I’m not a fervent George Bush fan. He was way too liberal for me ( a guy who sees Ghengis Khan as a moderate). I liked his father even less for his lie about “no new taxes.” With the son it was the same lie converted to “no new Mexicans.” Still, both of these guys obviously love America and, as president, felt responsible for those who defended her. Yes they asked some of us to do dangerous and difficult things based on foggy or secret reasons or maybe rationalizations. No one really expects to know everything the president does so you just do the job on faith and patriotism. Sometimes the hero who defends America and Americans is not even one of us, in fact occasionally it’s one of “them.” In such a case, when a complete outsider who is not, nor has ever been, the beneficiary of our wealth and liberty chooses to risk it all in an effort to assist that great nation of legend on the hope and faith that the legend is true, he is no less a hero to America than any man born on this blessed soil.
From all the wars that this nation has fought there emerge stories of often the poorest and simplest peoples hiding downed pilots, caring for our wounded and often standing shoulder to shoulder with our troops on hearing that magic word in the blackest of times, “American.” When the tsunami hit Indonesia, a place and society vastly different than our own, the enormous power and skill of an American Navy carrier group literally lifted that battered coast onto its shoulders with an effort and a selflessness that no other nation can match. In those devastated towns and among those grateful people the word America still brings a smile and a feeling of pride.
But sometimes the table is turned and the thousand pound gorilla of nations falls dependent on the simple humanity of one individual. In March 1993 that individual was a young Iraqi lawyer named Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief. During the first Iraq war a convoy of US Army trucks had taken a wrong turn into a hostile town called Nasiriyah. The convoy was ambushed and one Humvee was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. The vehicle flipped and when the shooting stopped a dozen Americans were dead or missing. One of the missing was a young woman soldier named Jessica Lynch. The Washington Post, seeing an opportunity to advance the cause of feminism in the military, printed wild stories about how Lynch had fought valiantly till she was overpowered and had left a pile of enemy dead at the front of her position. America was frantic to find and rescue such a courageous and at once innocent young woman. The image of Jessica at the mercy of Saddam’s savages was almost too much to bear.
The reality of Jessica’s circumstance, while not nearly as heroic or wrenching as we had thought, was anything but secure. She had been delivered to an Iraqi civilian hospital and was being treated there. The hospital staff, to their enormous credit, had managed to hide and protect her from the murderous Iraqi military. Still, she was very seriously hurt and constantly at risk of discovery. Attorney Rehaief, while visiting the hospital, noticed that the staff was very protective of one area. When he inquired he was told about Jessica. When he saw the injured young woman he felt compelled to act and did so by walking a very dangerous six miles through that smoking war zone to a US Marine checkpoint. Eventually he was sent back to the hospital with instructions on how to pick entry points and to map where Saddam’s soldiers were. Any suspicions that he was working for the Americans would mean a long and very painful death.
When Jessica was rescued Attorney Rehaief became an instant American hero, he and his family were granted asylum here almost immediately. The average citizen would assume it was just a fitting payback to a man who put the life of that young soldier above his own, we praised him and honored him and happily accepted his family. President Bush stood up to the image of this country as a place that pays it’s debts and takes care of it’s heroes. I was proud of Bush for that even as I knew there was more to his actions than met the eye.
The military and the various covert agencies refer to them as “special operators.” Navy SEALs, Delta Force, CIA and other heavily trained creatures of the night who inhabit that smokey gray danger zone between combat and recon. The term operator refers to their ability to operate local “assets.” Any native citizen in a hostile zone who can be bribed or conned or coerced into serving America’s interests is an asset. The operator is only as safe as his asset is loyal and trustworthy. At any moment the local may either change his mind or find himself hanging from a chain with electrodes connected to his genitals. In either case the next person on the chain will be the operator. Getting people to risk the wrath of murderous Che Guevara or Saddam’s son Uday requires a big stick and an even bigger carrot. The one carrot, the trump carrot you might say, is the promise of asylum in America for the asset and his family. Even if he dies the asset does so with the knowledge that his family will be spirited to safety and given a new life. When that promise gets broken every asset becomes a risk and every operator has lost his most valuable tool. Attorney Rehaief was an asset for whom the promise was kept.
In my lifetime, and those of most other citizens, the most arrogant and destructive enemy we have faced was a man named Osama Bin Laden. I’m sure Bin Laden would have been more than happy to explain his actions in retaliation for a laundry list of American evil. He might articulate eloquently the necessity and the reasons to bring the Great Satan to its knees from our attempts to treat women as equals to our mocking infidelity to the profit Mohammed. In my mind, and in the minds of most of my countrymen, the simple image of some 22 year old secretary falling from the top of the World Trade Center in flames erases his every word and sets my blood on fire. It took a decade of searching, a doggedly determined woman CIA agent and an incredibly courageous Pakistani doctor who said he loved America to connect the dots that put a Navy SEAL laser sight on Osama’s forehead. For several very long and frightening months Dr. Shakeel Afridi ran a fake vaccination program constantly threading two very sharp needles, the Pakistani Secret Police and Al Queda, till he provided the CIA with DNA samples that fingered Bin Laden.
For all his courage and effort what was Dr. Afridi’s reward from a grateful President Obama? What happened to the single most important player in the assassination of Osama Bin Laden? Is he living in Jersey with his wife and kids, maybe at the White House receiving the Medal of Freedom or just enjoying the congratulations and the security of a safer nation?? No, he’s rotting in a Pakistani prison for the next 33 years on the very slim chance he should actually live that long. His family? They are asking the world to give up trying to free him as they suffer constant abuse and harassment by the Pakistani Police. And what of all those other potential assets who have our operators dangling on a very thin thread? What are they thinking now? Will America stand by me if I put my life and my family at risk? As long as the likes of Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton are in the White House I sure as hell wouldn’t bet on it.