The Washington Post

In defense of the kids – and, perhaps, George W. Bush

I’ll side with Nick Beaudrot and against those finding it sad that teenagers don’t know who Osama bin Laden was. First of all, Jamelle Bouie’s item was a great catch . . . but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s a very, very big country, and there’s nothing in the item about how many teenagers don’t know who bin Laden was. The only thing quantitative is that most people who asked that question were teenagers — nothing about how many teenagers asked that question.

But Beaudrot is right; teenagers, especially those on the younger side, don’t necessarily pay any attention to the news, and there’s nothing really wrong with that — and it’s been a long time since bin Laden was in the news. And, that, too, isn’t exactly a bad thing; part of what it means is that terrorism in the United States since these kids were little was a string of botched, inept, failures.

Moreover, a lot of this is about George W. Bush’s rhetorical decision early on to downplay bin Laden. Now, I think that there’s good evidence that Bush also downplayed bin Laden in policy, for better or worse, and one could also argue that indeed he wound up downplaying al-Qaeda in general in policy, and I think there’s a lot of legitimate criticism for that. But I pretty much think that Bush’s rhetorical choice was a good one, both for his presidency and as a policy matter. For his presidency, it was a good idea to make “victories” possible even if they didn’t involve killing bin Laden. And as far as policy is concerned, there’s quite a bit of research bringing into question “decapitation” strategies for fighting terror organizations.

So add it all up, and some — some! — teenagers don’t know who the guy was. That’s not bad news.

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