A lot of ink will be spilled announcing and analyzing the death of al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden. According to the Newseum, this story has graced 719 newspaper front pages as of Monday morning with more likely tomorrow. The islamofascists with whom we have been contending since the streets of Mogadishu have predictably threatening a to “unleash hell” if bin Laden is killed. Our partner in the Middle East Peace Process, Hamas, has condemned the killing as “a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood.”
A lot of us are satisfied that justice has finally been brought to the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Presumably Code Pink will hold a ‘take back the night march’ some place to mourn his passing. And a handful of men from SEAL Team 6 will drink for free for the rest of their lives whenever special operators gather.
What does the killing of bin Laden mean? In the main, probably not very much to al Qaeda but perhaps a turning point in our war on terrorism.
As an operational commander for al Qaeda, bin Laden ceased to matter by early 2002. His cosmic misapprehension of American actions in the aftermath of 9/11 caused him to devote virtually 100% of his time to staying alive. This isn’t to say that he didn’t have value to al Qaeda, he did. By being alive he served as a potent symbol for fundraising and recruiting. While his death would have seen al Qaeda split into warring factions, by remaining alive he ensured some continuity of command through commanders he had appointed prior to being driven from Afghanistan.
To a great extent, his continued survival paradoxically enabled President Bush to wage a global war against jihadism. Had he actually been killed or captured in Afghanistan the pressure upon the Bush Administration to declare a triumphal end to a war only half begun would have been overwhelming. Though his continued presence politically damaged President Bush, arguably it damaged al Qaeda more by keeping the organization and its leader in the spotlight. The search for bin Laden has sent most of al Qaeda’s skilled troop commanders to hell, Guantanamo, or to scream out their secrets in obscure prisons in obscure countries. Strategic direction over the entire network has not been possible since the fall of Afghanistan.
His death will have little impact on an organization frozen in amber. Ayman al-Zawahiri will assume direct control without pause, having had nearly a decade to plan for this eventuality, and he will remain in hiding until more helicopters visit him in the dead of the night… or until he returns to Egypt under the protection of the Muslim Brotherhood whom feted during this bogus Arab Spring.
I’ve no wish to be churlish at this moment and I will give a hat tip to the president over having the resolve to actually take action when presented with the opportunity. We arrived at 9/11 because President Clinton refused to do as much. Even so, one can’t help but notice that Obama’s statement on the death of bin Laden completely ignores the debt owed to the Bush Administration while at the same time taking a couple of oblique swipes. However, the wildcard in this are the actions the administration will take now that bin Laden is dead.
It is pretty well established that the current president doesn’t have the stomach for the successful war he inherited in Iraq and the unsuccessful war he has managed to create in Afghanistan. The death of bin Laden is more likely to give impetus to Obama’s ambivalence about the concept of “victory” and his deep-seated hostility to the success of American military power and thereby give him the political cover he feels he needs to speed up troop withdrawals from those countries.
I don’t share the views of either Erick or Ben Domenech that Obama has actually adopted the national security policies of President Bush rather than having been forced through a lack of moral courage into an unwilling embrace. To the contrary, I fear the death of bin Laden will give Obama the impetus to do what he has long wanted but lacked the guts to do: wind down the war against al Qaeda, close Guantanamo, and release most of the prisoners we hold a Guantanamo under the guise of “releasing prisoners of war.”
If the killing of bin Laden results in the administration declaring our job is done then bin Laden will have done more for al Qaeda in death than he ever accomplished in life.