For months after 9/11, people watched planes. They watched skyscrapers. They looked over their shoulders in crowded places - at baseball games, college graduations, New Years celebrations. They eyed bearded men on planes and trains, glanced nervously at suspicious packages in shopping malls. They profiled relentlessly and shamelessly, and waited for the next attack to come. I moved to Washington, DC, a year after the twin towers fell, and there was a touch of London during the blitz in the way that people carried themselves in those days. My friends and neighbours rode the Metro with stiff upper lips, kept calm and carried on as they headed to work at the Pentagon or the State Department (or a minor think tank or political magazine, for that matter), and generally behaved as if even the most everyday activities were taking place in the valley of the shadow of death. We felt as if we were living with targets on our backs. We assumed that it was only a matter of time until Al-Qaeda struck again. Ten years later, were still waiting. There have been many plots, certainly, foiled by good intelligence work or good police work or simple grace and luck. There have been shoe bombers and Times Square bombers - and others still, presumably, that were cut short before they reached the headlines. But the wave of further violence that seemed inevitable in those fraught months after 9/11 never materialised within our borders. And what seemed like the horrifying opening offensive in a new and terrifying war stands instead as an isolated case - a passing moment when Al-Qaeda seemed to rival fascism and Communism as a potential threat to our civilization, and when Osama bin Laden inspired far more fear and trembling than his actual capabilities deserved. This is a triumph for the United States of America, for its soldiers and intelligence operatives, and for the president as well. But it is not quite the triumph that it would have seemed if bin Laden had been captured a decade ago, because those 10 years have taught us that we didnt need to fear him and his rabble as much as we did, temporarily but intensely, in the weeks when ground zero still smoked. Theyve taught us, instead, that whatever blunders we make (and we have made many), however many advantages we squander (and there has been much squandering), and whatever quagmires we find ourselves lured into, our civilization is not fundamentally threatened by the utopian fantasy politics embodied by groups like Al-Qaeda, or the mix of thugs, fools and pseudo-intellectuals who rally around their banner. They can strike us, they can wound us, they can kill us. They can goad us into tactical errors and strategic blunders. But they are not, and never will be, an existential threat. This was not clear immediately after 9/11. On that day, they took us by surprise. They took advantage of our societys great strength - its openness and freedom, the welcome it gives to immigrants and the presumption of innocence it extends. And in the wake of their attack, we did not know what they were capable of, or how they might follow up their victory. Now we know. We know because bin Laden is finally dead and gone, but in a sense we knew already. We learned the lesson in every day that passed without an attack, in every year that turned, and in the way our eyes turned, gradually but permanently, from the skies and the sky-scrapers back to the ordinary things of life. We learned when the planes landed safely, when the malls stayed open, when the commencements came and went, when one baseball season gave way to another. Day after day, hour after hour, we learned that we were strong and they were weak. One of bin Ladens most famous quotations (there were not many in his oeuvre) compared the United States and Al-Qaeda to racing horses. When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, he told his acolytes over table talk, by nature, they will like the strong horse. In his cracked vision, America was the weak nag, and Al-Qaeda the strong destrier. But the last 10 years have taught us differently: In life as well as death, Osama bin Laden was always the weak horse. New York Times