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It is strange to rejoice at death. And there has been a lot of death related to this rich kid, this jihadist, this narcissist, this bin Laden. The deaths of 9/11. The deaths of wars following 9/11. Lots of death. I have never in my life been happy about a death. It's not nice, and it's not how I was raised. But tonight in hearing that American forces killed Osama bin Laden, yes, I am happy and unapologetically so. Crowds on my TV are waving flags and cheering. But what will it mean? What does it mean?
For now, security is heightened in military theaters. There is a fear, a concern, that there will be violence against Americans for the sake of the American taking and killing of bin Laden. I don't think so. In reading about Pakistan, I have gotten the impression that the same civilian populace that is weary of western influence and occupation in the region is distrustful of the al Qaeda presence. So sure, al Qaeda itself, already beset with intelligence-aided drone attacks, would want to lash out, but how much more true can that be today than last week? I doubt much.
I think in the middle term, it will be important for America's attempt to claim moral authority to turn from this event to pulling down forces in Afghanistan sooner. At home, we have been told that the troop drawdown is to begin soon -- June 30, 2011. Politicians will use this to argue for speedier withdrawals, and I and so many war-weary Americans are with them. But abroad, the world cannot tell well why we are still in Afghanistan. After this, we have a chance to declare some piece of victory, but those who oppose and even those who simply cannot explain what we are doing will oppose it more and will be less able to comprehend our continuing presence. To have a narrative arc of what we've done and what we hope to be internationally, we should pivot from this toward steeper, quicker drawdown.
For those touched by 9/11 personally, it has to bring some closure. New Yorkers, this is for you. Families, friends of the victims, this is for you. Pentagon families. Ted Olson too. I used to read about the victims in all of the New York Times profiles. Reading about the sorrow of their families. The loss. The sadness of Ground Zero, of Shanksville, of the Pentagon. The solemnity of it. I have not felt your loss. I have only felt it vicariously, the way Americans generally have. But for all of the people who felt and tonight feel that loss, I hope very earnestly that they get some closure, some growth or healing or triumph or whatever helps make one whole after a loss within an essentially genocidal act.
Unity? Can Americans reclaim any unity in this? President Obama's remarks noted the spirit of unity that followed 9/11. For me, it can't come back, over nine years after war began, and soon thereafter, deep dispute over it (I favored going to Afghanistan, but to displace the Taliban and get bin Laden and al Qaeda leadership, and like many was frustrated when we turned to other things, from those just and proportionate goals). But it is possible to love our troops and want them all home, to oppose the wars and honor sacrifices of men and women and their service to and love of country. At this moment, thanks to the troops, to the folks who have ever put themselves on the line by joining the service, and who wanted this moment of taking bin Laden. Pat Tillman and all the people whose names we don't know just like him. Let's have some unity in our respect and thanks for them.
As for politics, it is profane to forecast the political impacts of this. We can do that later, and there will obviously be some impacts that way (the NYT is already out with instant political analysis). There was discussion of politics way too fast after the Giffords shooting. It felt sickening to me, here so near the shooting. But politics doesn't wait for war, they both run in parallel. As sick as the mixture of politics and death can be, it is likewise inevitable, as the highest-stakes choices breed the toughest fights.
Tonight, an evil man is dead. A guy who bred a lot of death. And we think of the dead from September 11, their survivors, and all of the historical progeny of that horrible day, including lots of displacement, and lots more death. A world so deeply changed from one day.
And I hope for some healing, for some turning away from death, and more death. For a retreat from wars in the hope of a perfect safety that cannot be achieved, least of all by an escalating cycle of war. And still, I'm very glad bin Laden has met his richly deserved death. Recent history gives me little hope, but I'll hope we can get from here to a better place.
We need to.