The news that Osama bin Laden has been killed is certainly monumental, incredible news, especially since he managed to evade capture for such a long time. Yet, as important as his death may be, it marks but a single event in a much larger, longer conflict.
To a great degree, bin Laden was a figurehead, a rallying figure for the millions upon millions of people around the world who use their interpretation of Islam to justify violence, oppression, hatred, and fear. While his death removes that figurehead, it does not remove the justification.
This conflict is not and never was going to be won by simply killing bin Laden any more than Iraq was secured by simply capturing Saddam Hussein and killing his sons. This conflict is not even going to be won by the application of military force alone. Instead, this is a conflict over the hearts and minds of people held in tyranny for generations, and it is going to take conviction and diplomacy as well as force to win.
Because of this fact, we must resist the powerful urge to conclude that we have won and that it is now time to wind things down. There may yet be a time when that reaction is appropriate, but it must be a time when the future of Afghanistan is as secured as it ever will be. Yes, it has been a long war, and many of us who have been paying attention to these things all along have said it was going to be, but we cannot quit before the job is done, because the consequences of quitting will be worse than those of outright failure.
So, we should celebrate the victory bin Laden’s death represents, but we should do so with the caution born of the knowledge that a rough road still lies ahead. And, we should resolve ourselves to walk that road until its end.