On September 14, 2001 – only three days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center brought America to its knees – President George W. Bush delivered perhaps the most powerful presidential speech of the last generation, “I can hear you (…) and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon,” he said, later following up with “This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others, it will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing." The 9/11 first responders, covered with soot and stained with sadness, responded to Presidential leadership with defiant chants of “USA, USA.”
Last night, on a chilly May evening in Washington, President Barack Obama proudly announced that, at long last, the mastermind of 9/11 had received our message, “Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden (…)
Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counter-terrorism professionals, we've made great strides in that effort. We've disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense.” A group of hundreds – many of whom were only children on 9/11 – convened in front of the White House with the same chants, “USA, USA.”
This is an important day of national celebration. We are not celebrating death – we never do that. We are celebrating justice. And we, in our celebrations, are joined by a cacophony of voices from across humanity hopeful that somehow with this simple act of justice our world may become a better, safer place. From Kenya, where Bin Laden first became famous with his murder of civilians, the families of the murdered are giving prayers. To Europe, where al Qaeda has made itself felt with barbarous attacks in London and Madrid. In the Middle East, millions are celebrating as, “Al Qaeda’s message that violence, terrorism, and extremism are the only answer for Arabs seeking dignity and hope,” witnessed firsthand during the murderous years of the Iraqi insurgency, “is being rejected each day in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and throughout the Arab lands,” as CFR’s Elliot Abrams so eloquently states.
Not all, however, are pleased. Iran has stated that we should “go home” and leave the region to them, calls echoed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Venezuela has rejected the assassination, lamenting that the U.S. did not use “diplomacy” to deal with Bin Laden. Hamas has condemned the killing of a “holy warrior.” None of this should surprise us. There will always be those who make common cause with murderers in the hopes that it will weaken us.
Countries and groups who support terrorist organizations have, however, learned an important lesson – they must never doubt American determination.
To be sure, our democracy is messy.
Autocrats and terrorists from the outside may view our often petty squabbles as a sign of weakness or the lack of resolve. They have been given a wake-up call. America’s public, contentious, tumultuous internal disagreements will of course continue – that is democracy. But the world’s tyrants now must face the fact that America will never negotiate our security or our way of life. From Iran, which continues to finance terrorists throughout the world; to Hamas and Hezbollah who insist that the option of terror remains legitimate; to unlikely places such as Venezuela, where they have decided to make common cause with groups like FARC, ETA, ELN, Hezbollah and others – they must understand that theirs is a side that will always lose.
As former President Bush stated upon talking with President Obama last night, “The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.”
All this aside, this is an important moment for America. For all those tireless public servants who have spent the better part of the last decade dismantling the institutions that support global terrorism, for the anonymous soldiers and agents who yesterday defeated our enemy, and for elected leaders who understood that love of country comes above all else – you have today earned the thanks of a grateful nation.
Joel D. Hirst is an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.twitter.com/joelhirst and www.joelhirst.com