Kelly Moore served on the staff of the 9/11 Commission and was the deputy program manager for the Terrorist Interdiction Program at the State Department. She is the co-author of moore9/11 and Terrorist Travel .
NEW YORK—Like many Americans I have been riveted by the news of Osama bin Laden's demise since hearing about it via text shortly before President Obama told the world that, yes Dorothy, the Wicked Witch is dead.
I have been struck by two things. First, by the difference in media coverage between New York and everywhere else. Local television stations are a parade of victim's families, city officials, and reports from Ground Zero and Times Square. Of course, 9/11 belongs to all Americans, but here this is personal. It is our skyline that is deformed, our residents who perished more than any other cities that day, our city that has been the target of multiple terrorist plots.
Second, I have been struck by so many pundits and government officials being so cautious in their assessments. Most seem to believe that bin Laden's death is little more than a symbolic victory. Al Qaeda, they say, is alive and well and we must remain vigilant.
Vigilance in such a circumstance is of course the most sensible response. No doubt there are extremists the world over who will try to avenge bin Laden's death. There is every reason to be concerned about how groups in Yemen and North Africa might respond.
But make no mistake—bin Laden's death marks the end of the war on terrorism as we know it. It is the fall of the terrorists' Berlin Wall. An event that heralds the end of an era if not the extinction of an ideology.
While it is true that in recent years bin Laden had become more of an ideological figurehead than an active participant in operational activities, he was one of those iconic figures without whom his cause will never quite fully recover. Without his spiritual guidance, political leadership and recruiting power, his self-proclaimed holy warriors are little more than a rag tag army without direction, cohesion or inspiration.
Not only that, the world is a very different place today than it was during bin Laden's hey day. One need look no further than the spontaneous, burgeoning democratic uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria for proof. The trajectories of the Arab Spring and al Qaeda are clearly moving in opposite directions. [See editorial cartoons about the Arab uprisings.]
But before we get too excited, it is worth noting that today is also a time for sober reflection. This is not simply about justice for those who perished on 9/11. In fact, more people have been killed in the two wars launched in the wake of 9/11 than on that horrible day. And let's not forget that bin Laden and his acolytes are responsible for scores of deaths in terrorist attacks dating back to the early 1990s.
Indeed, in the coming days and weeks we would be wise to reflect on the decisions that led us to the tragedy of 9/11—unsavory alliances and a national security apparatus designed to fail—so that we avoid repeating them. [See a slide show of potential vulnerable terrorist targets.]
Many have criticized the 9/11 Commission for failing to point the finger at specific individuals. But the truth is, no one person or group was at fault. 9/11 happened because the system put in place to keep us safe was ill-conceived, poorly managed and in some cases incompetent. Though much has been done since 9/11 to shore up our homeland security, many of the problems that plagued us a decade ago still have not been addressed, including overhauling Congressional oversight of national security and implementing meaningful immigration reform. What are we waiting for?
In the past we also have aligned ourselves with friends who render enemies unnecessary. The Saudi royal family, for example, practices and finances an extremist form of Islam that breeds the very intolerance at the root of terrorist desire. Actually, it's worse than that. Their vast wealth stems from their oil, which we buy in abundance. A national energy policy is more than a question of being green. It is a matter of national security so why don't we have one?