It amazes me that the failure to get bin Laden, and the continued disinterest in getting him, has not been a bigger story. That the Bush administration and conservatives in general have gotten away with minimizing its importance is a scandal. Part of the problem though, is that we on the left have done a poor job in expressing our opinions in terms of basic principals. I have read any number of folks on the left saying that the failure to get bin Laden is a huge failure, but rarely explaining exactly why.
If I might be permitted a brief tangent, I have long noted an odd behavior pattern among a wide circle of people I have known. It is regarded as some sort of bad form to spell out one's arguments in complete detail and to present them from basic principals. It seems to be widely considered proper to leave it to the listener to figure out some of your argument. This seems to be common at least among the college educated and it is not restricted to political discourse. This habit may be fine for many situations but it serves us poorly in political discourse. I will take this space then to present as many of our arguments back to basic principals.
So, why is getting bin Laden so important. The reason this is so important is related to why we are so unhappy with the Iraq war. What then are the basic principals. Any system for enforcing some kind of norms (whether in law or in international relations) need to meet certain requirements if the system is to work. The system must
- clearly identify, and have broad agreement as to what, are and are not violations
- catch and punish those who violate the norms
- leave those who do not unmolested
Perhaps the above is too academic, but it just boils down to "if you hurt us you will be punished, otherwise you will be left alone."
We on the left feel that it is important to clearly indicate that massive assaults on civilians should be a violation. Therefore, the conservative/Bush approach of leaving those who launched such an attack (bin Laden) unmolested and instead killing and maiming large numbers of people who were no part of the attack (Iraqis) is a huge failure. Under the standards the left is trying to establish, the rest of the world has clear guidelines whereby they can avoid our retribution, and clear conditions under which that retribution will be inflicted. Under the Bush system, there is no way of predicting when the retribution of the United States will be inflicted. And under those conditions, our power of retribution, our power to enforce international norms is completely erased. That is why we are outraged at the Bush administrations. That is why the failure to get bin Laden is such a huge deal.