Bagging Bin Laden Doesn't the End Long War


Bagging Bin Laden Doesn't the End Long War

May 2nd, 2011 3 min read
James Jay Carafano

Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute

James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges.

Bin Laden died in a mansion. Hitler died inside a bunker. Both bit the dust before the wars they started were finished.

The Fuehrer shot himself on April 30, 1945. While Nazi Germany formally surrendered eight days later, the war against Japan went on for six more months, and the U.S. spent the next four decades dealing with the aftermath.

Today, even with bin Laden dead, the U.S. still has much to do before it can declare victory in the long war on terrorists.

While Hitler was the undisputed commander-in-chief of the Nazi war machine, bin Laden served more as the cheerleader-in-chief for terror attacks against the U.S. Since Sept. 11, 2001, at least 38 terror plots aimed at the United States have been foiled, but few originated at al Qaeda central. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- an offshoot -- hatched at least three of these plots. Others were homegrown.

But bin Laden's death will reverberate strongly throughout the Middle East. In a culture where honor is power (and vice versa), the killing of a leader is a humiliation. Bin Laden's adherents and supporters will strive to recover the lost honor by exacting revenge -- be it through a Taliban victory in Afghanistan or another terrorist strike against the United States.

So now is the precisely the time to put the pedal to the metal and redouble our efforts to go after our enemies. It is the best way to discredit bin Laden's cause and demoralize his followers.

There is another practical reason for not celebrating bin Laden's demise by backing off on the long war. In foreign affairs, past victories count for nothing. Other nations want to know only what other capitals are going to do next.

If Pakistan, for example, believes the U.S. will now accelerate its pullout from Afghanistan -- before it has finished helping the country develop the capacity to govern and defend itself -- then don't expect Islamabad to help root out the bad guys.

Instead, you can expect them to cut a deal with the Taliban and make accommodation with the remnants of al Qaeda and other terror groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Haqqani.

Bottom line: The signals Obama sends over the next few weeks are probably the most important of his presidency. And make no mistake, many in his circle will be advising him to back off.

Some, for example, will take the wrong lesson from Sunday's successful mission. They will advise that covert operations are the easy-button answer to the terrorist threat: "No need to field conventional forces, Mr. President; we've got the drones and special ops, so you can gut the rest of the Pentagon."

That approach worked for Jed Bartlet in "West Wing," but it's pure fantasy. The U.S. never did more covert operations than at the height of World War II, but that's not what won the war.

Yes, clandestine activities are important part of warfare -- but they are no substitute for war-fighting capabilities. All instruments of power are more effective when they are backed up and supported by other robust and effective tools. Covert action is no exception.

Taking out bin Laden started on the battlefields of Afghanistan. It was military force that drove him out of his sanctuary there. It was military force that captured the detainees who gave up the information that enabled the U.S. to track him down. It was military force that provided the Afghan base of operations from which the attack against bin Laden launched.

Special forces were the tip of the spear. But the spear was the entire panoply of U.S. armed forces and the willingness of U.S. leaders to use them.

The first lesson drawn from the bin Laden strike ought to be that now is not the time to gut our military. Talk of retrenchment sends all the wrong signals to America's enemies, increasing the risks facing our men and women in uniform.

And, amid all the high-fives over this operation, it ought not be forgotten that one of the helicopters broke down. Helicopters break down all the time. They did in 1980 at Desert One, causing the U.S. to abandon its attempted rescue of U.S. Embassy personnel held by Iranian revolutionaries. Desert One showed that the tip of the spear had been dangerously blunted by President Carter's neglect in ensuring adequate resources to keep our military strong.

Bin Laden is dead, but the long war is not yet won. America should take this occasion to recommit to seeing the whole thing through to a successful conclusion not to taking a time out.

Washington must find the resolve to fully fund the military, finish the job in Iraq and Afghanistan, and keep Guantanamo Bay open until it is no longer needed. None of these will be easy -- but victory demands nothing less.

James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in The Washington Examiner