The Republic of T.

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Osama Bin Laden: “We got him.” For Real This Time.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last 24 hours, you’ve probably heard that Osama Bin Laden is dead.

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And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.

Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

The world may well be a better place without it. It is certainly no worse off without him. But, this isn’t really the end of anything.

Anything, that is, except the life of one man, and the long search to find and bring him to justice; a search that took some odd detours.

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There are and will be many questions, and probably endless analysis on what Bin Laden’s death means:

  • Was he really hidden?: He wasn’t in a cave, after all, but a compound that was within jogging distance of Pakistan’s top military academy; leading to questions about how much Pakistani officials new of his presence in the country and how much they did or did not help in the operation that ultimately killed him.
  • Will Bin Laden’s death strengthen Obama?: Maybe, maybe not. Certainly, unlike his predecessor, he won’t be constantly asked about Bin Laden’s whereabouts or why he hasn’t been found. The timing of the event doesn’t lend itself to speculation about political motives. Obama’s approval numbers aren’t so low as that, and he’s a long way towards needing an “October Surprise.” That he’s accomplished, after just a couple of years in office, something that his predecessor didn’t in two terms is probably in his favor. But two years from now, if the economy hasn’t improved, any bump from this will have long expired.
  • Will Bin Laden’s death mean the end of Al Qaeda?: Probably not. It may weaken the organization further, by depriving it of a charismatic spiritual leader, but it doesn’t end the threat from Al Qaeda. For one thing, it’s likely another leader will rise to fill the void left by Bin Laden’s death. In any case, the organization actually what Bin Laden wanted it to become, a decentralized network of cells, each with its own strategy and funding.

I read the news of Osama’s death last night, after the rest of the family had gone to bed. I meant to tell my husband this morning, but forgot in the usual rush to get everyone out the door. While I was getting dressed, he heard the news on the car radio and called home to tell me. I didn’t hear the phone, so Parker took the message and deliver to me the news I already knew when I came back downstairs.

Parker, our oldest, was born a little over a year after the 9/11 attacks. He knew a little about them, but I had to explain to him who the man was that was killed, and why so many people wanted him captured “dead or alive.” It was enough to remind me that the world had changed, in a way that Greg Sargent captures well in describing how his childrens’ births coincided both with 9/11 and Bin Laden’s death.

Obviously Obama still faces immense challenges that aren’t changed by bin Laden’s death, and in some ways, Obama has not broken with his predecessor’s national security approach. But the larger journey is still something to marvel at. The Sept. 11 attacks fundamentally transformed American politics. In the weeks, months and early years after Sept. 11, when fears of terrorism ran white hot and national security was widely seen as the linchpin of permanent GOP dominance, who would have thought that a black guy with a Muslim-sounding name would get elected over a Republican war hero while promising to restructure America’s relations with the rest of the world — and then go on to give the order to successfully kill the country’s number one terrorist foe, accomplishing one of America’s principal national security objectives?

From the vantage point of that hospital room in 2001, it would have seemed unthinkable. Yet here we are. The question now is whether the killing of bin Laden will fundamentally reshape what remains of the political landscape created by Sept. 11, by badly undermining the conservative narrative that Obama is weak, indecisive and insufficently committed to defending America, and by making those who question Obama’s intentions toward our country look ever smaller.

If nothing else, at least the man who masterminded the 9/11 attacks has been found, and received what justice we are capable of meting out. The Bush administration knew Bin Laden was in Afghanistan for the battle of Tora Bora, allowed Bin Laden slip away rather than pursue him with military force, invaded a country with no WMDs and no ties to Al Qaeda, and then proudly announced “We got him!” after capturing a guy who was admittedly an S.O.B. — and used to be our S.O.B. in Iraq — but had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

Well, now we can say “We got him,” for real this time.

Now what?

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