I often say that there are two ways of doing anything; the easy way and the right way. Sometimes, the easy way is good enough. In others, the details are as important as the central job. The more important the job, the more important it is to do it the right way -- zip through mowing the lawn, but take your time seeding it.
In taking down Osama bin Laden, President Obama avoided doing things the easy way.
At first, a drone attack was considered, but President Obama decided against it, partly to avoid civilian casualties and partly because: "He wanted proof. He didn't want to just leave a pile of rubble." Between March 14 and April 28 Mr. Obama chaired five National Security Council meetings to discuss the raid.
An exact replica of the compound was built at a secret location in the US and a 24-strong team of Navy Seals (an acronymn of Sea, Air, Land) carried out dummy runs on April 7 and April 13.
Blow the hell out of everything with drones or train a team for a week to carry out a complex land operation? Turns out the president made the right call.
The assault force of Navy SEALs snatched a trove of computer drives and disks during their weekend raid on Osama bin Laden's compound, yielding what a U.S. official called "the mother lode of intelligence."
The special operations forces grabbed personal computers, thumb drives and electronic equipment during the lightning raid that killed bin Laden, officials told POLITICO.
"They cleaned it out," one official said. "Can you imagine what's on Osama bin Laden's hard drive?"
Porn, I'll bet. And financial records. Beside the computer data, there would be handwritten notes, photos, personal letters, maybe false IDs with aliases, etc -- all of which would be smoke right now if we'd gone about this the easy way. As a result of doing this the right way, White House counter-terrorism chief John Brennan believes that it's possible to be "able to destroy that organization [al Qaeda]."
One note of caution here: there are basically two al Qaedas. There's a centrally-directed organization and there are what are basically al Qaeda sympathizers who pick up the banner and join the fight, but are otherwise on their own -- al Qaeda in Iraq, for example. We may be able to break the institutional al Qaeda, but the guerrilla al Qaeda will continue -- how long it continues may be another question. It's not like al Qaeda is the only terrorist organization in the world. It may be that the individuals who normally would be guerrillas will find more support in other organizations. Clearly, this isn't the end of terrorism.
But that's the way you fight terrorism. In the big picture, there isn't an easy way. You run around putting out fires. Huge, grand nationscaping wars are pointless here and, in the end, are counterproductive. Want to increase recruitment among terrorist organizations? Then give them lots and lots of targets to shoot at. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't bring down Osama bin Laden, it was two bullets fired by a Navy SEAL. It may seem easier to kill a whole bunch of people at once with huge fireballs, but our experience since 2003 shows that this doesn't work nearly as well as we'd thought. Better to fight them the way we fight drug runners -- with detective work and SWAT teams. You know, treat them like criminals.
Better to go about this the right way.