Vindication of Obama's strategy
President Obama and his administrative and national security officials receive updates about the attack on Osama bin Laden.
May 2nd, 2011
09:24 PM ET

Vindication of Obama's strategy

Editor’s Note: This is the second of three posts from Fareed Zakaria on the death of Osama bin Laden. The other two are Al Qaeda is dead and What did Pakistan know?You can follow Fareed on Facebook and Twitter for timely analysis of global events.

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

The killing of Osama bin Laden is a powerful argument for emphasizing counterterrorism over nation building in the war on terror.

It would be too generous to say that Osama bin Laden’s death directly has to do with Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. Some of this is just serendipitous.  Some of this is the result of years of hard work.

But you can credit Obama with this: He focused much more relentlessly on the counterterrorism part of his strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He drastically increased the number of drone attacks, for example. That’s just one metric. There has also been a massive expansion of other counterterrorism efforts, including intelligence gathering and live operations.  The killing of Osama bin Laden is the fruit of that much larger investment in counterterrorism.

Nation building by contrast is the strategy that President Bush employed. It is much larger, more expensive and inherently much more difficult for an outside force to succeed at because you get tied up in questions of nationalism and imperialism. It becomes difficult as an outside player to be seen as anything other than a force seeking domination. It is easy to excite nationalist opposition.

What I hope the killing of bin Laden will make us realize is that there is a very powerful way for the U.S. to fight terrorist organizations through vigorous counterterrorism operations. We do not need to occupy vast tracts of Afghanistan in perpetuity to keep the al Qaeda threat at bay.

The other point worth making is that killing Osama bin Laden may have the effect of re-legitimizing American military power. American military power has taken a drumming in Iraq and Afghanistan, partly because it was trying to do something that was not fundamentally military – it was trying to create political order and stable political systems in those two countries.

There was a tendency to believe that the United States has a much vaunted military but “It can’t even…” You can fill in the rest: “It can’t even stabilize Iraq.” “It can’t even defeat the Taliban.” But those aren’t really fair tests. Those were really nation building efforts more than they were military efforts. The U.S. military wins every military engagement it is in whether in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The attack on Osama bin Laden, in contrast, was specifically a military mission. The U.S. military did it well. This may lead to the rehabilitation of American military power, which had been somewhat battered over the last few years.

Now if we could just get our financial house in order then we would be on our way to re-legitimizing American economic power…but that will take a little longer.

I invite you to share your thoughts below and to follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

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