I believe in the idea of punishment, especially of mass murderers like al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri, but I wonder about the risk/reward calculus of this specific death (“Al Qaeda leader’s death renews debate over hasty U.S. Afghanistan withdrawal,” Web, Aug. 2).

Yes, the planning was meticulous, the execution of the plan flawless and the collateral damage apparently negligible — but how will al-Zawahri’s assassination improve the battlefield? We had eyes on him for many months and likely intercepted his communications. Will the same be true of his successor? Is it likely that the successor will be any less blood-thirsty, less devoted to the cause or less faithful to the principles of al-Qaida? Will the successor be dazzled by our pyrotechnics and slink from the challenge or redouble his effort to harm innocent Americans?

Al-Zawahiri was not a designer of novel weapons or a captivating communicator. Rather, he was a replaceable apparatchik of an enemy we will face for many more years. And perhaps the enemy you know and can locate is more valuable alive than dead.

Although a cynic of monumental proportion, I do not believe that President Biden gave the go-ahead for political reasons. But I feel certain he will flog the death on the midterm campaign trail and two years hence. Revenge is said to be sweet, but not all revenge is smart.



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