President Obama’s dramatic Sunday night announcement of the killing of Osama bin Laden recalled perfectly how Americans felt after the horrors of Sept. 11, when we “reaffirmed our unity as one American family and our resolve to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice.”
And now, as the president said, “justice has been done.” The president deserves our thanks for the stable, secure and consistent leadership that he brought to this mission. Indeed, today the whole world is offering him high praise, and saying thank you to President Obama.
And with bin Laden’s death, we once more feel the same unity, as Americans celebrate across the country. There is some sense of closure for the family members who lost loved ones on 9/11. People came to the White House spontaneously to express their jubilation that the world has rid itself of bin Laden. He became the consummate evil; his intent and acts were of such a magnitude that put bin Laden in that rare category where exacting revenge against him was redemptive.
President Obama deserves our recognition for his steadfast hand in bringing down bin Laden. Notified in August about a major tip concerning his whereabouts, he painstakingly, carefully, cautiously and finally successfully led our nation’s military and intelligence forces — in cooperation with the Pakistan government and their intelligence agencies — to finally locate and bring down bin Laden. No bravado. No fanfare. No rhetoric. Just results.
But our celebration must be just as cautious and careful. Bin Laden’s chapter is now closed, but the book is still open. With the instability and turmoil across the world, the threat is not gone. We are on high alert today for good reason.
Bin Laden was headmaster of the school of terrorism. Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups have evolved as a network in numerous countries around the globe. Bin Laden was the mastermind behind 9/11 — but, since, primarily the figurehead of global terrorism. He led the school, and the students remain active in all corners of the world.
We must keep our guard up, and use this occasion to revive our common sense -- and to end the misnamed war on a technique, “the war on terror.” The Bush White House invented the metaphor of a war on terror. Karl Rove was confident the president would benefit from being a “wartime president.” The neoconservatives around Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld expanded the hunt for bin Laden in Afghanistan into a war of choice: the invasion of Iraq. The Pentagon loved the war frame, for it provided rationale for another surge in spending on weapons and security.
But the term never made any sense. You can’t wage war on a tactic. A “war on terrorism” is a war without an end in sight, without a specified enemy, without a clear set of goals other than to fight everywhere or anywhere endlessly. Calling this a war on terror allowed our government to confuse Americans about Saddam Hussein and helped to justify the costly ($3 trillion dollars in the best estimate) war of choice in Iraq. It now has led the administration to try to build a nation in Afghanistan around a corrupt and incompetent central government complicated by tribal and ethnic relations that we know little about, in a land across the world with a culture, language and history that we have no relation to.
Osama bin Laden’s physical death came after his extremist cause was beginning to flag. Al-Qaida had nothing to do with the popular uprisings that are transforming the Middle East. Constant pressure -- and good intelligence and police work -- has limited the ability of his followers to act successfully. But al-Qaida’s zealots are still a threat, a clear and present danger. We should sustain our efforts to track down the terrorists and bring them to justice. This requires international cooperation, skilled intelligence work, aggressive police work and the willingness to strike those who pose a real threat. We have little choice to continue to build that effort.
But bin Laden’s death should enable us to take a clear look at our strategy, to reassert common sense. We need a foreign policy that flows from our values and are not foreign to them.
President Obama has shelved use of the term “war on terror.” Now it is time to reassert diplomacy and peaceful resolution to world conflict. To reassert the principles of nonintervention and nonviolence, of self-reliance and self-determination. And finally, to bring the excesses — the invasion of Iraq, nation building in Afghanistan, the trampling of liberties here at home -- to a close.
Justice, as the president said, has been done. Now let common sense be exercised as well.