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A famous art dealer on the Atlantic City Boardwalk said everybody has one good painting inside him. I think everybody’s got at least one good philosophical message inside him. My father’s leapt out shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
I was in short pants and speaking soprano, but I dashed into his room waving the morning paper and yelled, “Daddy! Great news! We sank one of their ships and killed 2,000 of those …” At that point my father interrupted me.
“I understand what you mean, Son,” he said. “I understand what you mean. But it’s never good news when people die.”
Therefore, had I been on the air when word of bin Laden’s rightful execution came across, I could never have aped the anchorman who screamed, “Bin Laden is dead! Bin Laden is dead! Hooray! This is the happiest moment of my career!”
Satisfaction, yes. Deep satisfaction, yes. But jubilation? The American crowds got it right. The growing horde of happy Americans who gathered in front of the White House at midnight were shouting, “USA! USA!” celebrating the life of the just, not the death of the wretched.
This is the first big one we ever got. Hitler was thought to have died in his bunker, but for years there was really no confirmation. Stalin, like a successful Mafia don, died in bed. Mussolini had been reduced to a historical hiccup by the time Italian partisans strung him upside-down in a gas station in northern Italy. Even Idi Amin lived out his exile in Saudi Arabia.
The operation, however, was not the first big one the good guys ever pulled off. The rescue of the hostages by Israeli commandos at Uganda’s Entebbe Airport, the abduction of top-Nazi exterminator Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, the rescue of American POWs held by the Japanese at Cabanatuan and the 11 Norwegian underground fighters who destroyed Hitler’s dream of a nuclear bomb by blowing up a heavy-water plant in Rjukan, Norway, are some headlines that come to mind.
The obliteration of Osama bin Laden, however, is here, now, and bristling with happy implications. Count the hours since the May 1 announcement of bin Laden’s demise. Every one that goes by without an al-Qaida reprisal signals a more impressive victory. An American harpoon has punctured the bin Laden balloon of hot, hateful air. Remember bin Laden’s smug analysis that “People flock to get behind the strong horse; not the weak horse!” At that moment, America was the weak horse. I don’t expect bin Laden’s followers to understand concepts like “peace,” “Love thy neighbor,” “Treat thy prisoner humanely!” or anything that morally complex.
I do expect them to understand this: Weak horses can’t kill strong horses. Strong horses can kill weak horses.
Already the Navy SEAL success has given two of Israel’s nearest enemies their first lovers’ quarrel. Hamas considers bin Laden a martyred hero. Their brand new “partner,” Fatah, considers him a despicable terrorist. It seems like just yesterday experts were asking how long the unity of that pair would last.
Pakistan knew where Osama was as surely as Claude Rains knew there was gambling in Rick’s place in Casablanca. My advice? Put the bony finger of indignation in your pocket. We’ve known all along Pakistan was ambivalent at best; possibly a terrorist sympathizer. If Pakistan can live with our blazing violation of their sovereignty, we’ll live with their duplicity. Why turn a false friend into a true enemy, nuclear arsenal and all?
Some of my best friends are vexed that a president they dread and fear will get credit for this super-coup. Two suggestions: Jewish scripture teaches “When the fox has his day, bow down to him!” Having bowed, stand up straight again. Eisenhower, Reagan, George W. Bush would have “gotten credit” for getting bin Laden. Obama is non-military, anti-military and at such pains to placate Islam he bows to the king of Arabia and doesn’t wear bling during Ramadan. I don’t see a big pro-Obama bounce in the polls; certainly nothing a further rise in gas prices can’t erase.
During the Bush 1–Dukakis campaign, Bush was accused of having sneaked away during the first Reagan campaign to Iran to make a deal with the ayatollahs not to release our embassy hostages until after the election, to increase Reagan’s chances. The accusation fell apart when the accusers couldn’t name a date. All their credibility drained through that hole. Does anybody else feel shaky at the “holes” we’re presenting? Here bin Laden was promptly buried at sea. And photos are far from forthcoming! The Southerner might allege, “They’re hanging out the red lights and ain’t got no girls inside!”
Don’t expect many details. Gen. “Wild-Bill” Donovan, legendary founder of the wartime Office of Strategic Services, which later became the CIA, was begged by a Washington society lady to agree to accept her group’s “Man of the Year” award for doing such a good job with America’s intelligence.
He turned her down, saying, “Thank you, ma’am, but if you know enough about the job I’ve done to know it’s a good job, then it’s a bad job.”