Bin Laden, done that? The price to be paid

I know you all know the feeling. The collective revulsion at watching the horrific events of Tuesday unfold with mouths agape and fists clenched. Waves of shock and anger. And a visceral, sickening sadness. And tears. And more anger. That outrageously obscene footage of Palestinians celebrating in the West Bank and Gaza. Celebrating the execution of thousands of innocent people. Beyond barbarity, beyond belief.

America’s response to a declaration of war on this country and our way of life, as we’ve heard President George Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell pledge, will be appropriate. As in, we trust, swift, sure and final. Not just, we assume, the symbolic lobbing of cruise missiles into some Afghani caves and tents.

We owe a proper military response, first and foremost, to ourselves. And to those who died — died doing their jobs in the world’s most productive economy — or died trying to save others. We also owe it to most of the rest of the world, who need us more than they know. This was a cowardly attack on civilization and humanity.

If we, as the planet’s lone super power, don’t do something, it won’t be done, and the forces of terrorism win by default. We didn’t win the Cold War only to falter against Muslim martyrs queuing up for paradise and a side order of virgins.

Here, then, is America’s World War III policy, though not in the calm calculation of State Department vernacular or the soaring rhetoric of a JFK inaugural speech: “If you aid, abet, plan or carry out terrorist acts against the U.S., you die.” Proscriptions against assassination don’t apply. These are military targets, as was Hitler in his bunker. To quote Joe Louis, who knew a thing or two about taking out someone, “He can run, but he can’t hide.” It went for Billy Conn; it goes for Osama bin Laden.

And for sovereign states: “If you harbor, you get hammered.” Don’t even try to hide behind some gauzy shield of geo-political piffle or self-serving, craven pap about Fundamentalist dynamics. You can have all-Allah-all-the-time and still not be enabling jihad junkies. We’ll help you, but you’re accountable. It’s not an option. No more than evil is an option.

And for airline passengers to, from and within the U.S., don’t even think of complaining about “profiling.” Sorry, but we have plenty of other places to celebrate diversity. And for minimum-wage, minimum-training, maximum-attitude security personnel, start looking elsewhere for employment. Your job will be federalized, professionalized and standardized.

Perspective, however, can be an early battle casualty. Pearl Harbor, for all its parallels and infamy, was war the old fashioned way. It was a lot easier to declare — and implement — war on an Empire. Bin Laden isn’t Tojo. And this just in: the United Nations sends a sympathy card and NATO says it stands with us. France has our back.

Cynicism, however, is a self-destructive vice in a time of national emergency.

It’s said that Israel is the only country that can’t afford to lose a war. It would cease to exist if it did. Well, the U.S. cannot afford to lose this one. It’s zero-sum time. Fortunately, we can rally the civilized world — and that’s still most of it — but only under two conditions.

First, we must agree on a universal definition of “terrorist.” Try “Anyone who targets innocents or treats them as mere collateral damage to advance a cause.” We can’t be value-judging causes — whether it’s Chechnyan terror in Moscow’s subways or its counterparts in Belfast, Jerusalem, Beijing, Manila, Jakarta, Cairo, Bogota, Havana or New York. The greater good takes pragmatic priority.

Second, we must be more committed to our cause than our enemies are to theirs. We, as Americans, need to jettison our heritage hyphens and defend freedom and the most productive nation in the history of the world. They, the despicable forces of evil, seek to destroy that. Ultimately, that’s a lost cause. And we can ensure it. See above.

God bless America.

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