Should we enjoy the murder of a human being? The short answer is: No. The somewhat longer answer: In this case, yes, because the violent death of Osama Bin Laden is connected to hope. One death possibly helps prevent many other deaths. I have no idea how the good Lord would respond to that argument. But thankfully the Catholic Church shines a friendly light on the murder of a tyrant.
Politically and militarily, the strong stewardship of the United States was rewarded in the fight against terrorism. The world power has shown leadership in the rugged Pakistani border region, as all other allies beat into the bushes. And I’m not talking about the scratchy bushes of Pakistan's high country, because the European allies never got to that far. Their shrubs and bushes were the Rhododendrons in front of Number 10 Downing Street, the Élysée Palace and the German Chancellery.
From the very first beginning the USA had to open the new front in the war against terror without their friends and allies. During his bid for the White House, Obama said, “That’s the war we have to win.” But as euphoric Europe paid homage to him, that clear message was ignored. Some were even surprised when the U.S. actually began using unmanned drones and deployed a high number of Special Forces into Pakistan's mountainous areas.
The USA fought there alone, so they do not have to share the laurels for tracking down and switching Bin Laden off: Congratulations, America! The Genetic Code of the world power is intact. The dollar may be weak and the American budget situation tense, but the military is on the ball. Germany produces the best cars, China the cheapest Santa Claus, but America, however, is the world export champion in all things security. This product is dammed expensive and not always pretty to look at, but it is as reliably as the tides.
American success excites and shames us Europeans. A continent that is equal to the population and economic power of the United States, has not seen the will to defend itself, its values and its prosperity. The majority of Europeans, since the Germans are not alone, refuse to accept the central insights of this now ten years struggle against international terrorism: This war is not the same kind of war we know from our history books. There was no declaration of war, and there will never be a surrender document. The enemy with no helmet or uniform does not even know how to navigate a tank accident-free through the countryside. He straps on a suicide bomb belt in the morning and visits the nearest market place. He learns via the Internet how to build a bomb and then tries to blow up commuter trains into the morning air. The ticking is the bomb, and the harmless is the suspect. Our lack of understanding is the most effective accomplice of the terrorists.
Every time a bomb goes off, we are first terrified. But the pain relief starts very early. We are great at forgetting. The security experts who are responsible for the counter terrorism action are then seen as a danger to democracy. The airport full body scanner is already considered by many of our compatriots as the largest conceivable imposition, and the taking of fingerprints for entry into the USA, as an invasion of privacy.
We have not fully understood that in our days security policy is an extension of economic policy. Without the protection of our ports and airports, without the monitoring of communication networks, and without immigration controls, we invite the terrorists to settle among us and to forge their murderous plans or plots from Hamburg, Berlin or Dusseldorf.
More than 16,000 bomb attacks since 11 September 2001, have resulted in about 110,000 deaths. The majority of these were mothers, fathers, and children, not soldiers. They wore summer clothes, ties, or carried satchels plastered with colorful stickers, not uniforms. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that is the only thing you can hold against them.
The lonesome winner the USA understands this. These days, America is preparing to transform its traditional army to meet new requirements. The CIA and Pentagon will not merge but will be intertwined. The CIA Director will become the new defense minister; a four-star general will be the new intelligence chief. And Germany? It cannot wait to withdraw from Afghanistan and is starting to debate on whether to limit security laws put in place after the attack on the World Trade Center.
The death of Bin Laden should be an event of joy, but not one of calm. The abnormal war will continue. The symbol of terror is dead, but his dangerous sources are still bubbling. Maybe this war cannot be won, but we have to make sure that it will not be lost.
Gabor Steingart is the Editor-in-Chief of the leading German Business Daily "Handelsblatt" and the former Bureau Chief of "Der Spiegel" in Washington DC. He is the author of the book "War for Wealth - The True Story of Globalization or Why the World is Not Flat"