Tom Ross: In the blink of a decade
May 2, 2011
Steamboat Springs — I couldn't have anticipated that the American people would have exhaled in unison the way they did Sunday night.
Did you feel it, too?
When Osama bin Laden met his demise, we were finally able as a country to let go of something we've all held inside for too long.
Sept. 11, 2001, was one of the moments of a lifetime for most Americans.
It was Pearl Harbor, it was the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it was the day the Berlin Wall came down. We never forget where we were in those moments, and now we've been set free to turn a page on the bin Laden chapter.
None of us is so naïve to think that al-Qaida doesn't want desperately to strike back at us. But it feels like now we can move forward. And so, it's worth reflecting on the decade that has passed.
A generation of our children has come of age in the intervening 10 years if they were 11 years old in September 2001, they've since turned 21, or are looking forward to that milestone. Bin Laden is gone, but we're sending 21-year-olds to fight in Afghanistan.
The day the twin towers fell and so many American lives were lost was a strange one in the life of this little newspaper; we put out a special edition at mid-afternoon, the first time that had happened in at least two decades. It felt awkward to try to put that immense tragedy into the perspective of a ski town. But we were glad we made the effort.
And this morning, we awoke trying to weave the death of a despicable terrorist into the context of a Muslim world where people from Syria to Libya are struggling for their own self-determinism.
I wouldn't presume to offer my own analysis of Middle East and North African politics. I'm just not up to the task. But I thought Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a succinct summary of what comes next during a speech Monday morning.
After offering her empathy to the many families who lost loved ones in bin Laden's terrorist campaigns, and honoring the soldiers and people in government service who finally tracked him down, Clinton cautioned that the battle to stop al-Qaida won't end with the cutting off of its head.
"In Afghanistan, we will continue taking the fight to al-Qaida and their Taliban allies, while working to support the Afghan people as they build a stronger government and begin to take responsibility for their own security," Clinton said. "We are implementing the strategy for transition approved by NATO at the summit in Lisbon, and we are supporting an Afghan-led political process that seeks to isolate al-Qaida and end the insurgency."
The secretary of state also had a pointed message for Taliban leaders.
"Our message to the Taliban remains the same, but today it may have even greater resonance: You cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us. But you can make the choice to abandon al-Qaida and participate in a peaceful political process," Clinton said.
"History will record that bin Laden's death came at a time of great movements toward freedom and democracy, at a time when the people across the Middle East and North Africa are rejecting the extremist narratives and charting a path of peaceful progress based on universal rights and aspirations. There is no better rebuke to al-Qaida and its heinous ideology."
A decade after 9/11, Osama bin Laden is old news, but his death at the hands of Navy SEALs offers America an opportunity to reposition its influence in a region where change is already afoot.
A new generation in the Middle East, in North Africa and in the United States will help to redefine the story in the decade ahead.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com
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