May 02, 2011

Struggle Against Violent Islamism More Than Killing a Single Man

Originally published in The Enterprise Blog

The death of Osama bin Laden is a wonderful moment for the United States. We have avenged ourselves upon him personally for the terrible damage he did to the United States and the world. The moment’s over, though, and it’s time to get back to work. Bin Laden’s death does not mean the end of al Qaeda Central, and it certainly does not spell the end of al Qaeda franchises in Yemen, Somalia, North Africa, and elsewhere. It does not eliminate the dreadful nexus of violent Islamist groups such as Lashkar-e Tayyiba, Jaish-e Mohammad, Tehrik-e Taliban-e Pakistan, Sipah-e Sahaba, and many others in Pakistan that continue to plot and prepare attacks against Pakistanis, Indians, and Westerners. It does not eliminate the funding streams from the Persian Gulf and around the world that support this terrorist movement. It does not mean that the insurgent groups in Afghanistan, such as the Haqqani Network, intimately tied in with Pakistani-based groups, including al Qaeda, that have larger ambitions than the seizure of a few Afghan provinces, will suddenly put down their weapons and take up farming.

Above all, it does nothing at all to address the real and important grievances of the tens of millions of Arabs who have risen against dictatorial regimes in Syria, Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere that are driving the most important potential transformation of the Middle East of our era. Americans who are desperately looking for shortcuts toward fiscal austerity and to “success,” by which is meant a way out of “foreign entanglements” and “Bush’s follies,” will attempt to argue that bin Laden’s death vindicates a strategy of targeted killings of terrorist leaders that justifies the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, Iraq, and throughout the Middle East.

The truth is that this success does no such thing. The objective of our long struggle against violent Islamism was not, or should not have been, to kill a single man. It was to end the danger that organizations embodying this hateful and heretical ideology pose to Americans and decent people around the world. If, in fact, bin Laden’s death is followed by the collapse of the global Islamist movement, the fall of Arab dictatorships, and the blossoming of a new era of peace and stability in the Muslim world, then we can beat our swords into ploughshares. If not, then we will have to continue this difficult and painful effort until we have truly put an end to the danger that continues to face us. We will know soon enough.

Frederick Kagan is the Director of AEI's Critical Threats Project.

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