One year after Bin Laden’s death

Once a moment of national unity, the political battle over Osama bin Laden’s death intensified Monday as presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sought to minimize the role President Barack Obama has carved out for himself in killing the terrorist leader.
The president’s re-election campaign has raised questions about Romney’s willingness to assassinate the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. Obama authorized the U.S. military raid in Pakistan that ended with bin Laden’s death after a decade in hiding one year ago this week.
Romney pushed back Monday, saying “of course” he would have made the same decision.
“Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order” – Romney said, referencing the former president in his answer to a reporter’s question after a campaign appearance in New Hampshire.
Romney was scheduled to appear Tuesday in New York City with firefighters and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani to help mark Wednesday’s anniversary of bin Laden’s death. Obama and his national security team will be featured in a NBC prime-time special Wednesday night that reconstructs the operation from inside the White House Situation Room.
Obama said Monday that the anniversary is a time for reflection, not celebration.
“I hardly think you’ve seen any excessive celebration taking place here” – he said at a White House news conference. “I think that people, the American people, rightly remember what we as a country accomplished in bringing to justice somebody who killed over 3.000 of our citizens.”
But Obama is using the successful military operation to help maximize a political narrative that portrays him as having the courage to make the tough calls his opponent might not.

One year after Bin Laden's death
Bin Laden.

One year on, the death of Osama bin Laden is starting to feel more like an asterisk than a milestone.
Yes, al-Qaeda’s capacity for organized mayhem has been significantly diminished. But the U.S. remains embroiled in Afghanistan, with a commitment of resources that will span the next decade. Pakistan swarms with murderous extremists of various stripes, and its relations with the U.S. are, to put it mildly, toxic. From Yemen through Iraq and across Africa to Mauritania, groups affiliated with al-Qaeda are becoming more aggressive; scarcely a week passes in Nigeria without some grisly attack by Boko Haram, an Islamist sect whose name translates to “Western education is forbidden.”
We don’t begrudge Barack Obama’s attempt to take some political credit for ordering a bold military mission. (Although an ad starring former President Bill Clinton, whose administration failed to stop Osama bin Laden, was perhaps not the savviest choice.) But, looking ahead, what’s needed is some humility about the challenges that still face the U.S. and some clarity about the means with which to overcome them.
The Obama administration rightly sought to expunge the phrase “war on terror” from the strategic lexicon and to reject any hint of a war on Islam. Terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy. Yet defining the U.S. fight as against al-Qaeda and its “violent extremist affiliates … around the world” – as the 2010 National Security Strategy puts it – strikes us as also off the mark: The spread of al-Qaeda’s brand to copycat groups potentially consigns the U.S. to a costly and ineffectual global game of Whac-A-Mole with deadly stakes.
Just as the Obama administration has used bin Laden’s death to recalibrate the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, it should set clear and discerning limits on its involvement in fighting these “extremist affiliates.” Some may not pose a direct threat to the U.S. – unless, that is, U.S. forces get involved. Others do, and increasingly the tool to combat them is drone strikes like the one that killed the U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Although we support the policy in general, we still await the Obama administration’s release of a detailed and consistent policy on criteria used when such strikes are authorized.

A year after U.S. Navy commandos killed Osama bin Laden in a daring predawn raid on his Abbottabad compound, we know a number of astonishingly intimate details about the world’s most wanted man – He was obsessed with killing U.S. President Barack Obama. He spent hours flipping through satellite channels searching for coverage of himself on television. His youngest and eldest wives, who lived on different floors of the home, fought endlessly, the former suspecting the latter would betray their mutual husband.
But what’s more striking is how much we don’t know. Why did the bin Laden family, for instance, decide to put down roots in Abbottabad? How did Mr. bin Laden manage to hide out for six years in a town that housed the Pakistani equivalent of West Point? Was the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, truly ignorant of Mr. bin Laden’s whereabouts or simply incompetent in uncovering his lair? Which is worse?
One year after Operation Neptune Spear, al-Qaeda still exists, though in a more fractured form. The group’s ability to carry out large-scale attacks has been compromised. Meanwhile, America’s counterterrorism campaign is gradually shifting from Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan to Yemen and the Horn of Africa. The shaky alliance between the West, led by the United States, and Pakistan, has been plunged into a crisis from which it has not yet recovered. Since Mr. bin Laden’s death, each side has viewed the other with simmering suspicion. But perhaps the most enduring legacy of Mr. bin Laden’s killing is that no one who helped him hide for so long, essentially in plain sight, has been held accountable (and that may have poisoned relations between Pakistan and its Western allies for the foreseeable future).
Pakistan has always denied having any knowledge of Mr. bin Laden’s presence on its soil, and if Washington found a smoking gun, it never said so. Still, the killing laid bare each side’s worst beliefs about the other. But neither can make a definitive break.
“In Washington there was a realization that we have been taken for fools by the Pakistanis” – said Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. “The Pakistanis think we’re still using them the way we would a Kleenex or a condom. We use them, then throw them away.”
Yet at a time when the West has one foot out the door of Afghanistan and the region is facing the prospect of increased instability, the relationship between Washington and Islamabad is especially crucial.

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