Will anything change? That’s really the question, isn’t it? I’m on record (at least I think I’m on record…somewhere…maybe) as being critical of the fixation with tracking down Osama Bin Laden. In contrast with the position that mainstream Democrats (President Obama included) have taken (We should have kept up the pressure in Afghanistan instead of invading Iraq.), I’ve long maintained that the elimination of Osama Bin Laden would have about as much impact on international terrorism as the capture of Saddam Hussein had on the resistance to the US occupation of Iraq.
I’ve guardedly supported President Obama’s decision to continue and even escalate operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan less because I think we should be there and more because I think that now that we’re there, we need to be cautious about how we get out. I also trust Obama’s judgment in a way that I never did with President Bush. I know that he’s a thinker who understands and appreciates the complexities involved in national policy. He gets that in formulating policy in Afghanistan, he must take a regional view and look at the potential impacts on the always problematic Iran (and therefore Iraq) and a nuclear armed Pakistan. He gets that Afghanistan is important because of its neighbors. I’ve long respected Robert Gates (the best possible Bush holdover). I appreciate the value that Hillary Clinton brings, both in her own formidable abilities and the undeniable benefit of her husband’s expertise. Leon Panetta at CIA was an interesting choice, but it has clearly paid off. He should be an able replacement for the retiring Gates, and General Petraeus will be a good fit at CIA. If there was ever a serious, no nonsense national security team, this is it. And make no mistake about VP Biden. He’s an able comic foil (a role he seems to genuinely enjoy), but he’s also a highly respected foreign policy expert in his own right.
So, in a world without Bin Laden, what will this team have to face? Well, in case you haven’t noticed, the news out of the Middle East has not been about terrorism in the past few months. In a way, much of what has been going on in the region has had little to do with Israel or anti-Western sentiment. Domestic policies are dominating events, for good or for ill. That leaves a lot of ambiguity about how and when the US and the West should get involved. Is terrorism still a threat? Of course. That’s not in question. Can good policy and the proper deployment of the various tools of statecraft have an impact? Definitely. The key is what are those tools? It’s not just military force or economic sanctions. It’s soft power: diplomacy, cultural values, and connections between people, speeches, and social media. Will everything work the way we want it to? No, but each success further marginalizes the extremists.
Obama has made the world stand up and take notice that the U.S. is still here and is in the hands of an unflappable, no-nonsense leader with the will and staying power to meet his nation’s objectives. Not only that, but he has regained the political edge here at home in a way that has his opponents reeling.
Will the security lines at the airport go away? Those are here to stay. Can we be less fearful? Absolutely. After all, fear-mongering aside, someone attacked us on 9/11. Someone got through our defenses and struck a horrendous blow at our feelings of safety and security. Someone changed us in bad ways. Someone hurt us. Even if we didn’t buy into the Bush Administration’s fear mongering, we were still impacted, still hurt. But that someone can’t hurt us anymore. That should change things for the better.