The well-deserved death of Osama Bin Laden gives President Obama a fantastic opportunity, if he should choose to take it: declare victory in the war on terror. Use this as the occasion to end the war in Afghanistan, the undeclared war in Pakistan, the war in Iraq, and so on. Decide that threats should be dealt with based on their likelihood and impact, not on an irrational elevation of this one source of danger over all others. Revert to intelligence & police work as the prime protections against criminal terror networks. End the war on terror: declare victory, and go home.
This is not an original idea with me -- nor is it, as one person said to me, restricted to the lunatic fringe. Mainstream liberals, like Matt Yglesias and James Fallows and Peter Beinart (via), are saying the same thing. Unsurprisingly, the right is taking the opposite tack, asserting that this does not mean the war on terror is or should be over.
So we should - we must - push back. Try to get Obama to do what's right.
I agree that the practical significance of Bin Laden's death (as far as American security goes) is likely to be low. But the symbolic significance is high. Which makes it a great time to do what we should do anyway: reorient our foreign policy to a more balanced (and less militarized) one; reorient our domestic priorities back to civil liberties and away from security theater; etc, etc. This is a great moment: Obama should seize it.
We should seize it.
Some people (e.g. Glenn Greenwald) are saying, cynically, that this won't do any of these things. And as far as prediction goes, they're most likely right. But prediction is totally the wrong way to think about this. This isn't something that will or won't happen regardless of what we, collectively, do; it is something that will or won't happen depending on what we, collectively, do.
So let me revise my statement that this is a great opportunity for Obama: it is a great time for us, collectively. We can use this to change course. We should. Those of us who think this should try to convince those who don't. It's too good an opportunity to waste.
It's not unrealistic any more than it's realistic: it's up to us. We can do it if we want. "If we will it, it is no dream." So we should do it.
Bin Laden's dead. Good riddance.
Now let's end the war on terror. Declare victory, and go home.