The bin Laden operation is the perfect vindication of the war on terror. It was made possible precisely by the vast, warlike infrastructure that the Bush administration created post-9/11, a fierce regime of capture and interrogation, of dropped bombs and commando strikes. That regime, of course, followed the more conventional war that brought down the Taliban, scattered and decimated al-Qaeda and made bin Laden a fugitive.Even the war in Afghanistan that Democrats thought was the essential war when they could use it to oppose the war in Iraq now is being portrayed as unnecessary to the task of taking down bin Laden.
Without all of this, the bin Laden operation could never have happened. Whence came the intelligence that led to Abbottabad? Many places, including from secret prisons in Romania and Poland; from terrorists seized and kidnapped, then subjected to interrogations, sometimes “harsh” or “enhanced”; from Gitmo detainees; from a huge bureaucratic apparatus of surveillance and eavesdropping. In other words, from a Global War on Terror infrastructure that critics, including Barack Obama himself, deplored as a tragic detour from American rectitude.
Really? We could never have pulled off the bin Laden raid without a major military presence in Afghanistan. The choppers came from our massive base at Bagram. The jump-off point was Jalalabad. The intelligence-gathering drones fly over Pakistan by grace of an alliance (unreliable but indispensable) forged with the United States to fight the war in Afghanistan.There is a reason why it is so important to push back on the argument that we can now declare victory and go back to a pre-9/11 approach to fighting terrorism.
You want to say we’ve now won the war? Fine. It’s at least an arguable proposition. After all, the war on terror will end one day, and we will return to policing the odd terrorist nut case. I would argue, however, that while bin Laden’s death marks an extremely important inflection point in the fight against jihadism, it’s far too early to declare victory.
Now, it is one thing to have an argument about whether it’s over. It’s quite another to claim that our reaching this happy day — during which we can even be debating whether victory has been achieved — has nothing to do with the war on terror of the previous decade. Al-Qaeda is not subsiding on its own. It is not retiring from the field, having seen the error of its ways. It is not disappearing because of some inexorable law of history or nature. It is in retreat because of the terrible defeats it suffered once America decided to take up arms against it, a campaign (once) known as the war on terror.