By John T. Bennett - 05/16/11 11:57 PM EDT
A former aide to President Obama said the killing of Osama bin Laden will be judged as “the defining moment” in America’s post-9/11 war on terror.
Retired Gen. James Jones, who served as Obama’s national security adviser until late 2010, added that the chances of another “grandiose” attack by al Qaeda have been greatly diminished by bin Laden’s death.
U.S. and European officials believe they were able to thwart that attack, Jones said, and took actions that helped them take out other terrorism suspects along the way.
Jones did not offer many clues about where the relationship between Washington and Islamabad might be headed. He said it’s still unclear what Pakistan might have known about bin Laden’s whereabouts.
Relations between the United States and Pakistan have been put to the test since U.S. forces found and killed bin Laden on May 1 in Abbottabad.
The Obama administration has lightly criticized Pakistani officials, but has hesitated to take a hard line and anger a key ally in the Afghanistan war. Members of Congress are calling for a new approach, and some want tougher conditions attached to the aid that Washington sends to Pakistan each year.
Pakistani officials have slammed the Obama administration for the raid on their soil, but they have not blocked U.S. unmanned drone strikes in their country. They have also allowed U.S. intelligence officials access to bin Laden’s wives, who were left behind at the Abbottabad compound.
Jones noted, as Obama and other senior administration officials have, that Pakistani officials have assisted U.S. forces in the Afghanistan conflict.
He urged Pakistani officials to “get beyond what happened 20 years ago” and take steps to improve the often shaky partnership. Washington has offered an expanded alliance with incentives like increased economic development in return for Islamabad discounting the use of terrorist tactics and taking more aggressive actions against terrorist “safe havens” on their soil.
“The truth is,” Jones said, that Pakistani officials’ reluctance to use the country’s military to go after al Qaeda and Taliban elements operating inside Pakistan “has prolonged” the Afghanistan conflict.
And that causes the U.S. and its remaining allies to spend funds there that they cannot afford to waste during difficult economic times, said Jones, a retired four-star Marine Corps general.
His comments came a day after Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, spoke in ominous tones about U.S.-Pakistan relations.
“We need to find a way to march forward if it is possible,” Kerry said Sunday in Islamabad, according to The New York Times. “If it is not possible, there are a set of downside consequences that can be profound.”
Kerry reportedly hand-delivered a list of U.S. “demands” that the administration has for Pakistani officials related to the disclosure that bin Laden had been hiding for up to five years in Abbottabad.
In the meantime, Jones called the government reforms sweeping Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and other Middle Eastern and North African nations “the most important historical development since the end of the Cold War.”
Saying the “Arab Spring” uprising has been fueled by young people with little hope for a fruitful life due to repressive leaders, he credited technology with allowing citizens to join calls for change in their governments.
This story was posted at 4:50 p.m. and updated at 7:57 p.m.