Peter Schoomaker, the outgoing Army Chief of Staff, stirred quite a bit of negative attention with following comments (excerpted from today's Post:
FORT WORTH, Feb. 23 -- The Army's highest-ranking officer said Friday that he was unsure whether the U.S. military would capture or kill Osama bin Laden, adding, "I don't know that it's all that important, frankly."
"So we get him, and then what?" asked Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the outgoing Army chief of staff, at a Rotary Club of Fort Worth luncheon. "There's a temporary feeling of goodness, but in the long run, we may make him bigger than he is today.
"He's hiding, and he knows we're looking for him. We know he's not particularly effective. I'm not sure there's that great of a return" on capturing or killing bin Laden.
Schoomaker pointed to the capture of Saddam Hussein, the killings of his sons, Uday and Qusay, and the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as evidence that the capture or death of al-Qaeda's leader would have little effect on threats to the United States.
As student of guerrilla warefare, I can see where the general is coming from. In a culture that venerates martyrdom, the U.S. is like Darth Vader at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope: If we strike Osama down, we may make him more powerful than we could possibly imagine. In a awkward way, keeping Osama confined to the remote mountains of Waziristan for a long enough period of time may do more damage to his organization in the fast-paced world of jihad than a Hellfire-armed Predator drone hovering over the Durand line. (Warning: the Durand Line article in Wikipedia has a clear Afghan slant)
I don't particularly agree with his comparison of Osama to Saddam, his sons, or Zarqawi. Although the deaths of the three Husseins only antagonized Baathists and Iraq's Sunnis, they weren't exactly popular elsewhere in the Near East, especially among the more zealous jihadists. It is also arguable that Zarqawi wouldn't have been as powerful if the U.S. hadn't trumped him up. Remember the blooper reel that came with one of his videos? Doesn't seem consistent with his 'terrorist mastermind' persona.
I'm not making the argument that we should give up or just contain Osama. The U.S. needs to hunt down and kill Osama and his deputy Zawahiri for two simple reasons. First, the U.S. needs to reassure its allies and the Western world that it can still defeat its adversaries. Second and more importantly, the U.S. needs to extract revenge for September 11th.