This is as close as our generation will come to experiencing the sense of joy and excitement millions around the world felt on May 8, 1945, VE Day. Osama Bin Laden, long removed from direct day-to-day operations of al-Qaeda, but still the influential and spiritual leader of al-Qaeda and many splinter groups around the world and the leading force in the 9/11 attacks was killed yesterday.
Bin Laden, more than anyone else, has shaped US Foreign Policy in the last ten years. From our security at home to our approach to the rest of the Middle East to our action on three fronts (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan), Bin Laden was the primary target of the war we have been waging for 9 years. This is huge. It took the most powerful nation in the world nearly 10 years to find and kill one man. One man. His ability to camouflage himself will not be forgotten, but his violent end will overshadow everything else for me. I was ready for sleep last night and I turned on the TV. Instantly, I sat up in bed and told Kate to stop talking for a minute. There was a CBS News special report and along the bottom I read that President Obama is going to make an announcement soon. About what I did not know until a few seconds later when a reporter said Osama Bin Laden has been killed. I looked at Kate, whose eyes were huge with the news, and I sat up a little more, turning the volume up and settling in for President Obama’s announcement.
The details of his death are rapidly spreading across the media and blogosphere. According to some sources, it was a double-tap to the side of the head during or at the end of a firefight outside a curiously large compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The operation, in the works since August, was completed in 40 minutes. Bin Laden’s body was taken by US Navy Seals, identified, and buried at sea within 24 hours of his death (according to Islamic tradition).
I have spent the morning reading the blogs and news feeds of most of the world’s major papers. The one thing that is not overlooked by the media, who are always speculating about political implications, is how this will affect Obama’s chances in 2012 and if it will be his defining moment as President. I think it’s important to examine the political effects of this news, but more important is to first celebrate what this means for our troops, the families of the thousands killed and injured on 9/11, and the American psyche in regards to the war against terrorism.
It is not natural to celebrate a death. But this morning, I was happy to. I watched archival footage of the 9/11 attacks. I watched cadets at the Naval Academy yelling their hearts out. I watched someone spraying champagne from his perch on a light post onto the crowd gathered below him at Ground Zero. And, truly, I felt pride for what America has done. My pulse elevated and I recalled the morning I was going to class as a freshman at the University of Wyoming with people crying throughout the union, unable to pull themselves from a TV to go to class, where, if they went, they would undoubtedly be watching a TV anyway. I recalled the spring break the USA went to war in Iraq. Sitting on the couch with Aaron, watching the shock and awe campaign, wondering if this was really a necessary strike to avenge 9/11. Nearly two-thirds of the country had given up on finding/killing Bin Laden, but our troops and intelligence gatherers have never rested. Neither has President Obama who clarified again and again as candidate Obama in 2008 that if he received reliable intelligence that Bin Laden was in Pakistan, he would not hesitate to go in there unannounced and take Bin Laden out.
Naïve our generation is not. I don’t think one of us believes this means the end of terrorism. The detractors are already pointing this out, assuming that some must believe the end of terrorism has come. We know it hasn’t. There will be more terrorists. There will always be evil in this world, but this was a victory America had to have. The celebrations across the country do not bother me at all. If the extremists can go kill Westerners anytime a Koran is burned or stomped on, then we can have one day in the last ten years to yell in the street, to wave the American flag, to put on display our fanaticism for all the world to see. Yeah, I don’t feel bad about that.
Reading through the blogs has uncovered bits of information about the raid and the coincidence of May 1st in 20th and 21st century war. May 1, 1945: Hitler’s suicide is announced to the world. May 1, 2003: President Bush gives his infamous Mission Accomplished speech from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. May 1, 2011: President Obama shares the news of Bin Laden’s death in Pakistan.
Most troubling about the news of where Bin Laden was hiding out is the fact that he was in a relatively affluent neighborhood and not in a cave like many presumed for years. He was in a mansion six to eight times bigger than any of the surrounding houses with high walls and barbed wire. How could anyone in the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence service) not know about Bin Laden’s location? This makes it clear for those who doubted it; Pakistan is the home of al-Qaeda operations and the source of much of what we are dealing with in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government routinely denied that Bin Laden was hiding out in Pakistan. Wisely, the US intelligence did not share much information of the operation with the ISI, worried that word would get to Bin Laden and he would slip through our fingers again.
If the administration were looking for another reason to get out of Afghanistan, this is it. Bin Laden has been the target from day 1: September 11, 2001. He was the reason we went to Afghanistan, almost sealing the deal at Tora Bora in December 2001. His death marks the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one in the war on terror. I think it is important to remain cautious and to not let our guard down, but today, tonight, whenever, remember 9/11, remember the firefighters, remember the policemen, remember the troops, and remember what you felt that morning and raise a glass, spray some champagne, sing the Star Spangled Banner and wave the flag.