Max Boot: A False Sense of National Security

Roundup: Historians' Take

Max Boot, a contributing editor to Opinion, is a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is completing a history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism.

The raid to kill Osama bin Laden is barely three months old, but already it is one of the proudest chapters in the history of the U.S. Special Operations Command — and of the Obama administration. Officials of both organizations have been taking one well-deserved victory lap after another, even going so far as to cooperate (apparently) with a journalist from the New Yorker who has just produced a riveting account of Operation Neptune's Spear. No doubt more books, articles and movies are in the offing. I wouldn't be surprised to see some Navy SEALs writing memoirs or licensing their stories.

There are two major problems with the understandable impulse to pop the champagne cork. In the first place, the officers and officials who are talking may well be compromising important operational details and making it harder to preserve secrecy about future missions — including those that don't go quite as well. Even more worrisome is the possibility that we are being lulled into a false sense of complacency that will allow Al Qaeda and other radical groups to stage a resurgence.

U.S. government officials are probably premature when they rush to proclaim, as the Washington Post reported, that Al Qaeda is "on the brink of collapse." Such predictions have been made many times before, and each time have been disproved by this terrorist group with its alarming ability to regenerate itself. It does not take much in the way of resources to carry out a terrorist strike (the Sept. 11 operation cost an estimated $500,000), so Al Qaeda does not need much infrastructure to pose a threat. Moreover, Al Qaeda is not the only terrorist organization we have to worry about....

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