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In the final days before the 2004 Presidential Election, on October 29, Osama Bin Laden released a videotaped message that essentially told the world what he was up to. The address, by far the most formal presentation he had ever offered, had one of the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives sitting in what looked like a TV studio delivering a public manifesto of sorts. At the time, most of the media coverage of his statement focused on his comments about the 9/11 attacks and then candidates Bush and Kerry, but within his remarks there was one sentence that has stayed with me:

“We are continuing a policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.”

After taking a look at our country’s financial situation and continuing explosive debt, it might be easy to declare that Bin Laden and his cronies can celebrate in their caves in “where-ever-istan” they might be currently residing. At least that is the conclusion you might derive from the recently released report of the President’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

Co-chaired by former Chief of Staff to former President Clinton, Erksine Bowles, and retired Wyoming Senator, Alan Simpson, the bipartisan commission has put forward some blunt and some might call ambitious recommendations to correct our national ill-behavior of spending ourselves into oblivion. In a town where both Democrats and Republicans have more than their fair share of guilt in abusing the country’s credit card, the bill (the nation’s deficit) is finally coming due.

While the national outrage over the ongoing spending has been growing for some time, when you have the top two people in the country’s military operations, the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, declare in multiple public forums that our ballooning deficits are cause for national security attention, it is way past time to wake up to reality. That’s the situation we are in today.

It would be easy to point to Bin Laden to say he’s part of the reason for the economic mess we are in. After his 19 hijackers took over 4 planes and killed nearly 3,000 people, we have literally spent trillions of dollars in our homeland security operations as well as in our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other strategic operations around the world. While those costs have not aided our economic conditions, they don’t begin to include the monies that we continue to spend on domestic and entitlement programs, which like our national and homeland security expenditure has gone on with out check.

We are literally a nation that when a problem is encountered, we choose to whip out the plastic and spend our way out of it. Frankly, I think that type of behavior is as dangerous as those inspired by Bin Laden to detonate explosives in Times Square or Christmas Tree lighting ceremonies in Oregon. In these cases though the explosive blast leaves longer term economic carnage rather than just physical and murderous destruction.

In making this point, I am not saying that all of the expenditures we have made for our security operations or domestic commitments are bad, but our increasing cultural tendency to spend, spend, spend, and put aside our debt concerns for another day is no way to build the future of our nation or our children. We have library volumes of rhetoric from just about every political corner decrying this situation, yet only a thimble’s worth of leadership and gumption to do anything about it.

With a new Congress on the immediate horizon and budget winds howling “cut, cut, cut,” we are going to face a moment of economic and national security brinksmanship in the first half of 2011. We are going to have to say, “No more.”  We cannot give what we don’t have, and when you have no funds to give, programs and expectations, no matter how sacred they may be, are going to have to be dramatically trimmed or eliminated entirely.

Those are cold, harsh words, especially the way many people in this country are truly hurting, but the reality is our future will no longer be our own if we allow our creditors (e.g., China, etc.) to hold our fortunes and our futures in their hands.

While I don’t believe Bin Laden has any clairvoyant powers to predict the future, he obviously understood enough about American behavior to know our tendencies to spend with abandon.  I’ve thought a lot about his words of late and how true they are becoming, and it has sickened me. While we may have obliterated Al Qaeda into a fine mist in several places around the world, the battle where Bin Laden has no public disciple to advance his murderous cause is the fight that has to be fought and won.

It’s a fight not just to prove a cave dwelling murderous thug wrong but one where our personal and national securities are balanced with economic realities and what we actually have in the bank. We can no longer afford to be a selfish generation as Sen. Simpson described the other day. We have to make some tough choices and sacrifices if we are going to get ourselves out of this increasingly deepening hole.

Our future is dependent on making these tough calls, and it’s a fight no one else can take on for us; we have to win on our own. Failure is not an option when the stakes are this high, and the last thing I ever want to do is agree with Osama Bin Laden. I don’t think I’m alone in that either.

Rich Cooper blog primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More
  • Justdatip

    As Americans rush to give up their Rights (privacy, speech, press) and spend their way to national bankruptcy, Bin Laden and company can, quite accurately, “declare victory”. As a hegemonic superpower, the only real way America could ever be “destroyed” would be to effectively undermine it's own fundamental liberties. In that sense the terrorists have already won – and are being abetted by US government officials.