In praise of Amer­i­can per­sis­tence

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Osama Bin Laden’s death is the re­sult of Amer­i­can per­sis­tence and Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pro­fes- sion­al­ism.

For at least a cen­tury, Amer­ica’s en­e­mies and their pro­pa­gan­dists have por­trayed the United States as lack­ing the will to en­gage in an ex­tended strug­gle. The roots of this myth ac­tu­ally ex­tend into the 18th cen­tury, but with the 20th cen­tury and the global proof of Amer­ica’s eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural suc­cess, the ac­cu­sa­tions of spine­less­ness and feck­less­ness be­came more elab­o­rate and in­sis­tent.

Amer­ica can be blamed for giv­ing its crit­ics a ba­sis for their ar­gu­ment. On a daily ba­sis, an open so­ci­ety with free­dom of ex­pres­sion of­fers do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional ob­servers di­verse, mul­ti­far­i­ous and to­tally con­tra­dic­tory im­ages. The libertine and deca­dent are real enough. Jazz Age drunks in speakeasies morph to ‘50s beat­niks, ‘60s hip­pies, then ‘90s dot-com zil­lion­aires on skate­boards.

If your cur­rent vi­sion of Amer­ica is shaped by TV pro­grams like “The View” or “Law and Or­der: Spe­cial Vic­tims Unit,” it would be rea­son­able to con­clude that Amer­ica is an ut­terly de­cayed nation of sex­u­ally frus­trated gos­sips and sado­maschists, in other words, an easy en­emy that will cower and ca­pit­u­late.

How­ever, if your vi­sion of Amer­ica is shaped by the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edi­son, the build­ing of the Panama Canal, the Battle of Bel­leau Wood, the Battle of Ok­i­nawa, the Man­hat­tan Pro­ject, the Apollo pro­gram, the In­ter­net and sim­i­lar en­deav­ors, a nation of ge­nius, courage and per­sis­tence emerges, a nation to em­u­late, not in­jure and anger.

An in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Viet­nam in­formed Sad­dam Hus­sein’s Fe­bru­ary 1990 speech in Am­man, Jor­dan, in which he sketched his vi­sion of re­cent his­tory. Af­ter World War II, France and Bri­tain “de­clined.” Two su­per­pow­ers arose, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Sud­denly, the Cold War ended. Sad­dam then pro­ceeded with a ram­bling propo­si­tion that Amer­ica was “fa­tigued” and would fade, but “through­out the next five years,” the U.S. would be un­re­stricted.

He im­plied de­feat­ing the U.S. en­tailed ex­ploit­ing the scar of Viet­nam and threat­en­ing mas­sive U.S. ca­su­al­ties. “Fa­tigue” and do­mes­tic self-re­crim­i­na­tion would stall U.S. power.

Sad­dam mis­cal­cu­lated. Amer­ica re­sponded to his in­va­sion of Kuwait with Desert Storm. Bin Laden’s Amer­ica as a “weak horse” metaphor echoed Sad­dam.

Bin Laden fo­cused on Amer­ica’s hasty with­drawal from So­ma­lia af­ter the Black­hawk Down fi­asco.

Both men ig­nored the more telling les­son of Nov. 9, 1989, the day the Ber­lin Wall cracked. From 1947 un­til 1989, de­spite the in­con­clu­sive­ness of the Korean War, de­spite the ex­is­tence of Cuba as a Soviet satel­lite 90 miles from Florida, de­spite draft dodgers and Weath­er­men ter­ror­ists, de­spite the Amer­i­can re­treat from Viet­nam, de­spite the Watts ri­ots of 1964, de­spite Water­gate, de­spite the hu­mil­i­at­ing 1979 oc­cu­pa­tion of the U.S. em­bassy in Tehran, the U.S. suc­cess­fully con­tained and de­feated the U.S.S.R. in the Cold War’s long and te­dious strug­gle.

That took ex­tra­or­di­nary per­sis­tence. It took re­silient, adapt­able, cre­ative and able Amer­i­can mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity ser­vices. Most of all, it took the ba­sic, con­sis­tent sup­port of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, the ones who go to work, pay the bills, wear the po­lice and mil­i­tary uni­forms, and, to para­phrase John Kennedy, will “bear any bur­den . . . to as­sure the sur­vival and the suc­cess of lib­erty.”

As the Cold War ended, an­other twi­light strug­gle be­gan, one Amer­ica didn’t no­tice and didn’t want. Al-Qaida at­tacked the World Trade Cen­ter in 1993. Al-Qaida op­er­a­tives at­tacked U.S. em­bassies in Africa in 1998. The at­tack on the USS Cole was an al-Qaida op­er­a­tion.

Amer­ica, how­ever, did not ig­nore the hor­ror of 9-11. An­other long strug­gle for the terms of moder­nity had be­gun, one that would pit mul­ti­far­i­ous Amer­ica and its rad­i­cal ex­per­i­ment in lib­erty against mur­der­ous re­li­gious fa­nat­ics whose vi­sion of the fu­ture linked 21st cen­tury tech­nolo­gies with 12th cen­tury feu­dal­ism, 20th cen­tury dic­ta­tor­ships and tribal misog­yny.

The re­li­gious fa­nat­ics bet on their will to win, their will to per­sist. The U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tions team that killed bin Laden in Ab­bot­tabad, Pak­istan, was the tip of a very long spear made of in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, mil­i­tary ser­vices and po­lice de­part­ments. It is a spear wielded by the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

The bot­tom line to bin Laden’s death is this: Don’t at­tack Amer­ica. The line above the bot­tom line? Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate Amer­ica.


Austin Bay is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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