Taking Out Osama Was Grim Necessity, Not a Touchdown

05/02/2011 11:23 am ET | Updated Jul 02, 2011

Of course it's a good thing that Osama bin Laden is dead. Of course it's a good thing that his body has been dumped at sea and he can no longer record videos taunting the United States or inciting our enemies.

Congratulations to Barack Obama, who did what George W. Bush boasted he would do but never could, and congratulations to U.S. intelligence and diplomats for handling the tricky dynamics of dealing with Pakistan on this embarrassing reminder of that country's unabashed sheltering of terrorists (and not even up in the mountains on the border!), and congratulations to the U.S. military and C.I.A. who reportedly did the actual work of closing in on -- and taking out -- bin Laden.

To anyone who feels a great rush of joy at the news, I say: Enjoy the moment. That obviously goes especially for family and friends of all of those killed during the heinous attacks of September 11. I have to think they can sleep a little better, with the depraved evil of bin Laden having been rubbed out, at least in one sense, and for that I think we can and should be glad.

But I'm sure I'm far from alone in feeling a singular lack of joy: bin Laden should have been dead long ago. It was a national embarrassment that Bush and his henchmen tried to get bin Laden at Tora Bora on the cheap, all so he could have more troops available for the idiotic invasion of Iraq, the subject of his feverish delusions of the moment.

The September 11 attacks were a despicable crime against humanity and it is right for the leader behind those attacks to pay the ultimate price. But at the same time, bin Laden's death closes a chapter in U.S. history that leaves me for one feeling queasy.

It was in the name of revenge for September 11 that the U.S. lost its way and turned into a nation capable of fomenting its own evils. I believe that the Obama administration, despite its failure so far to close Guantanamo, for example, has us on a path toward connecting with our better traditions, but meanwhile, hateful crazies run amok in U.S. politics as they never have before. After 9/11 a certain part of the U.S. population decided it now had an excuse to hate anyone and everyone, all without even trying to understand others or sort out good information versus bad information: No, it is enough simply to hate.

I think bin Laden knew just what he was doing in dropping a hate bomb at the center of American life: He wanted ugliness to multiply, he wanted the U.S. spirit to turn sinister, and there are many indications of spectacular success on that count. Greed and arrogance are so widely celebrated that they seem now to be not a disqualification from being among the most admired in the land, that is, a potential presidential candidate, but rather excellent qualification. Good luck, Donald! Based on your hilarious reaction the other night in Washington as a little sport was made of you, clearly you are going to fit right in with the team of oddballs crowding the GOP field.

So no, I cannot feel much joy. September 11 and its aftermath was a test of our national character and our national mettle. Can we really take much pride as a people in how we handled that test?

I heave a sigh of relief, glad that bin Laden is out of the way, but forgive me if I pop no Champagne corks. This was a grim necessity, not a touchdown.