The killing of Osama bin Laden constitutes a significant victory over global terrorism. But it is a milestone, not a turning point, in what remains an ongoing struggle without a foreseeable end.
The significance of what was accomplished stems from bin Laden's symbolic importance. He has been an icon, one representing the ability to strike with success against the United States and the West. That icon is now gone.
There is also the demonstration effect of what U.S. Special Forces are able to do. It sends a clear message to terrorists that they are at least as vulnerable as those they would seek to hurt.
But any celebration needs to be tempered by two realities. The first is that bin Laden's demise is in no way to be equated with the demise of terrorism. There is no time for a V-T Day--a Victory over Terrorism Day celebration.
Terrorism is a decentralized phenomenon--in its funding, planning, and execution. Removing bin Laden does not end the threat. There are successors in al-Qaeda--and successors in autonomous groups operating out of Yemen, Somalia, and other countries. So terrorism will continue. Indeed, it could even grow somewhat worse in the short run as there are sure to be those who will want to show that they can still strike against the West.
The second reason for responding with caution to this welcome development is that it underscores yet again that Pakistan, home of some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world, is decidedly less than a full partner. Some parts of the government there are sympathetic to terrorism and unwilling to act against it; others are simply unable to given a lack of capacity. This reality is unlikely to change. As a result, the sort of independent operation carried out against bin Laden is likely to be the rule as much as the exception going forward.