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Instead, Bush signed on for the biggest open-ended mission in American history. We will "rid the world of evil," he said on Sept. 14, 2001. The last world leader to attempt such a thing -- Pope Urban II, who launched the First Crusade of 1095 -- never figured out a good exit strategy either.
The law-enforcement model would allow America to scale down its ambition while accomplishing something that might actually lower the threat of terrorism. The task of capturing the head guy -- especially a charismatic leader of an outlaw band -- is the historically proven way to demoralize and vanquish such an enemy.
Remember the Shining Path in Peru? It was an '80s terrorist group with distinctly Al Qaeda features. They butchered people in mind-numbing ways, and they were inspired by their strangely charismatic leader, a lunatic college professor named Abimael Guzman. The Peruvians caught him through good intelligence. They learned he was in a certain house, and in the subsequent siege went to great efforts to catch Guzman alive. Soon thereafter he was paraded in front of cameras wearing only his underpants. The charismatic leader, it turned out, had a paunch and spindly legs and a sagging face. The pictures were unforgettable. Shining Path all but withered away.
When 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured in Pakistan in early March, he was whisked away without the satisfaction of a perp walk. The media ran an old glamour shot of him looking like a young Cat Stevens in aviator glasses. After three days the authorities must have noticed, but even then they released only a still shot -- albeit a good one. He looked bloated and drunk, like every New Yorker's first landlord.
I hope that by the time the U.S. catches bin Laden, even President Bush will have realized the value of parading him in an orange jumper and what jailers call the three-piece suit (hand, leg, and hip irons) on the way to his military tribunal.
Hawks will howl, "So wimpy! Kill the bastard!"
But death, by bin Laden's own description, is what he expects. Being busted back to mere mortal is what he fears. As a fighter executed by America, he's a martyr for future terrorists. As a gaunt captive in end-stage renal failure (as has been reported), he's simply a feeble madman sitting in his cell, waiting for the end.
Americans have reacted to 9-11 as if it were a security breach, when it was obviously much more an intelligence failure. The attempt at mending the security side -- fortifying borders, increasing domestic wiretaps, etc. -- has de-evolved, it now seems clear, into a campaign against Muslim Americans. For a brief moment, Bush urged Americans not to blame all Muslims. But that's all fallen away. Jerry Falwell recently denounced the prophet Muhammad as a "terrorist." And Jimmy Swaggart, once caught masturbating in front of prostitutes, called upon his inside expertise to denounce Muhammad as a "sex deviant." The president no longer silences the ravings of his own Christian Taliban, and instead has permitted the worst among us to blur a few hundred Al Qaeda terrorists into the world's 1.5-billion Muslims and anyone wearing a turban. Our attorney general recently detained several hundred Iranian Jews -- many of whom fled the Ayatollah in 1979 at American encouragement. If Al Qaeda has natural enemies, let it be said, they are probably Iranian and Jewish.
Needless to say, a president who publicly led the country away from anti-Muslim prejudice -- and who even appointed a Muslim to high office -- not only would be doing the right thing but would confound bin Laden's strategy. Bin Laden's war with his own faith is between his radical medievalism and Islam's emerging sense of its place in a pluralist world. Creating a space for cool modern Islam within our wild hilarious diversity is precisely what he fears most. And the media could play its part too: Think what The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Bill Cosby's programs did for mainstreaming the basics of female equality and the emergence of a black middle class. (Note to Hollywood: Call Tony Shalhoub already.)
America shouldn't be hassling patriotic Americans of Middle Eastern extraction. It should be recruiting them for our intelligence and highlighting their existence to other Muslims abroad.
Recently I was in England, and a Brit asked me why no one in America attended any of the funerals of the British who died on Sept. 11. It's a good question. Of the several hundred victims of 9-11 who were not American, 67 were British, 24 Japanese, 17 Mexican and so on. People from 91 countries died in the World Trade Center and yet a president who talks only to his domestic audience ignored the others so that, in time, all the sorrow of 9-11 seemed to be selfishly American.Consider what attending those funerals around the world would have done: Forged an emotional bond among 91 nations that might have served us this year. For once, funeral attendance wouldn't have been a vice-presidential curse but a national-security priority.
Adrian Wyllie was not mentioned. He is running for Governor.
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