Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
So said Winston Churchill, in 1942, but it is a sentiment that rings true today.
The killing of Osama bin Laden is a testament to the many fine men and women in uniform, and the intelligence community with whom they work. And today, my mind is with them, both those who are alive, and those who gave their lives to the cause of defending the United States. Ten years is a long time to be in a war -- the longest we've ever been in. During this time, children have become adults, and young, wide-eyed recruits have become grizzled veterans. Our men and women have sacrificed so much, with very few events that would seem to let them feel that we are making true progress. There seems to have been very few closing of chapters.
That's what last night was. A closing of a chapter in the book of our war on terror. A very early chapter, yes. But a milestone.
On a practical level, that might be one of the more important effects of the killing of Osama bin Laden. For our troops, a vast number of whom joined military service because of 9/11, last night offers a morale boost. However temporary that may be, boosts like this are incredibly important for the men and women who toil in the rocky terrain of Afghanistan, or the deserts of Iraq, or anywhere else in the world. In this long, protracted war, where momentum swings toward those who believe they have it, until last night, perhaps there has been no bigger event than the capture of Saddam Hussein in a spider-hole.
Yet, just like that event didn't end the Iraq War, we on the homefront must keep in mind that the killing of Osama bin Laden marks only the end of the beginning of our war on terror.
Osama bin Laden had very little operational control of terrorists around the world who are acting in the name of his al Qaeda. Those cells will continue to operate, as they have been, and formulate plans that Osama bin Laden didn't even know were being put together. The question for us, then, is how vigilant will we continue to be as a nation, and will this momentous event help us fight smarter, as we move on to the next chapter?
We should, on both counts. It was a team of Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden. It wasn't a large force, and it happened in Pakistan, where we are not engaged in nation-building. Combined with the recent nomination of David Petraeus to head the CIA, I certainly hope that civilian leaders in Washington are starting to realize the value of small, covert actions to destroy and disrupt terror networks. They leave a small footprint. They allow for more precision. They cost America less, both in terms of money and lives. A shift towards more of the strategy that killed bin Laden and away from the notion of massive forces that try to rebuild entire nations is not only the quickest way home for most of our troops in Afghanistan, but it's smarter.
And so, as we turn the page on this early chapter, as we end this beginning, may we ensure that the next chapters always honor those who came before, fought before, and died before. May we also ensure that for those still in harm's way, we use this moral boost to refocus and fight this still very long war in the smartest and most effective way we can.