Monday, May 2, 2011

Searching for VJ Day

On my way to work this morning, I passed the World Trade Center site. There were lots of camera crews, lots of commuters and lots of cops. Everybody seemed to be taking pictures, but there was no obvious focal point to the scene--no waving flag, no inspiring orator, no sailor giving a nurse a passionate kiss as in Times Square at the end of World War II. I was glad that Osama bin Laden met his just end, but I couldn't shake the feeling that this was not a clear-cut ending, the way VJ Day was for World War II. I rode to work anticipating revenge attacks and an interminable war in Afghanistan. Then Peter, in one of our many conversations conducted by cell phone as I stride through Newark, gave me a new way of looking at the situation.

With bin Laden dead, the US can begin redefining its fight against Al Qaeda and its allies. That means enduring vigilance, but hopefully a giant step away from the wars like Iraq and Afghanistan that have done so much to tarnish our democracy and stain our reputation in the Muslim world.

John Kerry got it right in 2004: the United States' war against Al Qaeda and its allies should be conducted with the long-term goal of reducing it to something like our national fight against organized crime: something we do with complete seriousness, but not something that eternally defines us and our nation.

Kerry knows something about war, unlike George Bush and Dick Cheney, but that didn't stop the GOP from ridiculing him as an ineffectual, defeatist Democrat. Hardly.

For some time, we've needed a win in the fight against Al Qaeda that would restore our sense of strength, reduce our fears, and give us the confidence to wage this struggle in ways that are consistent with our best selves.

When US forces killed Osama bin Laden, they gave us a just and useful victory. Let the president make the most of it, even if it isn't the equivalent of VJ Day.

Mission Accomplished; New Mission Starting

The death of Osama bin Laden is a moment for genuine national pride, a rough but necessary form of justice meted out to an evil, evil man, who was responsible for the death of thousands of innocent people. President Obama and all those involved in the operation deserve the gratitude of the nation. But the real question is, where do we go from here? Since 9/11 the hunt for Osama bin Laden has been seen by most Americans in an intensely personal way. Now that we have accomplished this, there is no better time to examine the two wars we have waging, with the ostensive purpose of destroying al-Queda, in Iraq and Afghanistan, though both wars long ago sprawled away from any such simple objective. It is time to, accurately this time, declare mission accomplished, and end American involvement in the wars. And while we’re at it, we can reexamine the security and surveillance state that has burgeoned since 9/11. There’s no restoring the World Trade Center, or the thousands of lives that were lost in its destruction, or going back to a pre-9/11 world, but perhaps now we can move forward, beyond the world 9/11 created. For the first time since September 11, 2001, a president of the United States has the moral and political standing to really explore how this country has changed, since 9/11, often in ways not for the better. I was reading the other day how by 1944, literally hundreds and books and studies had been produced on the questions raised by the "post-war world." It is time Americans started thinking a little about what the world would be like when the war on terror, or whatever the Obama administration calls it, is over. It is time to start contemplating a new post war world. I hope that President Obama makes the most of this unique opportunity to reorient America, and make it, and the world it so crucially shapes, better places to live, with brighter futures.