With the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Special Forces, some will be tempted to herald the end of the War on Terror and thus an end to the 9/11 era.
Many on the left are already jumping to this conclusion. At The Daily Beast, Peter Beinart writes, “The war on terror is over; Al Qaeda lost. Now for the really hard stuff,” which for Beinart means tackling our debt, the supposed new greatest threat to American security. Editor of The Nation Katrina van den Heuvel says that “it is time to bring an end to the senseless war in Afghanistan” and argues for a “new and more effective security template” that does not “allow ‘war’ framing to define the national psyche and our politics.” Minutes after the president’s East Room address, Robert Greenwald of the antiwar Bravenew Foundation sent out a fundraising appeal and online petition, writing: “With al-Qaeda driven from [Afghanistan] and Bin Laden now dead, the rationale for war has evaporated. It’s time to stop now.”
Oddly, many of these are the same people who, at least recently, disputed that 9/11 changed anything. Now, they are the first to try to take advantage of bin Laden’s early demise.
Unfortunately, this exaggeration of the implications of bin Laden’s death is not likely to remain confined to the loony Left alone. Americans are tired after ten years of war and with domestic problems at home, many want to reassess priorities and spend less time thinking about revolutions and attacks overseas.
Indeed, with a few exceptions, such as Gov. Mitt Romney and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the Republicans beginning to position themselves for the race to the White House in 2012 have not effectively outlined what an alternative national-security strategy might look like, and some of those generating the most interest appear to have no foreign policy at all.
As much as many would like, we can’t turn our back on our global commitments and responsibilities. Al-Qaeda and the broader terrorist threat have evolved over the last decade. Attacks continue to be plotted and disrupted and new offshoots and surrogates have proliferated.
The threats we face today are more varied and diverse. We must meet the ongoing challenges of the 9/11 era while also preparing ourselves for the new world order that is emerging. None of this is helped by talk of the conclusion of the Global War on Terror. What we really need is a strategic debate in this country about what lies ahead in this world of nuclear proliferation, rising powers, and momentous cultural and political change.
The Long War continues, and it will be incumbent upon President Obama and his administration to explain this to the American people on a regular basis, even as we draw down in Iraq and begin to bring troops home from Afghanistan.
President Obama’s message last evening struck the right tone. He appeared to be a confident, assertive commander in chief. Unfortunately, this is a side of him that we have seen far too rarely.
How he responds to the likely pressures both inside and outside his party to slash the defense budget and capitalize on a post-9/11 dividend that does not exist will determine whether he succeeds in preparing America for the challenges ahead.
— Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.