After bin Laden: Next Steps to Winning the Long War

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After bin Laden: Next Steps to Winning the Long War

May 2, 2011 3 min read Download Report
James Carafano
Senior Counselor to the President and E.W. Richardson Fellow
James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges.

Mark the end of Osama bin Laden as a victory in the long war against terrorism, but as President Obama acknowledged in his address announcing the operation, the war is not over. The President and Congress should renew their resolve to finish the job, which will require continued commitment.

Now is the wrong time to take the foot off the pedal in the effort to crush the transnational terrorist threats aimed at the United States and its friends and allies. There is important work for Washington to do to ensure that the likes of al-Qaeda never threaten Americans with the likes of 9/11 again.

Step 1: Finish the Job in Afghanistan and Iraq

Having crushed al-Qaeda beachheads in both places, the U.S. should continue to robustly support both countries enabling them to have the capacity to both govern and protect themselves. The first act of al-Qaeda and the Taliban will be an effort to demonstrate that they are back in the game, and their most likely targets will be those whose destruction would damage American prestige.

Furthermore, strong U.S. engagement in Afghanistan is vital to continuing to press Pakistan to go after the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership in its own backyard. An equivocal American commitment to Afghanistan would only further encourage the Pakistanis to try to manage these groups rather than eliminate them.

Step 2: Continue to Hold Terrorists Accountable

The U.S. should keep the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay open and develop effective long-term polices for detention and interrogation. According to reports, the end of bin Laden began in Guantanamo Bay with the lawful interrogation of detainees that provided crucial information. The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay is first rate, and detainees are well treated. Congress should deny funds to close the facility until it is no longer needed.

The President and Congress should enact appropriate legislation that includes defining the rights of unprivileged belligerents—including current detainees and future captures—and providing clear distinctions among unprivileged belligerents, POWs, and domestic criminals. Congress and the President should fully resource military commissions, and the Attorney General should send the best federal prosecutors to these commissions.

Step 3: Stay Alert on the Home Front

At least 38 terrorist plots aimed at the United States have been foiled since 9/11. Three plots were launched by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Other threats were homegrown. Homeland security remains a vitally important part of keeping the nation safe and requires the effective integration of federal, state, and local efforts, as well as the cooperation and support of the private sector, communities, and individual citizens. Tools like the PATRIOT Act have proven themselves vital in disrupting plots aimed at the United States.

Step 4: Stop Doing Stupid Security

Many post-9/11 initiatives and mandates have proven wasteful and unworkable. Topping the list was the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System recently scrapped by the Department of Homeland Security. There are other dumb demands, including unrealistic demands for 100 percent physical inspection of ocean-going shipping containers, biometric exit checks on everyone leaving the country, and suspending expansion of the Visa Waiver Program. The U.S. needs homeland security that ensures prosperity and freedom as well as safety. Winning a long war requires programs that strengthen the nation’s resiliency and liberty and weaken its enemies.

Step 5: Provide for the Common Defense

The U.S. military is the foundation of American power not just for winning the long war against terrorism but for protecting all of America’s vital interests. There will be an impulse to believe that the action against bin Laden validates that covert operations are an “easy button,” a cheap and simple answer to the most vexing national security problems. They are not. They are just one tool in the toolbox.

For example, while the covert operation against bin Laden was a remarkable achievement, it would not have been possible without the military operations in Afghanistan that captured the detainees and served as a base for intelligence-gathering and a base to launch the attack against bin Laden. All instruments of national power are needed. When used right, they reinforce each other. One is not a substitute for another.

Now is the wrong time to talk about gutting defense. Talk of retrenchment sends all the wrong signals to America’s enemies and puts at risk the lives of American men and women in uniform who will have to conduct future operations. Eliminating waste is a worthy goal, but any funds achieved from efficiencies in defense operations should be reinvested in the military to offset the cost of modernizing and developing next-generation equipment.

The President and Congress should provide for defense with budgets that average $720 billion per year for each of the next five fiscal years—in addition to the funding needed for ongoing contingency operations. Congress should make the defense budget as efficient as possible and reinvest dollars gained from reforms in the military to offset the cost of modernizing and developing next-generation equipment.

Do Not Declare Victory Yet

The long war is not won. The United States and its friends and allies can win, but it requires continued courage and commitment like that demonstrated by American armed forces. What is needed now is for the President and Congress to act with wisdom and resolve and take the right next steps.

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Deputy Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Davis Institute, at The Heritage Foundation.


James Carafano
James Carafano

Senior Counselor to the President and E.W. Richardson Fellow