The Bin Laden Decade is Over


I promised that I would begin writing a regular Monday article for PolicyMic just a few days ago, and until fairly late last night, I was poking around the news for something to write about. Then I was told, by another PolicyMic writer, that I should get to the TV. I mention this fact, because my memory of last night forms the companion book end to a previous memory; the memory of hearing, while I was still a high-schooler, about the attack on the World Trade Center.

For roughly a decade, bin Laden has cast a psychological shadow over U.S. security thinking, representing a vague and impending threat. In response, the U.S. has changed in so many ways, by hardening buildings at home and hardening resolve in various wars around the world. There are so many affects to review, and no doubt there will be discussions about what this means for security, for terrorism, for daily living, and for the emotional state of people around the world.

What stood out to me was the tone of reconciliation that was heavy in Obama's speech. In rapid fire, he indirectly extended three olive branches to various groups. First, he made it clear that the U.S. would continue to fight terrorism, but not Islam as a religion. Muslims were told that they would be respected as our security strategy against terrorism continues to evolve. Next, Obama mentioned, and obliquely gave credit to, former President George H. Bush. This was meant to dissolve feelings of partisanship (an unlikely risk at a time of such profound unity) by acknowledging that action against terrorism has been business of all parties to our democracy. Last, and most strained, was Obama's conciliatory remarks about Pakistan. According to Obama, Pakistan is happy for bin Laden's death and was a willing participant in the raid. Only time will tell how true that claim was (bin Laden was living in a mansion in Pakistan, and no one could find him before now ...).

But there is one more element to the speech that deserves comment, and it goes back to what I said before, about the mental box in my head that is bounded on one side by my headmaster's speech on September 11, 2001, and by Obama's words last night. In fact, Obama himself mentioned this connection when he remarked that he was conscious of how one generation of Americans has born a huge cost as a result of bin Laden's actions. The people who turned 18 in and around 9/11 have been called upon by this country to make enormous sacrifices in order to respond to terrorism. Thankfully, I am not one of the people that the burden has fallen on, but I can say that the past decade – one in which Bin Laden's name was so repeatedly uttered by concerned Americans – has only begun to make an impression on American politics.

For people my age, terrorism, not World War II or the Cold War, was the foreign policy challenge that will be remembered most vividly years from now, and for some it is the challenge that they will have most directly worked to confront. It remains to be seen how this will affect foreign policy action in the future. Will we become more isolationist; tired of the inevitable anger that a world policeman stirs up? Or will we embrace an even more aggressive global stance, confident that there is such a thing as evil, and that we must not shirk from combating it?

I for one think we (Americans in general and my generation most immediately) have learned that there is evil, and that we can and must confront it, but whether this requires the military we have in place and the policies that guides its use is, as always, open for debate.

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