Columns » Max Brantley

Osama's farewells and Huckabee's comments

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I write Monday morning less than 12 hours after the news that a U.S. strike force had killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden in a raid on his Pakistan hideout.

It was hard to fault President Obama's measured announcement and his acknowledgment that bin Laden's death was not an end of the anti-terrorism fight or the need to be vigilant.

"As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not — and never will be — at war with Islam. I've made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al-Qaida has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity."

Measured rhetoric is not the hallmark of a former Arkansan who might seek to replace President Obama in 2012. Mike Huckabee was an early commenter on his website.

"It is unusual to celebrate a death, but today Americans and decent people the world over cheer the news that madman, murderer and terrorist Osama Bin Laden is dead. The leader of Al Qaeda — responsible for the deaths of 3,000 innocent citizens on September 11, 2001, and whose maniacal hate is responsible for the deaths of thousands of US servicemen and women was killed by U.S. military. ... 

"It has taken a long time for this monster to be brought to justice. Welcome to hell, bin Laden. Let us all hope that his demise will serve notice to Islamic radicals the world over that the United States will be relentless in tracking down and terminating those who would inflict terror, mayhem and death on any of our citizens."

Welcome to hell, indeed. And welcome to the Christian-Muslim divide that Huckabee nurtures with relish.

I was struck more favorably by Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin of Little Rock. He allowed a few more hours of reflection before speaking. He also claimed no insight into bin Laden's afterlife room assignment.

"The death of Osama Bin Laden is great news for the United States, our allies and the world. This is an historic moment for our nation. Let there be no doubt: this is a major achievement and a victory for all Americans, especially for the men and women of the U.S. military and intelligence communities, who have sacrificed, along with their families, for the last ten years. While Bin Laden's death is a very important event, our nation must remain committed to vigorously fighting the war on terror in order to protect our nation from those who would do us harm."

Perhaps because Griffin has served in the military he was not so ready to throw around cheap fighting words, as Huckabee had.

The punditry piled up quickly. Two contrasting views arrived just about simultaneously. Eugene Robinson, the Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, declared the event a time for "triumphalism and unapologetic patriotism."

At the same time, I heard from Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, a local Baptist pastor. He paid tribute to the military and intelligence victory and said bin Laden's death was a "just conclusion." But he added:

"This is no time for triumphalism. Instead, we should give serious thought about how to reconcile human differences so that violence, hate, and cruelty don't take root within people."

Which style do you prefer? That welcome mat to hell? Or a victory message tempered by the understanding that more than weaponry is required to solve the asymmetric puzzle of international conflicts?

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