What would bin Laden think, watching our self-destruction?
Nineteen years after his attack on the United States, whatever remains of Osama bin Laden, the person, today lies at the bottom of a cold, dark ocean. What remains of his ideology and movement is, at best, a mixed bag. Thanks to the efforts and sacrifice of American and allied military personnel, the impact of al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS is relatively limited at the moment.
The years that have passed since bin Laden’s attack have felt like a full two decades to those of us who have lived them — but they will be nothing but a blip on the screen to future generations. Hard though it may be for us to believe, the times and travails of Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump likely will run together in the minds of future generations.
If we take a step back and view history as it someday will be seen, what will be most obvious is a string of events in which bin Laden’s attacks led to a military response from the United States — which led to two protracted wars, which fed the radicalization of the American left (along with the media that support them) and, among other things, increased vitriol in American society. Ultimately, it all helped to shape the results of major elections.
To wit, without the attacks on 9/11, a backbench state senator from a failed Illinois government likely would not have been elected to the U.S. Senate in 2005 and then elected to the presidency of the United States only three years later. In fact, Barack Obama was elected president primarily because he represented the most dramatic shift away from then-President George W. Bush that a war-weary, frustrated American electorate could conjure. Doubt that? His campaign slogan was “Hope and Change,” and not much other detail was provided.
And while it was often papered over during (and since) his administration, President Obama’s “Hope and Change” often meant encouraging what he viewed as politically supportive American demographics to “punish” other Americans that he viewed as being their “enemies.” Obama also spoke of the need for his supporters to “bring a gun” to “knife fights” with their fellow Americans. Notably, on the Sunday immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, Obama’s longtime pastor and friend, Jeremiah Smith, stated quite plainly: “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people.”
These sentiments, along with Obama’s steadfast dedication to unconditionally engaging with American enemies and consistently apologizing for American actions, built up deep-seated resentment among a huge chunk of the American population. In fact, long before Donald Trump’s tweets were of any concern to most Americans, these incendiary actions from a sitting and very radical American president shifted the way that Americans viewed each other.
Despite the shock and outrage that the global left and media expressed at the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, President Trump himself has noted that, without the presidential performance of Barack Obama, he would not be president today.
In response to Trump’s election, many in the American media have fanned the rage of Obama’s once-termed “coalition of the ascendant.” Following those efforts, that rage now manifests as constant allegations of America’s “systemic” moral failings and racism, and repeated riots and acts of physical violence.
Yet, context matters when criticizing America. Surely, we have progress to make in achieving the full vision of our founding documents. That said, as a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, I have fought in nations where children are routinely murdered by adults because of their ethnicity or religion. From Germany to China to India to Somalia to Japan to Pakistan to Saudi Arabia to France and elsewhere, history abounds with examples of people treating others terribly based on their physical differences.
Meanwhile, far from viewing her as a pit of racism, more than 750 million people from across the globe would move to America tomorrow if they could. They know there is something unique and exceptional about a nation and its people who have, throughout their history, consistently endeavored to improve the condition of humankind — and who have sacrificed so much to spread freedom to all corners of their own nation and the globe.
Once, millions of Americans — who also understood America’s character — proudly displayed bumper stickers noting that we would “never forget” both the horror of 9/11 and the heroism of the police and firefighters who rushed toward danger to save innocent lives. Today, millions of Americans appear to have forgotten and are all too eager to accuse American law enforcement of racism and evil intent.
In enacting 9/11, Osama bin Laden hoped to establish an Islamic caliphate — but that was not his only goal. As he said in 1998: “We predict a black day for America and the end of the United States as United States, and (it) will be separate states, and will retreat from our land and collect the bodies of its sons back to America, Allah willing.”
Any guesses as to how bin Laden would feel today if he could watch everyone — from many liberal media commentators and their favorite American politicians, to the commissioner of the National Football League, to various corporate managers — leap over each other to attempt to shred the moral underpinnings of the nation that enabled their success? It’s not a stretch to conclude that bin Laden would feel that his mission had been, at least, partially accomplished.
In his 1838 Lyceum address, Abraham Lincoln said: “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” America’s history, before and since, has proven him correct.
As we reflect on the national day of remembrance that is Sept. 11, let us also remember that while our nation is imperfect, it is also the strongest guarantor of human freedom and prosperity in the history of humanity — and that these two concepts are not mutually exclusive. With this in mind, let us continue to live out our creed to “form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
In doing so, we will ensure that bin Laden’s vision never comes to fruition, and we will enable our nation, humanity’s greatest hope for freedom and peace, to live through all time.
Kevin Nicholson is president and CEO of No Better Friend Corp., a conservative public policy group in Wisconsin. He is a combat veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps (Iraq, 2007 and Afghanistan, 2008-2009) and was a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2018. Follow him on Twitter @KevinMNicholson.