May 08, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Late on Sunday night we got the word that Osama bin Laden was dead. Within minutes, people surrounded the White House, cheering, and similar demonstrations sprung up on college campuses and other public venues. It was time to celebrate.
So why wasn’t I celebrating? Why would I not revel in the moment where the world’s most wanted man was tracked down and killed?
Well, the answer’s real simple – the immense cost, in loss of human life and other damages, that characterized the quest for bin Laden. We simply lost too much.
First, there was the evil of 9/11 itself. The irrational hatred bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda allies harbored toward America led to a traumatic event that shattered America’s sense of security, even as it renewed patriotism from all corners of our land.
Understandably, our nation vowed revenge and to get bin Laden, and they almost did in the months following 9/11. Better yet, we had close to universal agreement on our mission to fight terrorism. All that remained was to focus on capturing or killing Osama.
Instead, we got a diversion called Iraq. It’s now well-known that Iraq, and Saddam Hussein, had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. Yet that, plus the fictional weapons of mass destruction, served as the basis to shepherd a scared American people (and scared American politicians) into a conflict that only served to shatter our reputation around the world.
And when that work was done, we doubled down in Afghanistan, determined to build a nation torn asunder by centuries-old conflicts for reasons ranging from geography to religion. More billions spent, more soldiers, more lives lost – and for what?
For all those reasons, my reaction on Sunday night was extremely muted. All the memories of the last decade came flooding back, and it really got pointed when someone said that President Obama’s announcement fell exactly eight years to the day after George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” show.
Of course, this presidential appearance was a complete contrast to the jingoism of 2003. No aircraft carrier, no flyboy outfit, no banner, no cheering soldiers, just a sober leader delivering a sober announcement while some turned it into V-J Day.
What matters, even more, is what happens next. Events in the Middle East in recent months, from the emergence of democracy in Tunisia and Egypt to the budding civil war in Libya and violent crackdowns elsewhere (Syria, for instance), add to the urgency of getting it right. Our leaders must show maturity and patience, even as events unfold at a quick pace.
At the same time, we have to reassess the whole Afghanistan adventure. The primary reason our soldiers went there in the first place was to get bin Laden. Toppling the Taliban late in 2001 was a byproduct, but by the time we came back in force the combination of religious fervor and political corruption made things a lot tougher.
Besides, bin Laden, as it turned out, was in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Everyone’s happy to be rid of him, but that doesn’t make the Afghan mission any easier, especially if the withdrawal is as slow and gradual as currently planned.
So why not pull out sooner, and at a greater volume? If possible, the president should tell the Afghan rulers to, in essence, get their act together quick, that it’s time for American soldiers to exit and time for us to focus the billions that we’re spending there back at home, where it’s needed.
Aside from all that, the credit for this must go to where it truly belongs – not to presidents, past or present, but to the brave men and women who carried out the mission, both in our military and in our intelligence community.
A large majority of our current armed forces signed up in the aftermath of 9/11, and many of them cited the desire to get bin Laden as a driving force to volunteer. If anything, this is their victory, hard-earned in tears and blood.
Combine that with the CIA and other intelligence groups that, despite years of frustration, just kept working,
anonymous to the world, until they finally found bin Laden, setting the stage for the successful raid just concluded.
Their service, more than anything else, is the true story here, another prime example of how, with enough labor, toil and perseverance, Americans can still accomplish what they set out to do, and without money as the major reward.
So recognize the work of those who serve our nation that brought an end to Osama bin Laden. But save the celebrations for the day when the United States acts less as an avenging angel and more like the defender of freedom and democracy, wherever it might arise.