A decade ago in the terrible aftermath of one of America’s darkest days, President George W. Bush vowed that “I don’t know if it will be tomorrow, or next month, or next year, but we will get him.”
Five years later, tough interrogation by the CIA of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and another Osama bin Laden henchman turned up the nickname of an especially trusted courier of the al-Qaida leader. There followed another five years of tedious but extraordinary intelligence work by the agency, legions of military and civilian analysts and other experts that culminated in a bold 40-minute raid Sunday by a contingent of 40 U.S. Navy SEALs on a compound north of Islamabad, Pakistan.
Bin Laden was killed in the firefight that ensued, then buried at sea after U.S. forces confirmed that they had in fact killed him and not somebody else. The operation took a mere eight hours. Every one of these SEALs and their compatriots in the operation deserve this nation’s highest award for their courage and fortitude. And President Barack Obama will now forever be justly known to history as the American chief executive who finally avenged 9/11.
There are multiple lessons to be learned from bin Laden’s demise, beginning with one that ought to give great pause to all enemies of the United States of America. Democracies traditionally do not conduct long wars because they are too impatient. Not so America. It took nearly 10 years, two presidents, multiple CIA chiefs, and countless Pentagon leaders and planners to get the job done. Bin Laden could run, but not long or far enough to escape justice for mounting the most destructive attack ever on the United States.
Bin Laden thus met the same end as Japan’s Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who planned the Dec. 7, 1941, surprise raid on Pearl Harbor, previously the most lethal attack on this country’s people and soil. Yamamoto was killed when U.S. fighter aircraft, guided by great intelligence work, intercepted his transport plane and shot it down in 1943.
Another lesson that ought to give our enemies great pause was seen in the cheering crowds that spontaneously gathered in the early morning hours in front of the White House, Ground Zero in New York, and other places around the nation, including the U.S. military academies. There were thousands of Americans of all ages, political views and walks of life cheering and singing the national anthem and the Marines’ Hymn.
Such scenes do not happen in a nation riven by political division, weakened by a lack of purpose or receding into the mists of time with other dead empires of the past. Hitler thought America was weak, as did the Japanese before World War II. So did the Soviets during the Cold War. They found too late how wrong they were about this country, just as bin Laden discovered in a flash Sunday night.
Today, we cheer. Tomorrow, we get on with completing the job of winning the war on terror.