The death of Osama bin Laden is a major symbolic victory for the U.S. in the War on Terror. Yet it is important to distinguish between symbolic and material victory. In Iraq, roughly four years passed between the symbolic victory of the capture of Saddam Hussein and the material victory of the defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq by the surge strategy. The death of bin Laden will depress morale among al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the short term. But the next generation of al-Qaeda leaders will seize the opportunity to fill the power vacuum. They will compete by plotting headline-grabbing terror attacks. The U.S. can limit damage from this jockeying by reducing al-Qaeda’s core strength, an asset that is more important than its leader’s life: its territory. Al-Qaeda affiliates and franchises have solidified control in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and West Africa, from where they have plotted and conducted attacks against the West in the last two years. Without such operating environments, al-Qaeda will shrivel. If we give the reduction of al-Qaeda territory priority over cordial relations with fair-weather allies and carry out a comprehensive strategy, we can achieve material victory in the War on Terror.
— Charlie Szrom is an associate at DC International Advisory.Marc Thiessen
This morning, when I went out to get coffee and a paper after a late night celebrating the demise of Osama bin Laden, the lady behind the counter pointed to the front-page picture of the late al-Qaeda leader and said: “I guess the war is finally over.” Millions of Americans are saying the same thing today. On Fox News, a Marine at Camp Pendleton said he was relieved at bin Laden’s death because “we’re all ready for this war to be over.” And on CNN last night, Peter Bergen declared
: “Killing bin Laden is the end of the War on Terror. We can just sort of announce that right now.”
No, we can’t. The temptation to see this as the culmination of a long struggle is understandable. It has been nearly ten years since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The War on Terror is the longest military struggle in our nation’s history, and one that is unlike any our nation faced before. In the past, America’s wars ended with a dramatic event — a surrender ceremony on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri, or Allied armies marching into Berlin. For many, bin Laden’s death feels like that kind of event. It is not. Ayman Zawahiri will not respond to the killing of Osama bin Laden by packing it in and returning to his medical practice.
Nor will Adnan Shukrijumah — an American citizen who currently holds KSM’s former position as al-Qaeda’s operational commander — give up jihad and retire. Nor will Anwar al-Awlaki or the other leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — who have twice nearly succeeded in blowing up planes over the United States — give up the fight and go quietly into the night. These terrorists will do everything in their power to avenge the death of their fallen leader. And they are convinced that the best way they can do so is by repeating the destruction he wreaked on America. They will seek to mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in spectacular fashion. We had better be ready.
Vice President Cheney put it well this morning, when he declared: “Though bin Laden is dead, the war goes on. We must remain vigilant, especially now, and we must continue to support our men and women in uniform who are fighting on the front lines of this war every day.”
So let us revel in a great military victory today. But those celebrating in Times Square and other parts of America today should remember that this is not V-J Day. As we dance in the streets, our enemies are regrouping and planning the next attack. Which means that tomorrow we need to get back to work and stop them.
— Marc Thiessen is the author of Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack.