Osama Bin Laden was undoubtedly the most hunted and perhaps the most hated man in the world since Adolf Hitler. The news of his death led to an outpour of jubilation in the country as many gathered in New York City and Washington, DC chanting “USA! USA!” It is important to emphasize that Osama Bin Laden’s death does not signify an end to terrorism. Al-Qaeda still remains a threat to the United States and the West, and it is not far-fetched to think that Al Qaeda will coalesce around another leader in the future. Equally important, it is very difficult to judge the long-term significance of this successful military operation but it’s worth discussing the potential consequences. How might Al-Qaeda respond? What does this mean for the President? How does it affect our war strategy in the future?
For President Obama, a bump in his job approval rating is to be expected, and the “soft on terrorism” criticism sometimes levied against him will probably be put to rest. Furthermore, the theme of unity that the President emphasized in his speech may help him in the upcoming budget negotiations. Meanwhile, there are those that claim that the President’s re-election is all but sewn up as a result of Bin Laden’s death. But the reality is that unemployment is still high, gas prices are going up, our national debt is skyrocketing, and there is unrest in the Middle East. These issues will play a big role in the President’s re-election campaign. We should also remember that President George H.W. Bush successfully pushed Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1992 but lost his re-election the following year. Nevertheless, Bin Laden’s death certainly bolsters President Obama’s foreign policy credentials and reveals his seriousness in wanting to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda.”
Moreover, Bin Laden’s capture is a great victory for the intelligence community for their remarkable persistence in 10 years of intelligence gathering and analysis. This success could potentially lead to a shift away from mass troop deployments to greater reliance on sound/actionable intelligence as a more effective and efficient way of fighting the war on terror. The current counterinsurgency approach in Afghanistan which requires protecting the population, winning them over, and training their army is unsustainable in the long run. It takes a lot of resources to successfully execute such a strategy not to mention the inevitability of mass casualties. So it possible that we’ll begin to see more targeted counterterrorism operations aimed at eliminating terrorist networks through drone attacks and CIA Special Forces. President Obama’s current re-shuffling of his national security team further reveals the possibility of this. He recently announced that current CIA Director Leon Panetta will replace Robert Gates as the new Secretary of Defense while General David Petraeus will replace Leon Panetta as the CIA Director. This is an indication of a strategic fusion of the Defense department and CIA, which will result in a more collaborative effort to fight terrorism.
Overall, it is too early to determine the consequences of Bin Laden’s death with absolute certainty but it is important to ponder and discuss the different possibilities and their effects on national security.