On Point: In Praise of American Persistence


by Austin Bay
May 3, 2011

Osama Bin Laden's death is the result of Americanpersistence and American military professionalism.

For at least a century, America's enemies and theirpropagandists have portrayed the United States as lacking the will to engage inan extended struggle. The roots of this myth actually extend into the 18thcentury, but with the 20th century and the global proof of America's economic,political and cultural success, the accusations of spinelessness andfecklessness became more elaborate and insistent.

America can be blamed for giving its critics a basis fortheir argument. On a daily basis, an open society with freedom of expressionoffers domestic and international observers diverse, multifarious and totallycontradictory images. The libertine and decadent are real enough. Jazz Agedrunks in speakeasies morph to '50s beatniks, '60s hippies, then '90s dot-comzillionaires on skateboards.

If your current vision of America is shaped by TV programslike "The View" or "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,"it would be reasonable to conclude that America is an utterly decayed nation ofsexually frustrated gossips and sadomasochists -- in other words, an easy enemythat will cower and capitulate.

However, if your vision of America is shaped by the WrightBrothers, Thomas Edison, the building of the Panama Canal, the Battle ofBelleau Wood, the Battle of Okinawa, the Manhattan Project, the Apollo program,the Internet and similar endeavors, a nation of genius, courage and persistenceemerges -- a nation to emulate, not injure and anger.

An interpretation of Vietnam informed Saddam Hussein'sFebruary 1990 speech in Amman, Jordan, in which he sketched his vision ofrecent history. After World War II, France and Britain "declined."Two superpowers arose, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Suddenly, the Cold War ended.Saddam then proceeded with a rambling proposition that America was"fatigued" and would fade, but "throughout the next fiveyears," the U.S. would be unrestricted.

He implied defeating the U.S. entailed exploiting the scarof Vietnam and threatening massive U.S. casualties. "Fatigue" anddomestic self-recrimination would stall U.S. power.

Saddam miscalculated. America responded to his invasion ofKuwait with Desert Storm. Bin Laden's America as a "weak horse"metaphor echoed Saddam. Bin Laden focused on America's hasty withdrawal fromSomalia after the Blackhawk Down fiasco.

Both men ignored the more telling lesson of Nov. 9, 1989,the day the Berlin Wall cracked. From 1947 until 1989 -- despite theinconclusiveness of the Korean War, despite the existence of Cuba as a Sovietsatellite 90 miles from Florida, despite draft dodgers and Weathermenterrorists, despite the American retreat from Vietnam, despite the Watts riotsof 1964, despite Watergate, despite the humiliating 1979 occupation of the U.S.embassy in Tehran -- the U.S. successfully contained and defeated the U.S.S.R.in the Cold War's long and tedious struggle.

That took extraordinary persistence. It took resilient,adaptable, creative and able American military and security services. Most ofall, it took the basic, consistent support of the American people, the ones whogo to work, pay the bills, wear the police and military uniforms, and, toparaphrase John Kennedy, will "bear any burden ... to assure the survivaland the success of liberty."

As the Cold War ended, another twilight struggle began, oneAmerica didn't notice and didn't want. Al-Qaida attacked the World Trade Centerin 1993. Al-Qaida operatives attacked U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. Theattack on the USS Cole was an al-Qaida operation.

America, however, did not ignore the horror of 9-11. Anotherlong struggle for the terms of modernity had begun, one that would pitmultifarious America and its radical experiment in liberty against murderousreligious fanatics whose vision of the future linked 21st century technologieswith 12th century feudalism, 20th century dictatorships and tribal misogyny.

The religious fanatics bet on their will to win, their willto persist.

The U.S. special operations team that killed bin Laden inAbbottabad, Pakistan, was the tip of a very long spear made of intelligenceagencies, military services and police departments. It is a spear wielded bythe American people.

The bottom line to bin Laden's death is this: Don't attackAmerica. The line above the bottom line? Don't underestimate America.

Ever. 

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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