In a post listing a total of seven observations on the death of Osama bin Laden, Jeffrey Goldberg lists last: “If President Obama is seeking a quicker exit strategy from Afghanistan, he now has one.” Well, that would be unfortunate, and would put into doubt Nos. 3-5 of the Goldberg observations:
3) President Obama has laid to rest, at least for everyone not named Donald Trump, the notion that he is some sort of soft-on-terror, Manchurian-candidate stealth-Muslim.
4) American deterrent power is partially restored. The lesson for terrorists: If you commit an act of violence against America, this country will hunt you down until you are dead or in chains.
5) Islamist terrorism is not over. Bin Laden was not an operator, nor was he seemingly in control of operators. Cells may be activated in the coming days, individuals with jihadist goals might take action. This is a dangerous moment. An inevitable moment, but a dangerous one.
In short you don’t build on success by retreat. You don’t follow a restoration of American credibility with a transparent excuse to bug out of a vital battlefield in the war on terror. You don’t greet a “dangerous moment” by showing a limited attention span.
The real question for Obama is whether he can put the national security pieces together. A listing of the pieces would include: decisive military action is a political winner while stalemate is a loser. Other important lessons: American unilateralism is an essential arrow in our quiver; some of our “allies” aren’t all that reliable; the U.N. is of limited utility ( I’d argue “no utility,” but let’s aim for some consensus here); the threat of military force should never be taken off the table when dealing with determined foes; and American resolve in the Islamic war on terror is essential to our national security.
If he absorbs all of this, can Obama then redesign a national security policy that is bolder and less dependent on fickle multilateral institutions, and that is fully funded? The president has some political capital, and he should use it constructively — to complete and not flee from the war in Afghanistan, to makes sure that there is not a scintilla of doubt that we will, if need be, use force to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons capability, and to spare the Pentagon the budget ax. These would be signs that Obama has internalized the lessons of the past two years and has given up the juvenile obsession once and for all about being the “not Bush” president.