Osama bin Laden, who aspired to found a caliphate on the rubble of New York City and Washington, instead spent a decade running from pillar to post before he was finally shot in the head, alongside one of his sons, in a walled compound in northern Pakistan. The weak horse stumbled and has been taken to the bone yard. Ten years is not too long to wait for such a fitting end.
Congratulations to the American special forces who executed the bold and sophisticated raid (a blend of overhead surveillance and one-on-one precision shooting). Congratulations to the intelligence agents who extracted key information from turncoats, analyzed and developed those leads, and scoped out the situation beforehand. Congratulations to President Obama for making the mission a priority and for seeing it through. And congratulations to former President Bush for vowing that Osama would be taken, dead or alive.
Perhaps the only oddity of the operation was burying the dead monster at sea. But the decision to sink bin Laden, lest his burial site become a rallying point, has precedent in the long, post–Civil War sequestration of John Wilkes Booth’s corpse.
Booth’s evil, great though it was, was not a patch on bin Laden’s. Bin Laden was a common type throughout the modern world, not just its Muslim quadrant: the obscurely aggrieved rich kid turned zealot. He murdered thousands, including coreligionists, without remorse. He spoke of God and martyrdom, but what he really pursued was a fusion of the totalitarian temptation with romanticized bits of Dark Ages bric-a-brac.
The war on al-Qaeda and its imitators is by no means over. Terrorists will strike back in order to recoup their damaged prestige. Our relations with Pakistan must be reassessed in view of the seeming culpability of elements of its intelligence and military. One hopes Obama will reassess his campaign assaults on the very interrogation techniques that helped yield this coup. The temptation to wash our hands of failed states and the pathological cultures that underlie them will have even more appeal to both Left and Right, and the strains on our economy make it seem like good business sense. But the fight against al-Qaeda is not over, and it is far from our only enemy. September 11 thrust the United States into a generation-long conflict: It is our Thirty Years’, perhaps our Hundred Years’ War.
Bin Laden’s death is a welcome antidote to self-hatred and funk. America remembers its own and defends itself. She goes not abroad, as John Quincy Adams once said, in search of monsters to destroy. But when they come in search of us, we will destroy them — one by one by one.