The U.S. government's most controversial post-9/11 policies died years before Osama Bin Laden did -- and for good reason
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (L) and former Vice President Dick Cheney leave the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 10, 2011/Reuters
The death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of Navy Seals last May marked a turning point in the fight against al Qaeda. But one thing it did not mark was an end to the War on Terror. That's because the War on Terror was already dead, abandoned by the very agencies responsible for implementing it after 9/11.
There are, of course, still terrorists plotting to kill Americans, and the U.S. continues to take aggressive measures to stop them. But it would be a mistake to confuse all counterterrorism strategies with the War on Terror. The War on Terror was based on the notion that Islamic terrorism represented a unified, ideologically coherent, and operationally centralized threat, demanding a singular and predominately military response. This notion was rejected by U.S. security officials long before the killing of Bin Laden. Indeed, it was abandoned well before the election of President Obama.
By the latter years of the Bush administration, the exceptional tactics that defined the War on Terror -- preventative detentions, pain-based interrogation, ethnic and religious profiling, and widely expanded domestic surveillance powers -- were either abandoned or dramatically scaled back based on overwhelming evidence that they were ineffective. Meanwhile, the actual wars initiated in the name of the War on Terror, in Afghanistan and Iraq, rapidly evolved into counter-insurgency and then counterterrorism campaigns as military leaders recognized that the U.S. was unable to replace theocrats and autocrats with stable, western-style democracies.