Not that I think it will happen for the next several days, but it’s time for the chattering class to move past the White House’s decision not to release death photographs of Osama bin Laden.
The focus on this largely media-driven issue is an unnecessary distraction from what should be a broader discussion about the direction of U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Photographic evidence is not necessary to establish Osama bin Laden’s death. Al Qaeda has not disputed that its founder and leader is, in fact, dead. And photographic evidence has not stopped the conspiracy theorists from claiming that Americans never landed on the moon. If anything, AQ might wish for the photos to be released to keep the focus on them, and on bin Laden. Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders might prefer Americans to be talking about photos, and not the mounting evidence that Pakistan has been playing a double game.
But that is all speculation. The rest of the world seems to want to move beyond the actions of this mass murderer and his organization, and Americans should want that as well. We should revisit all of our policies pertaining to counterterrorism. We should review the policies and procedures that allowed U.S. personnel to deliver justice to bin Laden. We should examine the effect that similar policies have had on AQ, writ large, and inquire as to whether these should be continued or modified. And we should scrutinize the rationale for keeping 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Bin Laden’s killing was not contingent upon the creation of a functioning state in Afghanistan, and effective counterterrorism going forward should not be made contingent on similar nation-building missions.