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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.