cut back on reporting. They could peddle a hoax to news organizations with shoddy work as long as it fit into their narratives. If you’re thinking print news organizations can afford to do any independent work, think again. The economics won’t allow it.

    Yes, there is a sense in which the press has disappeared — thanks largely to Craig’s List, which took away their classified advertising. And what is left is thin gruel because there is no profit. Were it not for the billions owned by Jeff Bezos there would be no Pravda-on-the-Potomac. The only real survivor is The Wall Street Journal, which never had any classified advertising.

    • #13
  14. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    A lot of us care Dr. Rahe, very much, but are not in a financial or psychical condition to do anything about it. Right now I am dithering about buying your $100 set of the Federalist papers or sending another $100 to my friend who lost her home and entire belongings in the Paradise fire, along with several of her adult children who also lost their homes and belongings. Many of us elderly are living on small retirement pensions. 

    • #14
  15. Unsk Member
    Unsk
    @Unsk

    Paul, Best be careful. I fear you have committed a grave Islamophobic sin of revealing information that may seriously damage the image of one of present day Islam’s great heroes, Osama Bin Laden. Our Deep State overlords will not be pleased. Didn’t you get the memo that Islam was the “Religion of Peace”and can do no wrong? The NYT and WSJ have dutifully buried that story in deference of course to the greatness of Islam, because correct journalism advocates for only the proper news for what is fit for our ears to hear. This “investigative” journalism that uncovers wrongdoing by our most hallowed institutions such as Islam, is not to be allowed. 

    • #15
  16. Postmodern Hoplite Coolidge
    Postmodern Hoplite
    @PostmodernHoplite

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    There is also the distinct possibility that these docs let the Obama Administration know in detail how deeply Iran was involved with Al Qaeda and they went ahead with the silly Iran nuclear deal anyway. 

    Hear, hear! These are my thoughts as well.

    Given this, I have no reason to think that any mainstream news outlet will pursue a deeper dive into the Bin Laden papers.

    • #16
  17. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Paul A. Rahe (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    The Guardian had an article on some (small?) portion of this. But apparently before most of it was released.

    If anybody wanted to translate this cache, the Arab world is full of journalists who can speak Arabic and English. Hire them in Egypt and you probably don’t have a major outlay.

    I suspect that people have dipped into it and found it not worth the effort?

    Mary Habeck tells me that the archive is full of juice.

    How much of it is amenable to machine translation?

    • #17
  18. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Paul A. Rahe (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    The Guardian had an article on some (small?) portion of this. But apparently before most of it was released.

    If anybody wanted to translate this cache, the Arab world is full of journalists who can speak Arabic and English. Hire them in Egypt and you probably don’t have a major outlay.

    I suspect that people have dipped into it and found it not worth the effort?

    Mary Habeck tells me that the archive is full of juice.

    How much of it is amenable to machine translation?

    Alas, that is beyond me.

    • #18
  19. Simon Templar Inactive
    Simon Templar
    @SimonTemplar

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    How much of it is amenable to machine translation?

    I tried it about 20 years ago when I was creating Programs of Instruction in Spanish. They actually made my work more difficult so I stopped using them.

    I don’t know whether or not they have gotten better since then.

    • #19
  20. Simon Templar Inactive
    Simon Templar
    @SimonTemplar

    I keep hearing that the American people are weary of war. I do not understand how that is possible but maybe we are too weary of war to care about ever living in peace again?

    • #20
  21. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Simon Templar (View Comment):

    I keep hearing that the American people are weary of war.

    I keep hearing that too.

    I do not understand how that is possible

    Neither do I. I’ve said many times here that my mother, and my aunties, were weary of war from 1939 until 1945,, and then sick of the privation and rationing that lasted for another ten years while Britain, which had thrown, and exhausted, every resource it had into the war, tried to get back on its feet. How a populace, the vast majority of whom has no personal, or any other, relationship to its country’s current war footing anywhere in the world can claim to be “weary of war” today is beyond me. We’re not starving, or even rationed because of the war effort. We’re not living in reduced circumstances while all resources go to the war effort. And unless we have family and loved ones deployed and engaged, or unless we are really interested and engaged ourselves, we probably don’t think about the “war” much at all.

    But I hear it all the time too from people who have no idea what they’re talking about, and who are mostly, as far as I can see, complaining because the money that’s being spent on military/defense/war is not being spent on something else that they would prefer it to be. This is a prime argument on the Left, I think. 

    This article (which is a year old), seems to indicated that fewer that 20,000 military are deployed in hot spots around the world. Even if we double that number, and then double it again for support purposes, that’s still fewer than 100,000 people actually engaged on anything like the front lines. Not very many people, doing the heavy lifting, really, in a country of over 300 million.

    Those who actually are weary of war today, either because they have personal reasons for so being, or because they have a rational and detailed knowledge of circumstances, events and history, are mostly weary, IMHO, because they are frustrated and angry and cynical about the bungling of recent engagements and their aftermath (going back several decades) around the world (this is not a phenomenon unique to the United States). In a world where “victory” and “Western civilization” have become a dirty words for which we must repeatedly apologize, it doesn’t surprise me that this (bungling of the peace, even once a person might reasonably think “victory” is secured) is the case. See Orwell’s comments on “the peculiar masochism of the British Left.”

    but maybe we are too weary of war to care about ever living in peace again?

    I hope not. And I hope that those who have the knowledge and the wisdom and the expertise to explain to the rest of us what’s going on keep doing so. That, and posts like this, are one of the joys of Ricochet, as far as I am concerned. Sooner or later, truth will out, even just one person at a time. It always does. Sooner or later.

    • #21
  22. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    It’s not your job to decide what we’re weary of. That’s the media’s job. 

    • #22

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