May 02, 2011

A New Kind Of Defense

By David W. Barno and USA (Ret.)

The death of Osama bin Laden marks the most significant U.S. victory to date in the war on terrorism. Its full consequences may not be known for months or even years, but the violent death of Al Qaeda’s leader in Pakistan during a U.S. strike is without question a "game changer."

This combination of intelligence, detective work and special forces exemplifies what the U.S. needs and can afford..Bin Laden’s importance came not from his daily direction of Al Qaeda cells around the world, but from the inspiration that his iconic leadership has provided. His image, words and videos have all served to motivate and energize a growing franchise of like-minded, deadly groups. Bin Laden alive could feed and nurture that demand; Bin Laden dead cannot. His death unravels that critical motivational thread, and one that is unlikely to be replaced. Al Qaeda is a brand built on one man’s personality and apocalyptic vision, and has just suffered a blow that, over time, may well prove lethal. For now, it remains a deadly, diffused organization -- but its end may now be more imaginable.

In some ways, this strike marks a major transition point, too, in America’s approach to fighting terrorist groups around the world. Ten years of experience have shown that large scale conventional military operations are less useful than innovative combinations of intelligence, detective work and special forces. Recent successes of this new combination may soon ripple into discussions about the kind of defense the United States needs -- and can afford.

A byproduct of this successful strike will be a quiet recognition around the world that the United States remains a power to be reckoned with. Attacking the U.S., particularly at home, guarantees not only a ferocious response, but one that will remain relentless until justice is served. Americans should stand a little taller today with that reality indisputably demonstrated once again to friends and adversaries alike.