Politics & Policy

Bin Laden, No More

America’s most wanted meets his Maker. What’s the significance of his death?


I don’t think there is a veteran who ever held a rifle in harm’s way that isn’t envious of the hero who got to see Osama bin Laden’s face as he confronted American vengeance. I imagine bin Laden hearing the English of infidels before he smelled the cordite from their ammunition. He must have seen the strobes of gunfire in the dark. The tinny pops and whines of rounds echoing throughout his building. Sand-speckled boots shuffling toward his door.

We all pacified evil collectively through the MP5s of a few Navy SEALs we will never meet or know.

This morning I exchanged e-mails with friends in Helmand Province. They moved out on mission today as on any other day. Dusty. Tired. Full of resolve, but weary of the new Taliban offensive under way.

Nothing that happened overnight seems to have fazed them. Nothing that lies in wait will faze these warriors either. I pray that they had the chance to see the footage of college students forgoing studying for their finals to join random citizens in clogging the streets of American cities. They chanted “U.S.A.”; they waved flags.

Spontaneous eruptions of patriotism transformed New York City subway passengers into a choir of patriots singing our national anthem. This support has been noticeably absent for the last nine years.

It has been long needed.

We must make sure that this fire of support is not suppressed by apathy, as it was after 9/11. In Osama bin Laden, we have killed a mascot — an icon of terror, but a coward who died as he lived, hiding behind innocent noncombatants.

This war is not over, but I pray that bin Laden’s death has made Americans feel good about fighting it again. May this feeling of victory over evil propel us to continue to destroy the many threats we have yet to face and never forget the valor of those who pull the triggers in our name.

 — David Bellavia is a former army staff sergeant who served in Iraq. He is the author of House to House: A Soldier’s Memoir.

James Jay Carafano

Yes, al-Qaeda surely will seek some sort of revenge for Osama bin Laden’s death. That said, reports that New York City is now beefing up security to prevent a retaliatory attack don’t make much sense. It’s better to err on the side of caution, I suppose, but al-Qaeda has been trying to strike the Big Apple again for a long time without success. Clearly, it’s a well-protected target. And even if the group’s leaders started now, it might be months or years before they will be in a position to launch a revenge attack. For the time being, New York should better husband its overtime.

— James Jay Carafano is director of the Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.

Mary Habeck

The death of bin Laden has important implications for the global jihadist coalition that he created and led. All the leaders of al-Qaeda’s branches (in Yemen, Somalia, North Africa, Iraq, and elsewhere), as well as the heads of smaller jihadist groups (e.g., in the Gaza Strip), have sworn a personal oath of loyalty to bin Laden as their amir (commander). This oath, known as “bay’a,” binds the one who pledges to hear and obey the amir until death. It is the main source of al-Qaeda’s authority to command and control extremist groups worldwide. With bin Laden’s death, every leader of these groups will have the opportunity to rethink his connection to al-Qaeda and decide whether to swear another oath to bin Laden’s successor, since bay’a, like a medieval oath of fealty, is given to a particular person and does not automatically shift to a new amir. The U.S. and the world now have a window of opportunity to reach out to these men and convince them not to blindly pledge their loyalty, fighters, and willingness for violence to the new chief of al-Qaeda.

 — Mary Habeck is an associate professor at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.

John Hannah

Bin Laden’s death at the hands of a small team of American ninjas deep in Pakistan sends the world — especially our enemies — a powerful and much-needed reminder of some essential American attributes: courage, audacity, resolve, competence, honor, patriotism, loyalty, lethality. ”Don’t Tread on Me.” That simple message, that re-affirmation, it seems to me, is the real significance of Sunday night’s attack — more than any immediate, direct operational impact it may or may not have on the War on Terror generally or the fight in Afghanistan specifically. As Victor Davis Hanson has noted, the fact that bin Laden met his Maker on the receiving end of a Navy SEAL’s gun fired at close range, rather than a Hellfire missile launched from a bloodless unmanned Predator, is extremely significant. Not to put too fine a point on it, but in an Arab/Middle Eastern culture where this sort of thing still really matters, the U.S. assault screams out “massive cojones,” and plays hugely in our favor in terms of the strong-vs.-weak-horse narrative that has dominated jihadist discourse vis-à-vis the United States.

This is no doubt a blow to al-Qaeda. Yes, the organization has dramatically morphed and disaggregated since 2001. Bin Laden’s day-to-day role was minimal, if non-existent. But as the movement’s great charismatic leader, to whom all members swore personal allegiance, OBL’s symbolic significance was tremendous. Again, in the all-important psychological battle, the test of wills, the war of ideas, bin Laden’s ignoble demise — in hiding for years, constantly on the run, unable to operate, literally walled off from the outside world — is a major blow, especially for the millions of disaffected youth across the ummah contemplating whether to sign on with the global jihad. Attacking America apparently ends not in victory and the romance of martyrdom, but in an unceremonious dumping at sea with the U.S. military officiating. Coming on top of the great Middle Eastern revolts of 2011, in which al-Qaeda’s meme has been mostly irrelevant, if not outright rejected by the youth on the streets, bin Laden’s death is very bad news indeed for the future of worldwide takfirism.

As others have remarked, the Pakistani angle to these events could be deeply troubling. More needs to be learned before final judgment is rendered. Exactly how egregious an example was this of the duplicity of the Pakistani ISI? What role did the Pakistani military and security services play in the overall operation? How extensive was their support? Will the incident prove to be the final nail in the coffin of what remains of the tattered U.S.-Pakistani strategic partnership? Or will it provide the basis for some new beginning of enhanced trust and cooperation?

Thank God for the men and women of the American military. Kudos to U.S. intelligence. Deep appreciation to President Bush for his leadership and courage in launching the War on Terror, including some of its most controversial aspects. And great credit to President Obama in his finest hour as our commander-in-chief. The ghosts of the failed Iran hostage rescue and of Black Hawk Down could not but have weighed heavily on him at that fateful, extremely lonely moment of decision when he green-lighted the daring helicopter assault. He well deserves our praise and our deep thanks. 

 — John Hannah, who was national-security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Frederick Kagan

The killing of Osama bin Laden is an important achievement. He was the founder of the al-Qaeda brand and the symbol of its continued potency in the face of America’s determined efforts to kill him. It does not, however, mark the end of the struggle against al-Qaeda itself, let alone the larger struggle against Islamism. The al-Qaeda cancer metastasized long ago throughout Pakistan, on the Arabian peninsula, and into Muslim Africa. Experts who study the organization have long described its decentralized nature and resilience. Previous successful attacks on al-Qaeda leaders have demonstrated that resilience repeatedly. One such success should give us special pause. U.S. forces found and killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, in June 2006. Many celebrated that moment as a potential turning point, and so it proved to be — but not in the way we had hoped. Abu Ayyub al-Masri replaced Zarqawi almost instantly and launched an even more skillful, ruthless, and devastating campaign of car bombing in Baghdad, which stoked the flames of sectarian conflict far beyond anything Zarqawi had been able to achieve.

Interestingly, al-Qaeda in Iraq is no longer capable of such attacks and has been increasingly marginalized as a threat to the Iraqi government and people and, even more so, to Americans. But we did not achieve that by catching al-Masri. Instead, together with our Iraqi partners, we eliminated the conditions that had allowed al-Qaeda in Iraq to flourish while continuing to attack the organization itself relentlessly.

The current moment of celebration is thus also a moment of great danger. Not only will all al-Qaeda groups — and al-Qaeda wannabes — seek revenge for bin Laden’s death, but the U.S. and its partners around the world can delude themselves that the war is over. They can believe that we can stop fighting now; that we can pull out of Afghanistan, Iraq, and, indeed, the entire region.

But the war will not be over, because the remaining al-Qaeda leaders and their various franchisees around the world continue to seek our destruction and continue to have the means to do so. It would be pleasant indeed if we could end this conflict with one bullet, but, alas, that is not the case. This is a moment for sober celebration and even more sober reflection. Above all, it is a moment to rededicate ourselves to completing the process of defeating a horrific enemy.

 — Frederick W. Kagan is director of the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project.

Giulio Meotti

The path of jihad began in a cave on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, but it wasn’t buried in the bunker where Osama bin Laden was just killed. It was a happy day for the War on Terror, but jihad will continue to strike Jews, Christians, and Western “apostates.” Two-thirds of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership has already been “incapacitated.” Jihad isn’t based on “Führerprinzip,” the German belief that everything depends on one man. Instead, jihad is like a Hydra with seven heads: Cut one head off and two others will take its place.

A couple of days ago, a bombing destroyed a café in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, killing eleven foreigners. In Israel in just one month, an entire Jewish family was butchered in Itamar, a bus was bombed in Jerusalem, a schoolboy was killed near Gaza, and religious Jews were killed at a Biblical tomb. Bin Laden didn’t order those killings.

The killing of Ahmed Yassin, called “the Palestinian bin Laden,” didn’t halt Hamas’s genocidal agenda. The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi didn’t stop the daily carnage in Iraq; the surge stopped it. The killing of Imad Mughniyeh, labeled “the Shia bin Laden,” didn’t change Hezbollah’s homicidal plans.

The death machine we confronted in the World Trade Center atrocities and ever since in Afghanistan and Iraq was set in motion by two events a couple of years apart in Iran and Egypt: the Khomeinist Revolution in 1979 (the first suicide bomber was a Shia terrorist in Lebanon in 1982) and the killing of President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981. Iran is now building a nuclear bomb; it just sent two warships through the Suez Canal for the first time in 30 years, and Tehran has just reestablished diplomatic relations with Egypt. Instead of congratulating one another around a corpse, the White House, the European chancelleries, and the West-bashing media should focus on the tragic return to 1979. 

— Giulio Meotti is the author of A New Shoah.

Daniel Pipes

Bin Laden was just a part of al-Qaeda, which is just a part of the Islamic terrorist effort, which is just a part of the Islamist movement, so the announcement of his death last night by the U.S. government makes little operational difference. The War on Terror has not fundamentally changed, much less been won.

But because bin Laden symbolized Islamic terror, his taunting presence via video and audio recordings for nearly ten years after 9/11 energized his allies and frustrated his enemies. Conversely, his execution by U.S. forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, gives Americans pride in their country, encourages our security and intelligence organizations, and is a body blow to Islamists.

What to watch for ahead:

(1) On the American side, will the sudden unanimity and pride last for more than a few days? Or will the Left’s usual reluctance snap right back?

(2) Concerning the Islamists, how severe will the reaction be to the Zardari government’s acquiescing to American forces killing bin Laden on Pakistani soil? And how much will Americans and American interests abroad and at home be subject to terrorist attacks in response to the execution of the jihad’s symbolic leader?

— Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

James S. Robbins

Taking out Osama bin Laden will not guarantee Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012. In fact it would be surprising if President Obama received any long-term political benefit from this outstanding good news.

President Obama may enjoy a momentary bump in public approval based on the general wave of good feeling now that recent history’s greatest criminal is dead. But reality will set back in hard — and soon. President Obama’s crushing national debt has not vanished. Despite a momentary contraction in crude-oil prices, gasoline and food prices will continue to soar. All the critical domestic problems that President Obama faced before the Navy SEALs showed up in Abbottabad are still there. And these are the issues that determine how people vote.

Bin Laden’s death will paradoxically put President Obama in a national-security quandary, because it will be harder to continue to make the case for “overseas contingency operations” now that the number-one contingency is gone. The “war of necessity” in Afghanistan will seem a lot less necessary, whether it is or not. The struggle with terrorists will continue, as will TSA groping and the other indignities Americans put up with in the post-9/11 world; but with bin Laden dead the White House will be put in a position of continually having to explain why the war — which it refuses to call a war — is not over.

Bin Laden’s demise will be a rousing applause point for Obama supporters in the 2012 campaign, but the election is a long way off. President Obama went into this week with an approval slump that more accurately reflects his reelection prospects. Parading bin Laden’s head on a pike, metaphorically speaking, will not change any of that.

 — James S. Robbins is senior editorial writer for foreign affairs at the Washington Times and author of This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive.

Michael Rubin

Bin Laden is dead. Now, let’s stop engaging terrorists and start killing them. Enough with the handwringing about whether we should be targeting Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi: He ordered the death of Americans and, for that, he deserves to die. It is a permanent stain on the United States both that PLO chairman Yasir Arafat died a natural death and that, rather than strike out at Gen. Qasim Sulaimani — who, as head of the Iranian Qods Force, directed the murder of Americans in Iraq — first President Bush and then President Obama sought to engage the Iranian regime. It is absolutely insane that while we are celebrating bin Laden’s demise, the Obama White House is simultaneously figuring out how it might skirt U.S. law to fund a Palestinian Authority that includes Hamas.

As I wrote in National Review five years ago, there is nothing illegal about assassinating terror masters — whether they are fugitives like bin Laden or heads of state like Qaddafi. It’s time that the United States stop acting like a befuddled has-been and start acting once again like a global leader. We must make terrorists understand that if they mess with us, they won’t get diplomatic legitimacy; rather, they will simply sign their own death sentences.

 — Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Nina Shea

Al-Qaeda now appears as the unattractive weak horse of bin Laden’s theory and will find it more difficult to attract recruits and funding. This is an essential battle won for the United States. However, it is not the end of the war. The glorification of jihad and the Islamist ideology stirring militancy against the “Zionists and Crusaders” live on to inspire other violent leaders and organizations.

The most prolific proponent of this ideology continues, of course, to be Saudi Arabia. Contrary to the assurances of educational reform it has given the U.S. government, the Saudi regime’s high-school religion textbooks — as I learned on a recent trip to Saudi Arabia — have not been substantially revised since 9/11. These texts are used in all Saudi high schools and exported worldwide to hundreds or thousands of Islamic schools and madrassas.

Below are a few samples excerpted from the 2010–11 Saudi national high-school textbooks, which have found their echo in bin Laden’s frequent rants over the past decade:

Jihad for the sake of God is a profitable trade and saves from painful punishment. It aims at spreading Islam and defending it and correcting the beliefs of people and directing them towards the worship of God Almighty. It also aims at preventing injustice and corruption and rooting out its origins from earth.

Jihad has three levels: . . . The third level: Jihad against the fighting enemies of Islam.

To empower the religion, protect it and raise the banner of Islam.

The Jews and the Christians are enemies of the believers, and they cannot approve of Muslims.

The struggle of this [Muslim] nation with the Jews and Christians has endured, and it will continue as long as God wills.

The Crusader Threat: The New Approach in the Crusader Wars: . . . The Establishment of Schools and Universities: They have founded many schools and universities in the countries of the Islamic world for the various educational levels. These include: The American Universities in Beirut and Cairo, The Jesuit University, Robert College in Istanbul, and Gordon College in Khartoum.

Nowadays, as have gathered [against] the Arab and Islamic nation the powers of evil, atheism, and tyranny targeting the Islamic creed, the whole nation lives in a Jihad against international Zionism manifested by the state of Jewish gangs called Israel established on the land of Palestine wrongfully and in transgression.

Our main challenge is an ideological one, and we don’t stand a chance if Saudi Arabia does not reform these textbooks.

 — Nina Shea is director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

Charlie Szrom

The death of Osama bin Laden is a major symbolic victory for the U.S. in the War on Terror. Yet it is important to distinguish between symbolic and material victory. In Iraq, roughly four years passed between the symbolic victory of the capture of Saddam Hussein and the material victory of the defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq by the surge strategy. The death of bin Laden will depress morale among al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the short term. But the next generation of al-Qaeda leaders will seize the opportunity to fill the power vacuum. They will compete by plotting headline-grabbing terror attacks. The U.S. can limit damage from this jockeying by reducing al-Qaeda’s core strength, an asset that is more important than its leader’s life: its territory. Al-Qaeda affiliates and franchises have solidified control in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and West Africa, from where they have plotted and conducted attacks against the West in the last two years. Without such operating environments, al-Qaeda will shrivel. If we give the reduction of al-Qaeda territory priority over cordial relations with fair-weather allies and carry out a comprehensive strategy, we can achieve material victory in the War on Terror.

 — Charlie Szrom is an associate at DC International Advisory.

Marc Thiessen

This morning, when I went out to get coffee and a paper after a late night celebrating the demise of Osama bin Laden, the lady behind the counter pointed to the front-page picture of the late al-Qaeda leader and said: “I guess the war is finally over.” Millions of Americans are saying the same thing today. On Fox News, a Marine at Camp Pendleton said he was relieved at bin Laden’s death because “we’re all ready for this war to be over.” And on CNN last night, Peter Bergen declared: “Killing bin Laden is the end of the War on Terror. We can just sort of announce that right now.”

No, we can’t. The temptation to see this as the culmination of a long struggle is understandable. It has been nearly ten years since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The War on Terror is the longest military struggle in our nation’s history, and one that is unlike any our nation faced before. In the past, America’s wars ended with a dramatic event — a surrender ceremony on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri, or Allied armies marching into Berlin. For many, bin Laden’s death feels like that kind of event. It is not. Ayman Zawahiri will not respond to the killing of Osama bin Laden by packing it in and returning to his medical practice.

Nor will Adnan Shukrijumah — an American citizen who currently holds KSM’s former position as al-Qaeda’s operational commander — give up jihad and retire. Nor will Anwar al-Awlaki or the other leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — who have twice nearly succeeded in blowing up planes over the United States — give up the fight and go quietly into the night. These terrorists will do everything in their power to avenge the death of their fallen leader. And they are convinced that the best way they can do so is by repeating the destruction he wreaked on America. They will seek to mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in spectacular fashion. We had better be ready.

Vice President Cheney put it well this morning, when he declared: “Though bin Laden is dead, the war goes on. We must remain vigilant, especially now, and we must continue to support our men and women in uniform who are fighting on the front lines of this war every day.”

So let us revel in a great military victory today. But those celebrating in Times Square and other parts of America today should remember that this is not V-J Day. As we dance in the streets, our enemies are regrouping and planning the next attack. Which means that tomorrow we need to get back to work and stop them.

— Marc Thiessen is the author of Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack.

John Yoo

The majority of the credit for the operation that killed Osama bin Laden goes to the Obama administration. But it is also a vindication of the Bush administration’s terrorism policies and shows that success comes from continuing those policies, not rejecting them (as Obama has tried to do for the last two years). According to anonymous government sources quoted in the press today, it was the interrogation of al-Qaeda leaders that led to the identification of the courier, who led us to bin Laden’s hiding place. Reports suggest that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed himself may have given up the identity of the courier.

Imagine what would have happened if the Obama administration had been running things back in 2002–2008. It would have given Miranda warnings and lawyers to KSM and other al-Qaeda leaders. There would have been no Gitmo, no military commissions — instead civilian trials on U.S. soil with all of the Bill of Rights benefits for terrorist defendants. There would have been no enhanced-interrogation program, no terrorist-surveillance program, and hence no intelligence mosaic that could have given us the information that produced this success. In the War on Terror, it is comparatively easy to pull the trigger — the truly hard task is to figure out where to aim. President Obama can take credit, rightfully, for the success today, but he owes it to the tough decisions taken by the Bush administration.

— John Yoo is a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush.

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