Hoping for a return to normal temperatures

by Tom Plate

Just when you begin to worry that maybe the United States cannot do anything right, this happens. And suddenly things seem just a little better — and the barometric pressure in American a little bit lighter. This is to say that the loud noise you here coming from the 50 states of the United States is one big collective sigh of relief. The man is gone.

Make no mistake about it. The end of the life of Osama bin Laden is the beginning of a number of new things and questions for the rest of us. Like 9/11 itself, it marks a clear chapter in our history.

For an increasingly embattled President Barack Obama, this spectacular development should provide a measure of considerable assurance (if not an outright guarantee) that whoever runs against him next year won’t have the advantage of opposing an incumbent with a soft-on-terrorism image. A one-note Donald Trump like assault that our president is weak-on-evil just won’t fly. That opportunity is now gone.

It was Obama, after all, who authorized the invasive military operation inside the borders of sovereign Pakistan and let the diplomatic chips fall where they may. Say what we will about this often-indecisive politician — on this one, he stuck to his guns on his directive to permit the American military to go wherever it needed and to do whatever it took to end the life of this mass murderer of Americans. And that took some guts.

As for Pakistan, it is now a question of whether the government of President Asif Ali Zardari will be domestically strengthened by its apparently intimate cooperation with the extraordinary counterterrorist military operation that assassinated Osama.

The worry in Islamabad, of course, is that the streets will explode in anti-American rage. His government could rise or fall on this turn of events. What is certain is that it will not be unaffected. But for the moment at least, U.S.-Pakistan relations, for all appearances — and given all their troubles — seem repaired overnight.

The issue of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship remains central to America’s future role in Southeast Asia, the vital and eternal importance of giant India notwithstanding.

As the timely new book “Vortex of Conflict: U.S. Policy Toward Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq” by noted academic Dan Caldwell of Pepperdine University points out, a successful diplomatic and military effort by the U.S. in Pakistan is a prerequisite to any palpable success in Afghanistan. The importance of Pakistan in the current global political equation almost cannot be overstated.

And for the U.S. itself, it is to be hoped that the end of the Osama chapter is the beginning of the end of the us-versus-them view of the world so popularized in the minds of small-thinking Americans.

Let us not forget that Osama was no more the typical Muslim than Hitler was the typical German. His worldview was vile and his anti-humanitarianism flagrant. What’s more, his terrorist operations undoubtedly killed more Muslims than anyone or anything else.

On this point, our ultra-articulate U.S. president was good and precise Sunday night as he spoke to the nation and the world from the White House.

So, in his own way — and aside from a few embarrassing flubs early on — was his otherwise well-meaning predecessor from Texas. Americans are not as international as we should be but are not quite as provincial as we are often made out to be.

People outside America who think all Americans hate all Muslims don’t have a clue about what makes this country tick. But we Americans do hate people who hate us — totally without regard to religion, race, creed or color. And the resolve to settle accounts when we are wronged is deeply embedded in our national DNA. We take many things lightly — but not foreign invasion, mass murder or national humiliation. Those kinds of things get our back up.

But this desire for revenge is not always the part of us that shows us at our best. Rage can color one’s thinking and behavior like a wild fever that won’t go away. But with the president’s announcement of the successful operation against Osama, suddenly the national temperature should begin to return to normal.

One can only hope nothing so terrible as 9/11 happens again to push it skyward anew. Once was certainly enough. One Osama was enough.

But if there are to be more, at least they now know what is waiting for them, however long it takes us.

Professor Tom Plate, scholar of Asian and Pacific Affairs, is the author of the “Giants of Asia” book series and a syndicated columnist. © 2011 Pacific Perspectives Media Center