If it weren’t Osama bin Laden we just killed, he’d be giving interviews in the hills right now taunting the great Satan that once again lied. We’ll get to that in a moment.
Let’s start with credit where it’s due. The U.S. Navy SEALs did it and deserve our profound thanks and deep admiration.
It was President Obama who told CIA chief Leon Panetta: Get this guy. When presidents insist, the guy tends to get got. It was Mr. Obama who made the decision not to bomb the house with predators or B2s, because that way we wouldn’t have known if we’d got Osama. It was Mr. Obama who decided to do it the hard way, the way that would allow us to know we’d succeeded. It was Mr. Obama who’d have taken the blame if the operation had gone wrong, and things like this are tricky and often go wrong because they have a thousand moving parts and almost every part has to move right. And it’s not as if the president was operating from a position of political strength. It was Mr. Obama who, having made the decision, apparently didn’t micromanage. He did his job and let the military do theirs.
It was Mr. Obama who decided—rightly—to stiff Pakistan, not to tell them of the operation but to allow them to be exposed and humiliated in front of the world. Which they richly deserve. They accept our aid and hide our enemies. Every day they frighten the world with their chronic instability, their Wild West ways, their infiltrated military, their nuclear weapons. At a certain point you have to say “Enough.” Mr. Obama said it very nicely. And by the way, that silence you hear from the U.N. on charges of violating Pakistan’s sovereignty? That’s the silence of the civilized world thinking, “Good. They had it coming.”
It was well and brilliantly done. It reminded the world that American might can be wielded with American competence. It highlighted the brilliance of the U.S. military when it is given clear goals and full resources.
And it had to be done, for us and the world.
Osama’s importance is that he was the leader of al Qaeda, but his mystique resided in the fact that he attacked America and got away with it. He killed nearly 3,000 people in a brutal assault and lived to tell the tale. He launched a war and taunted us from the hills. He was invincible, the “strong horse.” This gave him charisma, which he used to rouse and recruit the young, the ignorant and the unstable.
That’s over now. He has been answered. The U.S. action said, “You didn’t get away with it. You are not invincible. You are dead. Followers, please note.”
Is the world safer with bin Laden dead? Who knows. But it is better.
* * *
However, and with our president there is always a however, he has spent almost every moment since his Sunday night speech displaying both a tin ear and a chronic tendency to misunderstand his own country. His refusal to release more evidence that Osama is dead is allowing a great story to dissolve into a mystery. He is letting a triumph turn into a conspiracy theory.
Here is the fact of the age: People believe nothing. They think everything is spin and lies. The minute a government says A is true, half the people on Earth know A is a lie. And when people believe nothing, as we know, they will believe anything. We faked the moon landing, there was a second gunman in Dallas, the World Trade Center was blown up in a U.S.-Zionist conspiracy, Hitler grew old in Argentina.
There will always be people who believe conspiracy theories, and with the Internet there will be more. They are impervious to evidence. But people who care about the truth need to be armed with evidence to refute them.
Mr. Obama misunderstands all this. He tells Steve Croft Sunday on Sixty Minutes that showing photos of the dead Osama would be to “spike the football.” “We don’t trot this stuff out as trophies.” Trophies? Who does he think we are?
It’s not about pride, it’s about proof. “We got him, shot him and immediately threw him in the sea” is not enough. The U.S. government should release all the evidence it has that does not compromise security. Pictures of Osama are said to be gruesome. Then get the least gruesome one and put it out. Release the DNA evidence, incriminating information found in the house, and pictures of the raid. If there was a passport under the mattress, make it public. And let the SEALs tell their story. Allow them, if they are willing and eager, to go on “Nightline,” “Frontline” and “60 Minutes.” If they cannot be identified or don’t wish to be, put a blue dot over their faces, filter their voices, and don’t use their names.
All of this should be put in one big package and released to the world. In this way you give the nation and the world data, and a lot to talk about. That talk will crowd out and diminish conspiracy theories and deather denialism.
Americans don’t want to spike the ball. They just want to show they crossed the goal line.
Two closing thoughts. One has to do with the reaction of young men to the news of Osama’s death. I saw it last Sunday night with a wordless but emotional high-five from a boy with whom I’d lived through 9/11. After midnight his friend, with whom we’d shared those days, came over for hugs all around. On the TV there were the celebrations that broke out in New York and Washington, and the young Marine smoking a stogie in front of the White House. There were the cheering young men of West Point, and the young people of many universities, including Yale, among whom was a veteran of the Australian forces in Afghanistan. The next night he looked like one happy, hung-over soldier.
Young men, mostly, fought the wars and are fighting them. Young men took to the streets Sunday night. It was their night. They’d seen their country do something brilliant and brave and right, and it was as if they were visiting for a moment the America their parents had told them about. They were 10 or 15 when it all began, on 9/11. Now the guy who did it sleeps with the fishes.
And so they cheered: “USA! USA!” It was good to hear that again. It was especially good to hear it from them.
Finally, people talk about “closure,” but there’s no such thing as closure. You absorb life, including its blows, and move on. If you’re lucky or work hard, adversity makes you better, stronger, deeper. You’ll never not mourn, because you’re human and that’s the way we’re built. But there are moments when something happens—you take a turn, or a new understanding happens. There are times when you realize a certain point in the arc of mourning has been reached. There are times when justice happens.
Such a time was brought to us this week by U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6. They made a whole country feel young again.
Hooyah, baby. Hooyah.