by Austin Bay
May 3, 2011
Osama Bin Laden's death is the result of American
persistence and American military professionalism.
For at least a century, America's enemies and their
propagandists have portrayed the United States as lacking the will to engage in
an extended struggle. The roots of this myth actually extend into the 18th
century, but with the 20th century and the global proof of America's economic,
political and cultural success, the accusations of spinelessness and
fecklessness became more elaborate and insistent.
America can be blamed for giving its critics a basis for
their argument. On a daily basis, an open society with freedom of expression
offers domestic and international observers diverse, multifarious and totally
contradictory images. The libertine and decadent are real enough. Jazz Age
drunks in speakeasies morph to '50s beatniks, '60s hippies, then '90s dot-com
zillionaires on skateboards.
If your current vision of America is shaped by TV programs
like "The View" or "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,"
it would be reasonable to conclude that America is an utterly decayed nation of
sexually frustrated gossips and sadomasochists -- in other words, an easy enemy
that will cower and capitulate.
However, if your vision of America is shaped by the Wright
Brothers, Thomas Edison, the building of the Panama Canal, the Battle of
Belleau Wood, the Battle of Okinawa, the Manhattan Project, the Apollo program,
the Internet and similar endeavors, a nation of genius, courage and persistence
emerges -- a nation to emulate, not injure and anger.
An interpretation of Vietnam informed Saddam Hussein's
February 1990 speech in Amman, Jordan, in which he sketched his vision of
recent history. After World War II, France and Britain "declined."
Two superpowers arose, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Suddenly, the Cold War ended.
Saddam then proceeded with a rambling proposition that America was
"fatigued" and would fade, but "throughout the next five
years," the U.S. would be unrestricted.
He implied defeating the U.S. entailed exploiting the scar
of Vietnam and threatening massive U.S. casualties. "Fatigue" and
domestic self-recrimination would stall U.S. power.
Saddam miscalculated. America responded to his invasion of
Kuwait with Desert Storm. Bin Laden's America as a "weak horse"
metaphor echoed Saddam. Bin Laden focused on America's hasty withdrawal from
Somalia after the Blackhawk Down fiasco.
Both men ignored the more telling lesson of Nov. 9, 1989,
the day the Berlin Wall cracked. From 1947 until 1989 -- despite the
inconclusiveness of the Korean War, despite the existence of Cuba as a Soviet
satellite 90 miles from Florida, despite draft dodgers and Weathermen
terrorists, despite the American retreat from Vietnam, despite the Watts riots
of 1964, despite Watergate, despite the humiliating 1979 occupation of the U.S.
embassy in Tehran -- the U.S. successfully contained and defeated the U.S.S.R.
in the Cold War's long and tedious struggle.
That took extraordinary persistence. It took resilient,
adaptable, creative and able American military and security services. Most of
all, it took the basic, consistent support of the American people, the ones who
go to work, pay the bills, wear the police and military uniforms, and, to
paraphrase John Kennedy, will "bear any burden ... to assure the survival
and the success of liberty."
As the Cold War ended, another twilight struggle began, one
America didn't notice and didn't want. Al-Qaida attacked the World Trade Center
in 1993. Al-Qaida operatives attacked U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. The
attack on the USS Cole was an al-Qaida operation.
America, however, did not ignore the horror of 9-11. Another
long struggle for the terms of modernity had begun, one that would pit
multifarious America and its radical experiment in liberty against murderous
religious fanatics whose vision of the future linked 21st century technologies
with 12th century feudalism, 20th century dictatorships and tribal misogyny.
The religious fanatics bet on their will to win, their will
The U.S. special operations team that killed bin Laden in
Abbottabad, Pakistan, was the tip of a very long spear made of intelligence
agencies, military services and police departments. It is a spear wielded by
the American people.
The bottom line to bin Laden's death is this: Don't attack
America. The line above the bottom line? Don't underestimate America.