The Russians have a proverb, “God hurries not, but misses not.” In the case of Osama bin Laden, we may have been in a hurry, but still had to wait ten long years since the day he crushed and incinerated thousands on our soil.
It’s hard to know what the condign punishment is for such a savage act of mass murder. Getting shot in the head by U.S. forces who descend on your compound in an operation of ruthless efficiency and then jettison your corpse into the sea has to be close to the mark, though. As Pres. Barack Obama said, simply and unassailably, “Justice has been done.”
For all his medieval obscurantism, bin Laden represented a quite contemporary anti-Americanism. He turned up the intensity of critiques of America as a predatory empire popular in precincts of the Left. “It wants to occupy our countries,” bin Laden said when he first declared war on us, “steal our resources, impose agents on us to rule us, and then wants us to agree to all this.” He continued, “Wherever we look, we find the U.S. as the leader of terrorism and crime in the world.”
Although without staying power. He scorned us for exiting Somalia in the 1990s after “minor battles”: “You left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat, and your dead with you.” He saw us as both evil and weak, and proved wrong on both counts.
The raid against his compound had all the hallmarks of an American operation. Even when pursuing our most infamous enemy, we took every care to know we were attacking the right house containing the right people. For us, innocent life means something. Bin Laden’s comrades were reportedly cowards to the end, using a woman as a human shield.
If bin Laden truly believed we’d curl up in a fetal position after September 11, or we’d ever stop hunting him, he profoundly misjudged our national character. Our manhunt for him was relentless and meticulous, building rather than winding down over the years, as we slowly put together the pieces to track down his courier and then him.
The effort stretched across two administrations, with both George W. Bush and Obama making contributions. The much-reviled interrogation program at Guantanamo Bay turned up crucial information, and to his credit, Obama ordered a risky, honest-to-goodness raid of bin Laden’s compound for the sake of definitiveness.
Its success was met with spontaneous celebrations recalling the sense of unity we briefly had after 9/11. President Bush eventually regretted saying he wanted bin Laden “dead or alive.” In the relief and joy at the terror mastermind’s dispatch, though, it seemed Bush had gotten American sentiment about right. There’s enough Jacksonianism left in this country that we can relish some old-fashioned score-settling. As one jubilant handmade sign said outside the White House, “Osama bin gotten.”
As bin Laden had eluded us through the years, we heard less about him from the upper reaches of the U.S. government and more talk of how he was a merely symbolic figure. But symbols matter, especially when the symbol is someone to whom countless terrorists have pledged their loyalty. When the Communists had custody of the Romanovs after the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Lenin favored killing them all lest they become “living banners.” Bin Laden constituted the foremost “living banner” of the jihadist war against America.
We’ll learn more about what the Pakistanis knew in coming days, but it’s suggestive that bin Laden’s conspicuously secure, $1 million compound was so close to a prestigious Pakistani military academy and that we hit it without a heads up to the Pakistan government. If we’ll go after bin Laden without Pakistan’s permission, why not the Quetta headquarters of the Taliban that is fighting an active war against us across the border in Afghanistan?
A superpower should be stalwart with its friends and dangerous to its enemies. We have failed both ends of that test recently. For now, at least, we’ve again proven ourself dangerous to our enemy, indeed.
— Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2011 by King Features Syndicate.