Austin Bay

AN AMERICAN AIRBASE SOMEWHERE IN SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Today, I put a note on a bomb. To be specific, I took a jet black marking pen and inscribed a 500-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition -- JDAM, in the jargon.

Perhaps putting a note on a bomb strikes some as either romantic, foolish or vicious -- or a combination of the three. The act certainly has shades, colors and dollops of all these characteristics, and a harsh dash of steeling sentimentalism. These are the predictable psycho-babble carps. But let's get to the tacks: In my case, the act is motivated by a megaton of deserved anger.

Get the picture: I was on a concrete work stand with U.S. Air Force ordnance personnel who were preparing and fusing the bombs. Day in, day out, at the end of a long runway in the desert, these young men and women tighten the screws and add the gizmos that turn a hunk of iron and high explosive into a weapon with a very big bang. As I approached the stack of olive-drab bombs, an airman passed me a black Marks-A-Lot and asked me, "Would you like to send a message?"

I suppose the bomb I saw will eventually be tucked beneath the wing of a fighter plane headed for Iraq or Afghanistan. Those are the logical destinations. But I sent my message to Pakistan's most famous resident, Osama bin Laden.

Recall Osama said that people will follow the "strong horse" in a fight. In his mind, the United States was "the weak horse," a nation of couch potatoes, spoiled brats and libertine wastrels -- cowards all.

But Osama has had a tough six years. Consider the consequences of 9-11. His Afghan bastion fell quickly. Yes, the Taliban still murder villagers and send suicide bombers toward Kabul, but the Taliban of today is a fanatic fragment of the organization that once ruled 90 percent of Afghanistan by terror.

Osama also sought to transform an intra-Muslim war. Sept. 11 was his violent magic trick, the sensational abracadabra that would cover the Muslim world's fissures and fractures with the facade of a pan-Islamic jihad. Osama, of course, would serve as the new caliph, thank you.

That bid's gone belly-up, and Iraq is the battlefield that killed it. In Iraq, the United States brought the "exported war" back to the heart of the Arab Muslim Middle East. Who has suffered the most from homicidal Islamist extremists? Other Muslims. Perhaps The Washington Post doesn't know it, but in Iraq, al-Qaida has lost the information war.

The struggle for the terms of modernity continues, and will continue for decades, but al-Qaida's sociopaths have been exposed.

So what did I scrawl on the bomb? "Greet the strong horse." I hope it gives a terrorist a fatal ride.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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