May 3, 2011

Mission Accomplished.

Any American, and anyone who believes in civilization, should be relieved and even pleased that Osama Bin Laden no longer walks this Earth. CNN and other news media have so redundantly explained the obvious reasons, I have no interest in repeating them here. He was evil. The legitimate concern about revenge attacks following his death should be balanced by the reality that most Al Qaeda supporters were already out to get "us" even before Sunday evening. The only reasons they haven't attacked more are a lack of capability or the success of anti-terrorism policies and practices worldwide.

The fact that Bin Laden had been living for years without phone or internet service, relying upon couriers who evidently conveyed only verbal commands based on personal visits to the compound, all confirms that he was not in operational command for some time. He had never really been the operational commander of Al Qaeda anyway, but the point is: Al Qaeda's tactical capabilities have not been significantly impacted, other than the disruptive value of documents and data acquired during the raid.

More than the direct relevance of Osama Bin Laden was the sidelining of the whole Al Qaeda ethos during the "Arab Spring". Despite murmurs of openings for Al Qaeda in Libya and Yemen, none of the uprisings or popular movements sweeping the Middle East has demonstrated any effective allegiance to Al Qaeda or Bin Laden, nor any functional collaboration. Al Qaeda has tried to catch up to history, but it's been a tough year. The Yemen-based cells remain a potent threat, but that has little or nothing to do with the public resistance to President Saleh.

Even the posthumous tears for Osama being shed by Hamas (and that's no revolution) are really tears of relief, for Osama and Al Qaeda would have gladly destroyed Hamas had they the opportunity. No one needed Osama out of the way more than Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Despite the nasty image Hamas tries to project, it is supported by Shiite Iran, which Osama saw as just another infidel state, and now Hamas wants to have its own state as well rather than a pan-Arab caliphate or just all-out mayhem. Make no mistake (as Presidents love to say), Hamas is happy to launch missiles and blow up city buses, but it has a tremendous investment in its own status quo. It is also trying to play up its own notoriety even as it makes peace with the secular devil, Fatah.

The lasting legacy of Bin Laden will be the attacks he inspired and in some case cases directed, and the decentralized, nearly spontaneous and uncoordinated network of individual actors and would-be cells around the world.

Sooner is always better, of course, when dispatching evil incarnate from this world. However, the timing of Osama's demise dovetails with the incomplete but fundamental transformation in the region. The assumptions and restraints of the Arab status quo are breaking down, and perhaps Osama had an indirect influence by drawing the United States into a multi-state intervention across the Muslim heartland. That slap in the face exposed many of the leaders, both the pro-Western dictators like Mubarak and the anti-Western dictators like Assad and Qaddafi, for a variety of reasons (again, I'll defer to CNN for that laundry list).

For Americans, getting Osama has been important, even though getting Saddam Hussein took precedence for a while. It helps that the operation was a dramatic display of U.S. military and intelligence at its best. It also knocked a big dent in the argument that Democrats are weak on military issues (as if George W. Bush really earned that flght jacket aboard the U.S.S. Mission Accomplished) and a few Republican contenders must be having serious second thoughts about challenging Barack Obama in 2012. And if this hastens our withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan, it can't come too soon.

The world is safer without Osama Bin Laden. Al Qaeda has mutated into a more resilient threat, but the plan it offers was premised on replacing a Muslim and Arab status quo that is disappearing on its own. Terrorism will continue, but its purveyors will have to find a new celebrity to endorse the product. And the prospect of roughing it out in a posh palace in Pakistan may not attract the same calibre of revolutionary. Killing him will not end Al Qaeda or other terrorist movements, but it was definitely a big deal. Symbols matter, as Bin Laden proved on September 11 and as President Obama and the world's finest have reminded us this week.

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