What’s next after Bin Laden?

COMMENTARY:

The death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden signaled a victory for freedom and affirmed for humankind the basic right to live without fear. Here in America it offered some closure to those who lost loved ones a decade ago in New York’s Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a quiet field in Pennsylvania.

The al-Qaida-led attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 spurred a decade-long manhunt for bin Laden during which he consistently eluded capture.

The killing of bin Laden provides Americans something tangible — closure. After 9/11 we wanted those responsible to be brought to justice, and by that definition, justice has been served.

Al-Qaida, the most feared and powerful terrorist organization on the face of the planet, is without its leader. This is a positive step toward more peaceful societies everywhere.

Bin Laden’s death marks a global turning point. Perhaps now, in places like Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia, the new faces of the Arab and Muslim world will be those seeking freedom from terror in a society where radical fundamentalists lose their tyrannical grasp on power.

The young people in these countries, those who have fought to rid their region of radical fundamentalists and terrorists like bin Laden, should be the ones we look toward when searching for new leaders of the Middle East.

This is a stunning victory for Americans. It has sparked intense pride and patriotism, and has given us a sense of community and purpose that was in desperate need of revival. But even decisive victories can give way to complacency. There are still many questions to be answered. What do we do now? Are we safer with bin Laden dead? Should we fear retaliation from al-Qaida or other terrorist groups?

These questions must not be ignored. Yes, we should celebrate this victory. We should cheer for those brave soldiers who found and killed bin Laden. We should honor those who have dedicated, and lost, their lives in defense of these United States. However, our attention must quickly turn to the future. This is not “Mission Accomplished” by any means, but only a small step toward global security.

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Now is the time for Americans to take a long, hard look at what the future holds for the War on Terror. Clearly, our perception of the Arab world must change if we are to peacefully coexist, and we must do more to change others’ perceptions of the United States.

Getting bin Laden feels good, but that feeling could vanish in an instant with another terrorist attack.

Now more than ever we need to remain vigilant, but in a more globally conscious way. The War on Terror cannot be won. Terrorism is an ideology, a psychological weapon, and a poisonous dogma that you cannot fight or defeat with M-16s and cruise missiles.

Our “success” in Iraq and Afghanistan has proven at least that much. Terror will always be lurking in the shadows, but in a world where religious and political ideologies can peacefully coexist, its effects are far less damaging.

So where does bin Laden’s death fit into all this? Optimists will argue that with him dead we are safer, and that his death may signify the end of an era. Cynics, however, will tell us that we are still at risk, and that bin Laden’s death will only spur further violence.

As a nation, we need to fall somewhere between the hopeless cynic and the blind optimist and accept the role of cautious observer — our foreign policy track record notwithstanding.

We have brought to justice the man responsible for the worst attack on domestic soil in our nation’s history, as we said we would, and that is something of which Americans can be damn proud.

Osama bin Laden is dead. It is a decisive victory for America. We have every right to celebrate. Nevertheless, this joy is tempered by the reality that we are still a nation at war, fighting on two fronts in the Middle East. The war on terror is still very much alive.

A young woman smiling, chanting, and waving an American flag in front of the White House with a big crowd behind her.

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