Now that the jubilation surrounding the execution of Osama bin Laden has subsided, let’s soberly assess the importance of this accomplishment. While bin Laden’s assassination satisfies vengeance, it certainly is not a complete triumph. The Islamic-terrorist hydra has many heads that would need to be removed if the United States is to achieve total victory over this enemy. Considering that it took nearly a decade and untold millions of dollars to remove much of bin Laden’s head, total victory may be a ways off yet.
Still, with this one audacious, surgical strike by America’s most elite commandos, President Barack ObamaPresident Barack Obama has done much to reinvigorate national pride and restore America’s self-confidence. It has reassured Americans, and the world, of America’s unassailable power and unyielding commitment to victory over any enemy.
At a time when even Superman has renounced his U.S. citizenship, the symbolic power of this one victory cannot be underestimated. It has momentarily displaced nagging national doubts fueled by high unemployment, persistent recession, crumbling infrastructure, deteriorating education, soaring gas prices and crushing national debt. Yes, we may be flirting with financial collapse, we may be nearly politically dysfunctional from the poisoned polemics of ideology, but for now we can still kick ass anywhere in the world.
Obama is, if anything, a practical politician who understands the power of symbolism. His gutsy gamble to take out bin Laden has flummoxed the nattering nabobs of negativity — to borrow an alliteration from the late Vice President Spiro Agnew — who have been unremitting in their nearly hysterical efforts to denigrate him.
His noisy detractors are now stumbling about to reconcile their patriotism with their malicious portrayal of him. Jeeze, how can a Kenyan, Muslim, socialist dispatch the nation’s arch nemesis — and with such courageous and decisive leadership? All that birther nonsense — the Donald Trump circus, the insinuations that Obama is a Muslim — look even more pathetically petty and irrationally irrelevant now.
Meanwhile, Obama has refused to make public the death photos of bin Laden, because he says, “that is not who we are.” It may be more appropriate to say that is not who we should be and ask, who have we become since the 9/11 attacks?
With the insidiously named Patriot Act and the pervasive Homeland Security apparatus, we have capitulated to fear and have accepted police-state tactics that are antithetical to the founding principles of our nation — principles with which we have always measured our exceptionalism as the world’s greatest democracy, defender of human rights and beacon of freedom.
We have compromised our ethics regarding treatment of our enemies or those suspected of being such. We now admittedly employ torture and incarcerate suspects in concentration camps where they languish for years without due process of law. Once that ethical line is crossed for foreign enemies of the state, how long before it is crossed for U.S. citizens suspected of being such? Not long. Ask the Americans of Japanese decent who were confined to remote concentration camps during World War II, or those Americans of Mideast decent who have been spirited away to prisons during the War on Terror.
On two fronts, U.S. forces are mired in a seemingly endless war on terror. The military expeditions in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost thousands of American lives and more than $1 trillion — so far. It is difficult to calculate an acceptable return on these costly ventures.
The way we are going about it, any victory over terrorism will be a Pyrrhic victory. Although he now sleeps with the fishes, Osama bin Laden has a victory that we have given him. Our panicked reaction to his 9/11 attacks has undermined our constitutional rights, drained our treasury, killed thousands of our military men and women, and compromised our ethics. We have allowed him to change us from what we should be, to what we have become — fair-weather Americans who abandon our principles, surrender our rights and diminish our freedom for government’s tenuous promise of physical safety. As long as we continue to react like this, bin Laden will laugh from his grave.