The liquidation of Osama bin Laden is a cause for full-throated national celebration. It must also be the occasion for a redirection of our efforts to wage and win what has been misnamed “the War on Terrorism.” At last, we must recognize the struggle we are in for what it is – the War for the Free World – and begin taking all the steps necessary to win it, not just some of them.
For starters, let’s consider some of the areas in which lessons can already be learned in light of what is now known about the takedown of al Qaeda’s leader:
Ferreting out bin Laden’s safe haven in Abbattabad, Pakistan is the latest affirmation of the importance of human intelligence. While various technical means of monitoring his couriers’ communications and movements played a role, in the end it appears there really is no substitute for old-fashioned spying and tradecraft. The need to correct continuing – and in some cases acute – shortfalls in this area should feature prominently in the upcoming confirmation hearings for the outgoing and incoming CIA Directors, Secretary of Defense-designate Leon Panetta and General David Petraeus, respectively.
That imperative is especially pressing when foreign “liaison” services are as manifestly unreliable as is now indisputably true of Pakistan’s double-dealing intelligence agency, the ISI. Ever since Jimmy Carter’s Director of Central Intelligence, Stansfield Turner, set about dismantling U.S. “humint” capabilities – and especially since 9/11 – America has relied to a great and unwise degree on information and agents supplied by others.
The fact that the Pakistanis could not be apprised of the operation that took out bin Laden until after it was over – to say nothing of the manner in which he was “hiding” in a million-dollar compound behind 12-foot walls in close proximity to some of Pakistan’s key military installations – tells us everything we need to know about the untrustworthiness of our so-called ally, and the extent to which it is working with our foes.
These insights come, moreover, on the heels of published reports last week that Pakistan’s prime minister and the director of the ISI paid a visit to Afghan president Hamid Kharzi. In its course, they are said to have pressed him to cut ties with the United States and partner instead with their country and its ally, Communist China.
Such contemptuous behavior towards us reflects in part at least the calculation in Islamabad (and doubtless elsewhere) that the U.S. is a declining power, which need not be feared because it lacks the will to punish its enemies and cannot be counted upon to protect its friends. Bin Laden’s liquidation is an important corrective to such portentous impressions. It must be reinforced and built upon as a matter of the utmost national importance.
The proficiency of our armed forces in executing the kill-or-capture orders for Osama bin Laden should be a source of pride for all Americans. The fact that it was done without loss of any U.S. personnel makes the performance all the more extraordinary. Press reports served up in the wake of the bin Laden mission to the effect that special forces teams and their CIA paramilitary counterparts perform such feats on a daily basis only underscores the high quality of these units, and their value to the nation.
Such proficiency comes at a price, though; “Freedom is not free.” Yet, we are now increasingly trying to defend America without making the sustained investment it requires. Barack Obama’s own incumbent Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, has warned that we risk “hollowing out” our military if the President’s announced cut of a further $400 billion cut in defense spending over the next 12 years is enacted – coming as it would on top of the nearly $200 billion already excised. Even elite units are having to operate without the requisite gear, in some cases relying on family and friends to supply some of what they need to survive the dangers associated with their assignments. Time will tell whether the helicopter lost in the latest mission was a casualty of maintenance shortfalls.
One thing is certain: We will pay in treasure or in a currency we hold more dear – lives – if the success against bin Laden is taken as a further excuse to diminish our armed forces, rather than as a reminder of the need to assure their readiness for tomorrow’s wars, as well as today’s.
Finally, bin Laden’s welcome demise must precipitate a retooling of our appreciation of the threat we face. No matter how often our leaders insist the enemy is al Qaeda and its destruction is our goal, the reality is different. We confront a larger array of adversaries who share such terrorists’ goals – the imposition worldwide of a politico-military-legal program they call shariah to be administered by a Caliph – but pursue them via different, often stealthy means.
Such enemies, including the Muslim Brotherhood, operate here as well as abroad – a point that should be a focus of Senate and House hearings this week with Attorney General Eric Holder. Ending the sort of obstruction of justice his department appears to have engaged in with respect to the prosecution of Brotherhood fronts and operatives is a good place to start the next phase of the War for the Free World.