It is a great day for America – and for freedom everywhere.
Now that Usama bin Laden has been killed via a U.S. raid on his hiding-in-plain sight compound in Abbottabad, a northern suburb of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, we need to take five steps that will help build success in protecting Americans at home and overseas.
Here are our top five moves:
1. Thank the Military. The troops deserve our gratitude. Over 1 million Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines have sacrificed mightily through serving tours of duty overseas in Afghanistan, Iraq and over a dozen other countries that have played a supporting role in taking the fight to Al Qaeda. Nearly 6,000 service members have made the ultimate sacrifice -- almost 4,500 in Iraq and 1,500 in Afghanistan, while tens of thousands more have been wounded.
2. Recognize Bipartisan Leadership Yielded Results. Both President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush deserve an enormous amount of credit for staying the course in fighting protracted and unpopular wars against Islamic extremists -- despite significant domestic and international pressure.
Mr. Bush showed strong leadership and courage in ordering a U.S.-led coalition into Afghanistan and the foreboding Hindu Kush mountains within a month after 9/11, despite the failures of past superpowers -- from the Soviet Union, to the British Empire to Alexander the Great.
Mr. Obama followed in his predecessor’s footsteps and remained committed to hunting down Al Qaeda in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, despite mounting public pressure to bring the troops home.
3. Finish the Job. Bid Laden’s demise is symbolically the most important victory in the nearly 10-year war that began after his operations chief Khalid Sheikh Mohammed launched the attacks of Sept. 11, killing nearly 3,000 Americans.
However, the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are far from over. Both remain fragile democracies with weak institutions and intense internal rivalries -- capable of descent into chaos and breeding more terrorists should U.S. forces pull out before organic security forces are capable of taking over. Let’s recall that Saddam Hussein was caught in Dec. 2003, well before Iraq’s sectarian bloodbath reached its peak several years later.
4. Be on Guard for Riots and Terror Reprisals. Now that we have killed Bin Laden, he will become a Shahid or martyr to thousands of Islamic extremists who will be whipped into a frenzy by radical Imams from Islamabad to Cairo, Tangiers to Bali, London to Istanbul and everywhere in between.
If we thought the riots and deaths following the Newsweek story that falsely claimed a Koran was flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo, a Danish newspaper publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, and most recently, a Gainesville, Florida pastor burning a Koran were out of control, we haven’t seen anything yet. We must ramp up security at airports, ports, railways, bus terminals, reservoirs and more.
5. Recognize the Value of Detainees and Interrogations. According to numerous reports, it was a detainee who provided the link to Bin Laden’s courier – which in turn led U.S. forces to his compound.
All too often over the past decade, critics have portrayed Al Qaeda-suspected detainees as the victims of U.S. overreach, typically a charge leveled against the Bush administration. Leary of getting bogged down into the same political quagmire, the Obama administration has favored “kinetic military action” against Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership -- ironically increasing unmanned Predator drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan to kill terror suspects rather than capture them. Simply put, detainees and their interrogations have helped save American lives, and now they have helped end Bin Laden’s. How fitting is that?
A celebration is clearly in order – though we still have much to do to defeat Al Qaeda.
J.D. Gordon is a communications consultant to several Washington, D.C. think tanks and retired Navy commander who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2009 as the Pentagon's spokesman for the Western Hemisphere. For more information, visit www.gordoncohenstrategies.com.