The killing of Osama bin Laden marks a great day for America, for the world, and for the hope of justice. As many others have commented, the successful operation ordered by President Obama and carried out by the CIA and Special Forces operators culminated years of effort across multiple domains of intelligence, law enforcement, diplomacy, and the military. Many streams converged to make this happen -- from the counter-terrorism policies and institutions established after the 9/11 attacks, to the first intelligence collected from Guantanamo detainees four years ago about the identity of bin Laden's courier, to the identification of bin Laden's compound last August, to the NSC's careful deliberations and President Obama's decision to eschew bombing the compound in favor of an assault that would bring the tremendous benefit of securing bin Laden's body, to the operation itself. This is a moment in which the White House can take pride, as can all of those dedicated American officials who devoted substantial portions of their lives to the hunt for bin Laden over the past decade. All of them deserve our fervent gratitude. A few additional thoughts:
- It is telling that bin Laden had been hiding for the past few years in a luxury compound with an abundance of amenities. Part of his carefully crafted self-image and ideological appeal to would-be jihadists came from his purported ascetic self-denial and eschewal of the trappings of wealth on behalf of his perverse cause. Now we learn that instead of living in a cave for the past few years, he's been living in a mansion in Pakistan's version of the Hamptons. The Obama Administration should exploit this fact in its ongoing "war of ideas" efforts to delegitimize jihadism.
- Reactions around the world are revealing and provide moments of moral clarity. The vast majority of nations join us in celebrating bin Laden's death. Not so with Hamas or the Iranian government. And the statements from Muslim Brotherhood leaders to the effect of "we're glad he's gone but the United States should leave Muslim lands" are disturbing in their moral equivalency.
- As many have pointed out, this is a serious blow to the global jihadist movement, but the war is not yet over. Hard work and difficult decisions lie ahead, as the US assesses what if anything this might mean for our posture, strategic goals, challenges, and opportunities, in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. An immediate question will be who, if anyone, attempts to take bin Laden's place as the symbolic head of the jihadist movement, whether Ayman Al Zawahiri, Anwar al Awlaki, or someone else. Whoever it may be, he should be on notice about the strength and endurance of American resolve against those who seek to do us harm.