It is great news for the U.S. and the world that Osama bin Laden has been killed. This is a moment of victory for our Armed Forces and intelligence services; there can finally be some closure for the families of victims from September 11, and the nation as a whole. As I heard the star spangled banner from the streets outside the White House or those who heard the bagpipes near Ground Zero – I cannot explain how I rejoice in this victory. The world is no doubt a safer place, but still is far from a lasting security.
However, the struggle against extremism, particularly elements within Afghanistan, is nowhere near over. Al-Qaeda specializes in decentralization and this could be the beginning of renewed anti-Americanism and future violence. The sense I got from listening to the media pundits prior to President Barack Obama’s speech was that the “Global War on Terror” (a phrase which Obama himself stopped using, but which found itself renewed) was weakened even further by the loss of bin Laden.
If you suddenly removed the head of a state from office or a CEO from a corporation, in most cases, particularly if the subordinates are loyal and dedicated, whatever operation that structure was involved with will continue. The same is true for Al-Qaeda, the struggle against ideology is bigger than any one man – it is a battle of ideas, and to win this battle, one must not turn to ideology as so many times the United States has.
I write this article not to rain on the parade, but to serve as a reminder of the real struggle still going on in the world, particularly with the United States. There are many problems in the Middle East – the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria; the ongoing NATO intervention in Libya; timetables for U.S. combat troop withdrawals in Iraq; the deteriorating stability of the Horn of Africa (Somalia and Yemen); record oil prices; a united Palestinian front in Hamas and Fatah; a much more pessimistic Israeli state; a fractious Lebanese system of government; the resilient and repressive regimes in the Gulf States (Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia) – and all of these issues will not simply disappear because Osama bin Laden is dead.
For some, whether bin Laden was alive or not was irrelevant for their cause. For others, it was very much an informing and necessary part of their cause. Some of the protests and political movements in the Arab world are against individuals who bin Laden named as “puppets of the United States,” like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. Those protesting were not only protesting the regime, but in effect, protesting against the United States – something bin Laden encouraged whenever he could.
Those who accept the ideological presumptions of extremists groups, Al-Qaeda being at the very heart of them, will continue to believe and continue to persevere. A dead bin Laden will not be seen as the removal of the head of the snake which crumbles the jihadist network; he will most certainly be seen as a martyr and emulated by his followers. A new leadership will arise, perhaps not as hierarchical and strong, but their decentralized planning and operations will continue, just as bin Laden knew they would if he were to be killed or captured. The United States must quickly swallow whatever excitement it can from this historic event, and build upon it. We must not lose sight of the grand strategy, which in my judgment, should ultimately be peace with the Arab and Islamic world.
The beginning of wisdom comes with recognizing that it took U.S. armed forces almost 10 years to hunt down and kill bin Laden, with a great deal of difficulty and vast amount of resources and the loss of thousands of American lives. I should hope that the lesson learned here is to never want to pursue such an individual and quarrel with such a strong a cause ever again. Virtue must follow suit; a virtue that speaks of a realignment of U.S. foreign policy; a policy that no longer antagonizes and motivates those who followed bin Laden, and who are most certainly going to emulate him now.
The future of our resolve comes from recognizing that terrorism will never be entirely defeated, but it can be significantly reduced, and most importantly frowned upon by an even larger majority of Muslims. The global victory against extremism must be tempered in the face of rekindled nationalism and the pursuit of a virtuous foreign policy must ensue. The patriot is the first person to defend his country, and the first to point out its flaws. In this case, the patriot realizes the victory, but never waivers in criticism.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons