I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I have used the sentence structure "If we (do/don't) (fill in the blank), then the terrorists have won" with a straight face. My only excuse is that I wrote it in the week following the attack, before it became a parody of itself. (No, I didn't start it.)
Taken literally, of course, the statement is absurd. Osama bin Laden does not care how long the lines are at airports. Mullah Mohammad Omar doesn't care whether we microwave our mail before we open it. Saddam Hussein doesn't care how many holiday parties we stay home from. They want us dead, all of us.
But there is a sense in which it is a true and useful thing to say, which is why it kept popping up in the weeks following the attack.
What the enemies of America want is for us to collapse, preferably painfully. And even the dullest of them would recognize the delicious irony of it if we collapsed under the weight of our own good intentions.
Let's face it, the United States is the engine that drives the rest of the world. There's a reason we have most of the money, and it's because we deliver. Even people who hate us have to react to us. There is no corner of the world so remote that American interests don't matter there. Arrogant it may be to say so, but it's the truth, and ignoring it won't make it less true.
Many say that the U.S. should care what happens elsewhere, and that's hard to dispute. But the reverse is also true: The rest of the world needs to care what we think, too.
Our national commitment to individual responsibility is the reason we are the only remaining superpower. That works. Other countries can and should learn from this.
If we start sloughing off those things that make us unique -- the freedoms that define us, the conventions that make our economy work -- in the name of security, then we're no longer driving this train: They are. And we've seen where they want to go.