WASHINGTON -- On the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Americans were treated to two starkly contrasting images that speak centuries of difference between the U.S. and its enemies.
In Frame One, we see Gen. David H. Petraeus testifying before Congress on the status of the war in Iraq. In Frame Two is Osama bin Laden in a new video -- resplendent in white robes, his beard recently rinsed dark to conceal the gray -- promising that Islam will subjugate the West.
One an image of courage, integrity and honor; the other a caricature of manhood.
Then there is a third frame. It is a full-page ad in Monday's New York Times placed by MoveOn.org and attacking Petraeus' integrity: "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" reads the caption. And then, "Cooking the Books for the White House."
The fog of war, it seems, has seeped into the left wing of the blogosphere.
One may disagree with the war -- and even find informed fault with Petraeus' report -- but impugning the character of the war's commanding officer while American forces are still fighting is what's known as betrayal. If Petraeus were ordering the mass murder of civilians, this would be a different matter. But last time we checked, American forces were fighting to prevent innocent people from getting killed.
Thus, the ad reveals more about the character of those who placed it than it does of Petraeus. It also reveals a dangerous lack of judgment. Put it this way: If Petraeus is viewed as the bad guy, will they know evil when they see it? (Hint: It has a beard and lives in a cave.)
Because bin Laden and Petraeus hit the same news cycle -- and no, I'm not suggesting that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 -- it is convenient and instructive to compare the two men. Visually, they are opposites. One is bearded and operates in shadow. The other, clean-shaven and open-faced, operates in full daylight, exposed and open to scrutiny.
They are night and day, darkness and light.
"Virtually impotent" were the well-chosen words homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend used to describe bin Laden, saying he's a man on the run, living in a cave.
Impotence is a strong word for a woman to use around men, but it is apt here in multiple ways. Impotence gets to the heart of a deeper matter -- bin Laden's sense that he has been minimized by external forces. Freedom is his boogeyman. His need to control others is symptomatic of deep-rooted insecurities.
It is appropriate, meanwhile, that he is a cave dweller. The cave -- both Plato's allegorical house of illusion and primitive man's earliest shelter -- is a proper home for a delusional man trapped in the distant past. Bin Laden and his cohorts are the embodiment of the primitive, infantile male, acting out their frustrations through cowardly barbarism.
It may take a certain kind of courage to fly an airplane into a building, but it takes no courage to murder defenseless people whose crime was getting to work on time. Yet, on the tape released Tuesday, bin Laden praises one of the hijackers of Flight 11, saying that the dead man "recognized the truth."
"It is true that this young man was little in years, but the faith in his heart was big," says bin Laden.
Giving the devil his due, bin Laden is crafty. He flatters young men, promising virgins in the afterlife, then convinces them to strap on bombs or fly planes into buildings. The young men die and bin Laden gets a new outfit. Quite a trick.
In another contrast, bin Laden wants to subjugate the world, while Petraeus leads men and women who want to release the world from subjugation. One fights for the submission of others; the other fights for their liberation.
You don't have to be an American exceptionalist to recognize that there is a difference. One is good, the other is not.
In fairness, MoveOn's ad was aimed at the Iraq War and wasn't intended, either by omission or commission, to be a commentary on bin Laden. But the distorted judgment that prompted an attack on Petraeus as America relives the horrors of 9/11 hints at a sinister alignment with darker forces.
Bin Laden must be very pleased. He could not have done better himself.