Since the attacks of 9/11, the United States has overthrown regimes in two Muslim countries at a cost of trillions of dollars, nearly doubled baseline defense expenditures, run up a massive federal debt, curbed civil liberties at home, violated international law, set up a new cabinet department, and alienated many of our traditional allies. All of this was justified in the name of dealing with what was perceived as the existential threat posed by Al Qaeda.
But now, with the killing of Osama bin Laden, the individual who most personified that threat, the United States has the opportunity to adjust its national security policy and put the harm posed by global terrorist groups — like Al Qaeda — into proper perspective. It can do this by recognizing that, while serious, the threat from Al Qaeda is not existential and that Americans actually face even more serious threats to our safety and security. This recognition will free the United States to take direct, interrelated actions that will more fully enhance US national security.This article was originally published in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.