I didn’t think about the Olympic Games in relation to fighting
Terrorism. until Joe reminded me that “victory” was not as
important as its “glorious attempt.”
Joe is my “credibility
source” for issues on Terrorism. He is a former Israeli
Army intelligence officer who fought Terrorism in all cracks
and crevices of his country. He has coffee each
morning at the same Starbuck’s I do--Astor Place in the East
We exchange viewpoints—mostly his to mine since I am a neophyte
to the problems of the Middle East. I nod a lot.
Occasionally, I’ll interject my experience in Vietnam, which
he usually brushes off as non-sequiter to the current
problems the world faces.
I asked him what he thought of the fact we hadn’t yet caught
bin Laden. The answer came as a surprise to me,
but one that enriched my awareness of the United States being
on the right track.
“The victory isn’t important, Cliff,” he said sternly, much
like the teacher to a student. “America is showing the
world that hunting down Terrorists at all costs is winning
the war on Terrorism. It’s a psychological war.
Whether we find bin Laden or not isn’t as important as setting
an example for all nations to follow. They must
also rise up in arms against them. America is showing
them how to do it.”
He told me about an article in the paper he was reading that
served, in his opinion, as evidence America was winning the
war the right way.
“It was just a small article, but it jumped off the page at
me,” Joe said. “Yemen sent its special forces to attack
a village known to harbor al-Qaeda. Yemen is bin
Laden’s homeland. They would never have done that before
the U.S. stepped in to fight Terrorism. The courage
to eradicate Terrorism is becoming contagious,” he said.
“Other nations will follow Yemen’s lead.” He paused
and looked up at me. It’s the message America is giving
the world that is important, Cliff. It’s not whether
bin Laden is caught or not; it’s the precedent that matters.”
Joe took a swig of coffee. He has curly, graying hair,
and the face of an interrogator. His jaw is usually
set, and the furrows on his brow look like they were etched
there in concrete. His blue eyes pierce as he talks,
stabbing exclamation points to what he says.
I had a feeling Joe had done more than his share of prying
out information from reluctant prisoners.
“Other nations will rise up and fight Terrorism just like
America is doing,” he said firmly. “Terrorists anywhere
in the world won’t feel comfortable sitting in a cave or a
building making bombs or brewing deadly chemicals.
They’ll have trouble recruiting new followers because
if they join they’ll be hunted down as never before—and shown
little to no mercy if caught. No, Cliff,
catching bin Laden is not the strategy….it’s the tactic…but
not the strategy. America is fighting fire with fire.
It’s using intimidation and fear…driving it into the hearts
of Terrorists all over the world. The message is:
You have no place to hide! We’ll find you! We’ll
eliminate you! That is the best strategy, Cliff.
Bin Laden is nothing but a target—he’s not the bulls eye!”
I liked Joe’s bluntness. He hammered the points
into my mind. It made so much sense. Terrorism
used fear, intimidation and complacency to breed its poisons.
America was indeed fighting fire with fire by continuing its
relentless attacks and posturing itself to the world that
it would not only hunt down bin Laden, but any person or nation
that harbored or supported Terrorism. It was a
global posture. Much bigger than I had given it
“It’s a battle of psychology, don’t forget, Cliff.
Either they intimidate us, or we intimidate them.
The message is the key. America’s message is ‘we’re
going to hunt you down with our last breath and destroy you.’
That’s a fine message. It will go down in history.
No one before has taken Terrorism by the tail and slung it
up against the wall. Now, America is doing it.
Be proud of the strategy, Cliff.”
I thought about what Joe was saying as I jumped on the “N”
train to go uptown to Columbus Circle where I needed to get
some parts for my daughter’s computer, and to hunt down a
Winnie The Poo computer keyboard for her two children.
I thought long and hard about what Joe was saying.
I had been measuring the success of our efforts in Afghanistan
on whether or not we found bin Laden. If we did, it
was victory. If we didn’t, it was defeat.
Part of me, I suppose, was still angry that the victory in
Vietnam had never been recognized. Perhaps I wanted
to feel the lack of finding and killing bin Laden would represent
another Vietnam. It was a childish thought, but one
I faced. Vietnam’s victory, to me, had been the
liberation of all the Vietnamese who had escaped, and were
now returning to bring advanced technology and systems to
I had even taken my share of pot shots at America’s inability
to find bin Laden. My black and white attitude
was in error, thanks to Joe’s input.
The Olympics helped put everything in focus. Our younger
daughter had been in Olympic Training since she was ten years
old in Laguna Niguel, California, where we lived for many
years until coming to New York City two years ago this December.
Mary Rand Toomey, winner of five Olympic Medals, and her husband
Bill, decathlon Gold Medalist, plus many other former Olympians
(including Bob Mathias) happened to live in the area.
Our children were fortunate to have them help train them in
I had forgotten what Mary Toomey said to me once about competing
in the Olympics. “Our goal was to be victorious or our
attempt glorious!,” she exclaimed.
I thought hard about what America was doing. It was
fighting, in a way, an Olympic battle against Terrorism.
It was using the strategy, “Let me be Victorious or my attempt
With Joe’s help, whether we found bin Laden or not didn’t
really matter. What really mattered was how we competed.
By setting an example for the world, we were pulling the plugs
on those governments that had been intimidated by Terrorism.
We also were sending a message to any Terrorist or would-be
Terrorist in the world—that we would not stop hunting them
down and destroying them and those who gave them shelter.
We were stripping Terrorism naked.
And, if we look hard enough, we might see a tall naked man
with a turban running from country to country, exposed for
what he is. That may well be the greatest victory
after all is said and done