By Ivan Eland | May 25, 2011

Now that President Obama has killed Osama bin Laden, he should declare the equivalent of V-J or V-E day and completely withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Obama also needs to assess whether a much-publicized worldwide “War on Terror” is really effective.

Statistics show that such publicity and the invasion of Muslim countries merely spiked retaliatory terrorism. The extremist threat is best fought with law-enforcement methods, using military force only as a last resort. Even then, force should be used only in the shadows by CIA and Special Forces operatives, to prevent the further radicalization of the Islamic world.

Obama should take an honest look at what caused bin Laden and al-Qaeda to target the United States—something the Bush administration never did. An introspective examination, absent nationalistic goggles, would show that bin Laden attacked the U.S. because of its profligate military and political meddling in the Middle East and Muslim lands.

There is no need for such meddling. The two pillars of U.S. policy in the Middle East are support for Israel and the use of U.S. military power to control oil. But Israel has grown into a prosperous nation, has hundreds of nuclear weapons, and can defend itself against weak enemies without U.S. aid. Oil is a valuable commodity that will be produced and exported to the world market even absent American policing of the region. The United States realistically can reduce its military footprint in the Middle East and quit coddling odious autocrats such as the Saudis. Doing so would save lives—those of Muslims and U.S. military personnel alike. Ironically and tragically, American deaths from fighting the War on Terror long ago topped the number killed on 9/11.

At a time of record federal deficits, a more restrained military policy in Muslim lands could also save large amounts of cash, which could be returned to more productive uses in the private sector. Using Special Forces to conduct covert raids against terrorists, such as the one that killed bin Laden, is much cheaper than launching major military interventions in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya. The direct costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will top $1.4 trillion by the end of 2012. When all expenses are added, the Iraq War alone will cost $3 trillion. Not only are such invasions and occupations expensive, they are strategically counterproductive. They undoubtedly delayed the finding of bin Laden by diverting intelligence attention and assets from the task.

Let’s declare victory and come home.

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute.

War on Terror: The End? A Symposium.

Andrew Bacevich: War on Terror Is a Fraud
David Rieff: Fighting the Last War
Jacob Heilbrunn: Death of the Bush Doctrine
Adam Garfinkle: Reform the Reforms
Michael C. Desch: How Much Does Osama Matter?
Ivan Eland: Declare Victory and Come Home