The man whose face was a staple of our morning papers and evening news for days and weeks after the September 11 attacks is dead. Osama bin Laden was killed in a firefight with Americans — soldiers or intelligence officers; details are still sketchy — outside the capital of Pakistan, President Barack Obama announced late Sunday night.
Two details in that last sentence are particularly important:
Obama cautioned, wisely, that bin Laden’s death does not mark the end of al Qaeda. This is not Adolf Hitler committing suicide; al Qaeda, while weakened substantially in many respects over the past nine and a half years, has taken the opportunity to spread out and multiply. It has become decentralized and thus is more protected from decapitation. I think it’s highly likely that we’ll see the remaining AQ divisions try to make a terrorist splash in the coming days and weeks to show us they’re not out of business.
That said, bin Laden’s death has huge symbolic and psychological value — for Americans and other westerners, of course, but in the Muslim world as well, let’s hope. With the so-called Arab Spring under way across North Africa and the Middle East, the death of Islamic terrorism’s most famous face and proponent may be a fortuitous moment. As I said, let’s hope so anyway.
Obama also invoked Sunday night the spirit of unity that prevailed, too briefly, after 9/11. His remarks were appropriately geared at unity, and it was reported that he took the time before addressing the nation to personally inform former President George W. Bush of bin Laden’s death — presumably because he knew the high value Bush had put on bringing bin Laden to justice. Remember: bin Laden had been a wanted man since at least the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 2000 bombing on the USS Cole.
Whatever comes next, our soldiers, intelligence officers and President Obama deserve our thanks for seeing to the conclusion of this specific chapter of American history.
– By Kyle Wingfield