REALITY CHECK: The killing of Osama Bin Laden.

All this cheering for an execution — even one so well deserved as that of Osama bin Laden, the mass murderer behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on our country — turns me cold.  Yes, it was important, just, and even essential to hunt him down, and hats off to the military, intelligence, and diplomatic teams that performed this difficult job with honor and precision, particular the amazing Navy Seals, and to President Obama for having the backbone to give the order. 

But all the gloating misses the point.  September 11 ten years ago unleashed evils into the world that still continue to shadow our lives.  Killing Bin Laden settles a score — the man had blood on his hands –but doesn’t start to undo the damage.   For instance–

  • Killing Bin Laden will not stop Al Qaeda terrorism.  Since 2001, Al Qaeda has decentralized, with semi-independent secret cells in cities around the world –including a particularly malicious group in Yemen.  Each can launch strikes on its own, and they seem to have plenty of recruits.  Killing the leader may slow them down and hurt morale, but they won’t disappear.

  • It will not help us better navigate the complex diplomatic chessboard presented by this year’s Arab Spring democratic uprisings, particularly the bloody face-offs in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain.  Handling these correctly probably gives us our single best chance to avoid a next generation of Bin Ladens, but the issues here are vastly deeper and more complex than old-news Al Qaeda rhetoric.

  • It will not end the danger of a country like Pakistan collapsing into an anti-American terrorist state with nuclear weapons, dramatized by this week’s evidence of Pakistani collusion in sustaining Bin Laden’s hiding place. 

Still, the demise of  Bin Laden gives reason for optimism.  Is it not too much to hope that perhaps it might clear the air enough to finally try and put some of the worst post-2001 demons back in their bottles?  Here is my quick list of five: 

  • 1.  The pervasive US paranoia over security since 2001.  Fighting this debilitating drain on our national productivity, psyche, and personal freedom will not be easy, since we have now institutionalized our paranoia into (a) massive new government agencies like the Departament of Homeland Security and TSA, (b) ingrained habits like metal detectors at every major building and casual acceptance of intrusions like warrantless government domestic spying, endless security at airports, and a multi-milltion-name terrorist watch list, and (c) a huge, multi-billion-dollar industry of contractors and high-tech companies making their living off  the new “security business.”  Yes, we as a country face threats, and hats off to the excellent security professionals who keep us safe.  But we are also the land of the free, a beacon for talented people from around the world.  Can we please restore some balance here? 

  • 2. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Ten years later, these have become swamps where we remain stuck, turning us into an odd reflection of the old British Empire, circa 1890.   With Al Qaeda now headless and largely moved away of the original war zones, maybe it’s time for us to move on as well.

  • 3. The guilt-by-association prejudice against our Arab American fellow citizens who had nothing at all to do with the attacks. 

  • 4. The self-inflicted bankrupting of our national treasury since 2001, a product of many factors (most totally unrelated to Bin Laden or the Middle East), but which poses a threat to the country far bigger than anything to do with terrorists.  With Bin Laden gone, perhaps some perspective can return?

  • 5.  The pathetic finger-pointing that has become a defining feature of our national politics since September 2001, with politicians feeling free to acccuse each other of treason or “softness” on terror, just  to score debating points.  (When did being anti-torture start becoming anti-American?)  With Bin Laden gone, can we stop this?

Call me naive, but I miss the America of September 10, 2001, before the Bin Laden disease infected our country.  I think Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, got it right this week when he said in a radio interview :  “In the USA, our day is not September 11.  Our day is July 4th.”  

I’m for fireworks, hot dogs, watermelon, beer, and the First Amendment.