I think every American experienced some sort of joy when it was announced that Osama bin Laden was dead. For many of us, it was an overwhelming sense of relief that this particular chapter on the war on terror is over. Others got their schoddenfreud on and were rejoicing in his death itself. One radio commentator (sports) even imagined himself as Samuel L. Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction.
I've always had mixed emotions about rejoicing someone's death. You could debate his place on the top ten list of evil people from the last 100 years. I still have a hard time feeling jubiliant about someone else's demise. I'm not shedding any tears either. I fall under the first group. I am proud of our men and women in uniform and the Navy Seals in particular. I'm glad this chapter is over and I think it is perfectly reasonable for us as a nation to bask in the moment.
However, there are two things we must avoid in this time. First, we must ignore the impulse to play, "I told you so" game. Bin Laden was never in Iraq, never conspired with Iraq, and diverting resources to Iraq likely delayed this moment. Yet, the moment has come, so there is no need to drive that point home. On the other hand, we need to wait a long time before hanging the "Mission Accomplished" banner.
What we can do is use this sudden sense of unity to have a good discussion about the war on terror. I think every reasonable person agrees we should have a role in the war on terror, but what role should that be? Do we measure our involvement based on what they did to us? Do we measure it on what they did to their people? Do we base it on economic impact or impact on the stability of a region at large? These are all fair questions that need to be answered.
Obviously then you get into questions of whether to focus on nations that sponsor terror or the groups themselves. Do we strike before a group strikes or do we wait for them to make a move? May seem like a silly question, but I ask you the wisdom of arresting a teenager we just know is going to do something someday. We also must consider how these groups garnered so much support in the first place.
One of our big challenges as a nation is getting past the point of blame. Al Queda and other groups have been sponsored by the CIA. Why? Well, our intelligence organizations saw a bigger threat somewhere else at the time. So, they helped one terror cell defeat another terror cell. They did the same thing with Saddam Hussein. It was akin to releasing a gaggle of cats in your house to hunt down the mice. Then, the next day you bring in a pack of dogs to hunt down the cats. Where does it all end?
The temptation is to wonder whether a D or an R was responsible for this. They both were. Furthermore, most of the principles in those decisions are dead or long since retired. It would be like blaming Spec Richardson for the sad state of the Astros in 2011. So instead of blaming we learn. When Apollo I caught on fire on the pad and killed all three on board, they spent more time on fixing the problem then afixing blame. The rest is history.
There is no new world order unless we make it. Killing one terrorist no matter how influential and powerful doesn't change that. What killing him can do is give us enough collective good will to have a mature conversation about how we intend to move forward. On that fateful September day nearly ten years ago, this past week was the end goal. We now realize it can't be, but we also can't forget the original mandate.