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Washington – With the death of Osama bin Laden the administration met a long-standing goal of eliminating the head of the al-Qaida network, now the challenge will be to taking the best diplomatic advantage of that accomplishment, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a group of editorial writers on Monday.
“Obviously the goal here is not just to accomplish this very important mission, but to shape its meaning in a way that will convince people he was a murderer, not a martyr,” said Clinton during her 16-minute meeting with editorial writers' group.
The National Conference of Editorial Writers annually arranges a day-long briefing at the State Department in which diplomats representing various U.S. foreign interests address and take questions from journalists who help shape national opinion.
This year's meeting happened to come one day after President Obama's announcement that American special forces had killed bin Laden in Pakistan and taken his body. Clinton, not scheduled to speak at this year's event, made a surprise appearance, interrupting another presentation.
The uprisings against totalitarian regimes in the Arab world show a yearning for democratic ideals and demonstrate that many young Muslims had already rejected bin Laden's message of strict loyalty to an intolerant and brutal form of Muslim faith, Clinton said. This message was later amplified by a later speaker.
'His nihilism was based on the notion that there was no alternative but extreme violence,” said Michael H. Posner, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. But the largely non-violent “Arab spring,” with millions taking to the streets to demand change is showing a different path, said Posner.
Clinton, however, said no one can say for certain how events will unfold in the wake of bin Laden's death.
“Which way it breaks is not clear yet,” said Clinton. “Managing these reactions will be part of our challenge.”
Confusion within al-Qaida over a successor to bin Laden to head the “syndicate of terror” is a “situation that can be used to our advantage,” Clinton said.
His death also may provide an opening to get the Taliban to the negotiation table in Afghanistan, the secretary indicated. She noted that the Taliban leadership, before the invasion of Afghanistan by the U.S. and allied forces following 9-11, made a choice to stick by al-Qaida. Bin Laden's death, she said, opens up opportunities for the Taliban to reconsider, disavow any loyalty to al-Qaida, and seek an end to the Afghan conflict.
“We rise to the challenge ... we get the job done,” is the message the Taliban should take from the successful pursuit of bin Laden, Clinton said.
The secretary said it would be a mistake for Congress to continue to push for cuts in funding for foreign policy. It consists of about 1 percent of the budget, yet diplomacy and foreign aid is often targeted for spending reductions, she said. Disengaging now for relatively minor savings would be a serious mistake, said the secretary.
The former presidential candidate declined to answer when asked how the killing of bin Laden might alter the domestic political scene.
“I'm out of American politics,” she told the opinion writers.