I think people are missing the point. Al Qaeda was a loose organization of terrorist cell with somewhat of a centralized command and control function. It's not like they wore uniforms that designated them as members. OBL
provided funding resources to them and allow them to coordinate their activities.
The absolute worst thing that could happen is for the US to capture OBL
alive. Can anyone imagine the wave of terrorist attacks that would follow. Instead, I've always believed that the field commanders have instructions to either take him quitely and not let anyone know that we have him (though that would be very hard to do), keep him for a while, interrogate him then put a bullet through his head or alternatively to kill him on site and move on.
There is no way that the threat of terrorism will ever completely disappear. Look at the Israeli example. That country, above all others, probably has the best vigilance and procedures in place to defend itself against terrorist act, yet individual homicide bombers regularly commit acts of terrorism. If Israel, with its much more restrictive society and restrictions on civil liberties can't stop terrorism NOBODY WILL.
The best anyone can hope for is to disrupt the command, communication and control (c3) apperatus that allows these groups to conduct coordinated or large scale attacks. While clearly, the US is in a mess in Iraq, who would have guess on Sept 12, 2001 that there would not be further large scale terrorist attacks against the US in the following three years?
The best defense is a strong offense. We've put terrorist C3
on the run aroudn the world. Everything we can do to keep them on the run is a victory in our battle against them. But we need to be mentally prepared for the day that a small group conducts another act of terrorism on US soil because it will occur.
Likewise, European leaders need to be mindful that cutting a deal with the devil only reinforces their notion that terrorism can bring them victory. To accept short-term peace at the expense of allowing these groups to re-establish their centralize C3
functionality is short-sighted and will create much bigger problems for everyone in the long-run.