May 4, 2011 | Commentary on Terrorism
As the CIA and US Special Forces root through the files taken from Osama bin Laden's mansion, his terrorist teammates have to be asking what's next for them.
Stateside, of course, hysterical pundits are warning darkly that al Qaeda's revenge can't be far off. More likely, though, the organization's operatives are heading for cover -- fearful of what intelligence the US may uncover and whose door the SEALs will be kicking down next.
After all, who knows what bin Laden had squirreled away? Sure, it might be just six years of Arabic crossword puzzles. But it's more likely to include financial records, lists of contacts, details of future plans -- and a lot more.
Based on that information windfall, President Obama will likely have a telephone book of new intelligence to pour over in his quiet evenings in the Oval Office. As he does, he ought to know that the only person who can really answer the question of what is next for al Qaeda is . . . him.
Armed with this new cache of information, Obama has every advantage in dealing with our enemy.
It is true Osama had become little more than a megaphone to promote more martyrs, because America had been hounding him for years
Pundits often argue bin Laden became more dangerous when al Qaeda was reduced to outsourcing after being chased out of Afghanistan. Wrong. Forcing al Qaeda to decentralize was taking it down a notch or two to what it was before 9/11 -- just a loose confederation of wackos.
Today, with Osama dead, Obama has every advantage. He has a choice: He can continue to beat back the Taliban. He can browbeat the Pakistanis to go after the terrorists -- and send in our boys to do the job when they won't.
Obama can rescind his overly restrictive interrogation rules, which give the CIA less authority to ask tough questions than a New York City cop on the street. He can declare open season on al Qaeda affiliates such as Al-Shabab, Lashkar-e-Taiba and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
He can press for the long-term congressional authorization of the investigative powers in the Patriot and FISA acts that are set to expire -- tools that are essential for tracking down and thwarting attacks before they happen.
Or the president can take a terrorism time-out -- pull out the troops; pay off the Pakistanis even if they do nothing to protect us or themselves from the extremists; back off going after America's enemies, and try again to close Gitmo.
The problem with backing off is that it would allow al Qaeda to make a comeback.
We should keep doing what we're doing, and keep an eye out for what al Qaeda will try next.
The group's top priority will be to try to get back in the game. That could mean aiding the Taliban in its spring offensive in Afghanistan. It could mean trying to open up a new front in the terror war, say by setting up a pipeline to run foreign fighters into countries such as Libya.
It could mean moving more leadership and operational responsibilities to Yemen. It could mean pumping out more propaganda on the Internet to inspire some domestic wing-nuts to do something, anything, to slaughter a few Americans.
These are all real and genuinely serious threats. But they are dangers Obama can handle if he elects to make al Qaeda's life even more difficult than it already is.
James Jay Carafano is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The New York Post