I think there will be repercussions from the hit, and most of them will turn out to be good in terms of the War on Terror.
1) The world must now realize that the domestic antiwar movement is dead, kaput; it cares not a whit whether we assassinate bin Laden or a son of Qaddafi or go into Libya. Everything is on the table now and there are no self-restraints, no snickers on The Daily Show, no quirky insider winks on Letterman, no Barbara Streisand crazy faxes. A Nobel peace laureate is now the Left’s totem and he can send quite deadly Americans on quite deadly missions as he sees fit — and without worry about a New York Times op-ed barrage or an ACLU lawsuit. That gives the U.S. newfound advantages, a veritable blank check, from keeping Guantanamo open indefinitely to using a Cheney “assassination” team and valuable water-boarded intelligence wherever it wishes to. A Harold Koh is not going to be filing any more lawsuits against his government — he is the government.
2) For all the talk of “leading from behind” and the quagmire in Libya, the truth is that the U.S. military remains preeminent and transcends the administration in power at any given time. It won the Iraq war, and could easily, if unleashed, take out Qaddafi. The odds are still that it can stabilize Afghanistan. It is hard to imagine another country pulling off an operation of the sort that killed bin Laden. A “post-America” is simply a choice not to utilize its resources and power in a way it most certainly could with dispatch and success — as we see, in contrast, from the agonizing efforts of the British and French in Libya, or Russian anti-terrorism incompetence.
3) There is much talk of a payback to come. But the triumphalism of unapologetically celebrating the death of bin Laden also conveys a newfound confidence, or perhaps even fatalism, a sort of Bring it on, let’s get it over with once and for all. I think we will see that ‘whatever’ attitude with Pakistan, whose yelps about violation of its airspace will soon give way to the reality that American public opinion considers it not an ally, not even a neutral, but a veritable enemy that has done more harm to this country than Cuba, North Korea, or Venezuela ever dreamed of. Should Obama wish to deal toughly with the Pakistanis, he has public support, and of course the option of much closer relations with India, in and outside of Afghanistan. The public wants the Pakistan two-step to end.
4) Radical Islam has been incrementally and steadily weakened over the last decade. It has not repeated a 9/11-like operation. There are Bush-era antiterrorism protocols in place, embraced or expanded by Obama, that make terrorism far harder. We have killed thousands of Islamists in Anbar Province and in Afghanistan. The Arab world is fragmented, in open revolt, and the Arab Street is incapable of voicing, as it once did, solidarity with bin Laden. Obama knows this better than anyone, so talks of ‘reset’ even as he keeps the Bush antiterrorism protocols unchanged. Whether the trigger for this wave of Middle Eastern unrest and rebellion was the removal of Saddam and the establishment of a democracy in Iraq, or a Soviet-like implosion of failed autocratic government throughout the Middle East, it matters little. At least for now, Middle East dictatorships in extremis are claiming as their one saving grace their antiterrorism and anti-al-Qaeda credentials, and, likewise, those in the streets seeking to destroy these Middle East authoritarians are claiming just about the same. Both groups are probably lying, but their rhetoric at least is predicated on the fact that bin Laden & Co. are now losers in a way they were praised as winners between 2001 and 2003.