May 1, 2011
A few minutes ago, President Obama made a brief television address announcing that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The President said he had received a report last Augusta that bin Laden may have been taking refuge in a mansion near the capital city of Islamabad. (His remarks will soon be posted at whitehouse.gov.) Last week, sufficient intelligence material had been gathered for him to order an assault on that compound, and bin Laden was killed by American bullets, though the details are still sketchy. We do know that bin Laden's body was taken into U.S custody and that tests have confirmed the identity. See CNN.com for more.
Even though bin Laden had become marginalized as a strategic player in the ongoing conflict between the United States and the radical Islamic movement, his death still carries enormous significance, operationally as well as psychologically. There will be questions about how al Qaeda will be organized and coordinated in the future, and splintering of this already-decentralized group is almost certain. But above all, this action demonstrates that unflagging American determination to carry out its stated objectives, refusing to give up after repeated frustrations. It constitutes the biggest strategic victory for the United States since the pacification of Iraq during the surge of 2007-2008. President Obama deserves congratulations for persevering in getting U.S. intelligence and security agencies to track down and kill that phony religious mass murderer from Saudi Arabia.
On the down side, there is a clear risk that al Qaeda will launch some kind of retaliatory attack against the United States or against U.S. interests overseas. Pakistan will almost certainly object to the way U.S. forces conducted the attack without any role for Pakistan's own forces, and possibly without any advance warning. Diplomats will be under heavy pressure as radical Islamic forces attempt to rally Pakistanis in protesting this action. Our policy should be clear: Anyone who knew of Obama's whereabouts or in any way abetted in preventing our intelligence operatives from locating bin Laden should be considered an enemy combatant subject to being apprehended or killed by U.S. forces. I hope Obama is willing to go that far. It is interesting to note that when Obama was running for president in 2007, he declared that if elected, he would be prepared to undertake unilateral military action inside Pakistan if that government failed to cooperate in the hunt for bin Laden. I had my doubts at the time about the wisdom of such a move, but the announcement today may vindicate Obama's rather bold declaration.
It was fitting that President Obama took the occasion to remind Americans of the terrible human toll that we suffered nine years seven months and 20 days ago, and of the way that Americans stood united on that tragic day. President Bush enjoyed a huge wave of popular support for the way he led the country during the troubling days that followed 9/11. It would be likewise appropriate if President Obama would urge people on both sides of the political aisle to set aside their differences and face up to the clear and present danger to our economic system stemming from the impasse over the federal budget. Unless the debt ceiling is increased, default looms as a very real prospect in the next couple months, so there is simply no alternative to compromise on fiscal policy.