Monday, May 2, 2011

The Enemy Is Dead

Let me make my position clear: Osama Bin Laden is dead. U.S. Navy SEALs killed him yesterday. That is a good thing.

But seeing my countrymen celebrating in the streets at a man's death left me with some unfamiliar emotions. See, on the one hand, a man who desperately needed killing--a man whose hands are stained with the blood of more than three thousand Americans, and thousands more Iraqis and Afghans and Pakistanis and Arabs and Muslims and others from all around the world--got what he needed. On the other hand, Americans were celebrating in the streets that a man was dead. It's not something I expected to see in this country. It's the sort of thing we saw in the news after the 9-11 attack, except then it was people who had been taught to hate us celebrating our tragedy.

I'm not sure how I expected Americans to react. Honestly, I never expected we would learn of it this way. I had pretty much given up on such a decisive victory; I figued if he was still alive, he would die in a hole somewhere quietly and we would never know of it until years after the fact. And I know I wasn't the only one. So a decisive, unambiguous victory came as quite a surprise.

I wonder if that wasn't what the celebration was really about. In this war in which we have been conditioned not to expect victory, only a long hard slog to the next difficult step, we suddenly had a victory. A big one.

And when you get a big victory in the middle of a long hard slog, you celebrate.

But let's make no mistake: the slog is not over. The greatest danger to our country two days ago was that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda would discover another weakness in our national defense and would strike us again, perhaps even worse than before. The greatest danger today? That we decide the war is over, lower our defenses and relax--and Al Qaeda or one of its murderous partners takes advantage of the weakness we have created and strikes us again, perhaps even worse than before.

Because Al Qaeda is still out there, and even if Bin Laden's death destroys his organization, there are still plenty of people out there who want to kill Americans. Yes, we may have the capacity to kill them all, but what must we become to do it? And how many new enemies will we make in doing it? Military force, even assassination--the word nobody is using--should remain options. But they can't be our only options. The days are long gone when a conquering army could level a city and sow the ground with salt.

How do we win this war? First, we stand ready to kill the Bin Ladens of the world, and we put them on notice that we have both the capacity and the will to do it. We just did that.

Second, we identify the people who would stand against the Bin Ladens in their nations, and we help them. The people of the Middle East who want the chance to choose their own destinies, the people who this year are rising up in their thousands to reject dictators and terror, are our best hope to strangle and smother the Al Qaedas of the world. Because when people have the chance to improve their own lives, when they can roll up their sleeves and make better lives for their families without having to blame someone else for their lot, that's what they do. And they are too busy doing that to worry about killing Americans. And their lives become better, and we trade with them. And war between trading partners is rare.

So we stand behind those who reject dictators and terror. If we can do that, we win.

And here's the really great part: so do they.

The enemy is dead. May we never know his like again.


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