When explaining his hatred for capitalism and the United States, Osama bin Laden’s main claims is that the United States is a nation of cowards, that capitalism has made Americans soft and lazy.
As evidence of this supposed softness, he cites our pulling out of Somalia after watching our Marines being dragged through the streets there in 1993 and our withdrawal from Lebanon after a terrorist attack on our Marine barracks there in 1982. That logic, that backing down from terrorism is a sign of weakness and proof of capitalism’s evil, is the cold, cruel logic of the man whom the United States wants to bring to justice.
In handling the complicated chess match of international politics, we should not lose sight of two important facts. The first is that our final goal in this conflict is to make America a more peaceful and safe place. The second is that our enemies operate under a sick system of logic. Those who advocate immediate military intervention should be sure they maintain their focus on our ultimate goal.
Likewise, those who advocate more merciful action, such as those students who rallied for peace throughout the nation this past Thursday, should realize that peaceful measures do not defy bin Laden’s expectations; rather, they give credence to his insanity. Bin Laden views a non-response to terrorism as a sign of the weakness he believes necessarily exists in capitalist America; he does not view it as a sign of mercy.
In considering how our actions shall be interpreted internationally, we often forget in what cultural environment we think. Because of our roots in Christianity, pacifism, Vietnam and successful non-violence movements, we think of mercy and turning the other cheek as being signs of strength, as being the difficult thing to do. Bin Laden and his followers do not think in such terms.
They also do not think in terms of Islam or the Koran, as in all of his writings, bin Laden almost never cites the Koran, and his suicidal, terrorist activities sicken almost all orthodox Muslims. Bin Laden descends from a much colder tradition, one which only understands strength and weakness, which divides those who have the will to win from those who are soft.
Applying our cultural ideas to his mentality by thinking that he would find American non-action admirable is a classic example of the kind of close-minded Imperialism that Bin Laden complains about, and it would only further his cause and those of others who would willfully harm innocent Americans. America must retaliate. Retaliation does not necessarily mean military action, but it does mean pursuing those responsible for the terrorist attacks in a manner that both demonstrates our strength and cripples them such that they would be less likely and able to commit such acts in the future.
Terrorism is a reality of the modern world, and we cannot eliminate it entirely. If someone is willing to give his or her life for a cause, there is little we can do to stop him.
However, there is a range of steps, diplomatic, intelligence-based and military, that, though do not eliminate terrorism, would limit the scale of the terrorists’ operations and the damage terrorists can inflict, making America a safer place for everyone. Refusing these steps, no matter how admirable such non-violence would seem in our culture, would only encourage further acts by bin Laden and his followers by affirming their belief that America is soft, that capitalism has made us too weak to persevere.