I didn’t get the news of Osama bin Laden’s demise at the hands of Navy SEALs until Monday morning, so when I did listen to the president’s address it had already been sliced and diced into the best soundbites. What jumped out immediately: “Justice has been done.”
To me this wasn’t simply an appropriate rhetorical coda to Obama’s remarks. It also completed a couplet begun almost ten years ago by his predecessor, George W. Bush. Shortly after bin Laden killed over three thousand people in lower Manhattan, Bush promised Congress and the nation that we would “bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies.” Personally, I am pleased the special forces who invaded Obama’s compound in Abbottabad chose the latter option and not the former.
John Brennan was quick to point out that the mission was to take bin Laden alive, but after what this administration has put us through on the proposed venues for Khalid Sheik Mohammad’s trial I’ll take a kill shot over a court martial any day. For most of us, bin Laden was a bad guy of mythological proportions who deserved that unique brand of eye-for-an-eye American frontier justice doled out on the streets of Tombstone or in front of the Biograph Theater in Chicago. The black hat is toes up. Roll credits.
Of course, in succumbing to this tempting scenario I play right into the hands of both the Clinton and Obama administrations, who have tried since the early 1990s to convince us that the so-called War on Terror was not so much a military operation as it was a criminal enterprise. Thus al-Qaeda was really a gang of outliers and rogues preying off the society they supposedly had been organized to protect. And the model employed by federal and local law enforcement to bring down organized crime families in this country requires taking out the bosses — or as I am sure you have heard more than once, “cutting off the head of the snake.” This can be a very effective technique against individuals like John Gotti or the Clanton brothers, but is woefully inadequate when you are combating an ideology.