Osama bin Laden and America's long journey from 9/11 to 5/1
The killing of Osama bin Laden means that, for the first time in years, there may be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
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For a time in 2001-02, it looked as if the effort to defeat the terrorists would go quickly. The Afghan Taliban – who had sheltered Al Qaeda – fell from power in a matter of weeks. The siege of the caves at Tora Bora, where Osama bin Laden had fled, promised to bring about his demise and a strategic defeat for terrorism.Skip to next paragraph
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Instead, it turned into an extended conflict, which tore at the fabric of our own conscience as much as it made gains against the terrorists. Despite years of efforts to track Mr. bin Laden, he proved elusive. Fears that Saddam Hussein could supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction – ultimately based on wrong intelligence – led to the war in Iraq. But miscalculations there – combined with a diminished focus on Afghanistan – meant that we were soon faced with two wars going badly. A controversial surge in Iraq turned the tide there, but a more modest surge in Afghanistan has yet to prove successful.
By late 2003, the Bush administration had learned that “killing the terrorists” was a short-term tactic, not a long-term strategy. With President Bush’s November 2003 speeches to the National Endowment for Democracy and at London’s Royal Banqueting House, he articulated the need to promote freedom, democracy, and human development as the means to undermine the appeal of extremism. To paraphrase his message: “For 60 years, we sacrificed freedom in the Middle East in the name of stability, and got neither. Now we know the only path to real stability and security is through freedom.” This gave rise to the Broader Middle East initiative and the Forum for the Future, both launched at the 2004 Group of 8 Summit in Sea Island, Ga.
But with bin Laden at large, the war on terror was never far from consciousness. Mr. Bush had vowed never to allow a second attack on the United States as long as he was president. Terrorist scares continued to crop up over the course of years.