7 questions after the death of bin Laden
Osama bin Laden, the longtime leader of al Qaeda, was killed by U.S. forces in a mansion north of Islamabad, Pakistan.
May 2nd, 2011
11:03 AM ET

7 questions after the death of bin Laden

Editor's Note: Dr. James M. Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations (where he blogs), co-author of "America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy" and a former director for global issues and multilateral affairs at the National Security Council.

By James M. Lindsay – Special to CNN

Americans are cheering the surprising news that U.S. Special Forces have killed Osama bin Laden. The successful military operation is a tribute to the skill of U.S. Special Forces, the perseverance of intelligence professionals who have hunted bin Laden for more than a decade and the nerve of a president to order a military strike that could have failed spectacularly.

The strike on bin Laden’s compound also raises lots of questions.  Here are seven:

1. Does Bin Laden’s death cripple al Qaeda and jihadist terrorism more broadly? Probably not. Al Qaeda long ago ceased to be a centralized operation. For the last decade bin Laden has been a figurehead more than a mastermind. Terrorist attacks, like the bomb plot that German authorities broke up last week, have been planned and carried out by largely independent al Qaeda “affiliates.” Nonetheless, U.S. Special Forces might have picked up valuable intelligence as they scoured bin Laden’s command post that could help uncover terrorist cells and plots.

2.  Can you kill a symbol?  In announcing bin Laden’s death late last night, President Obama noted that “For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol.” Men die, symbols don’t. In death, bin Laden will continue to inspire jihadists as much as he did in life. The biggest threat to bin Ladenism comes not from American bullets but from the prospect that the Arab spring will remake the political order in the Middle East.

3.  Where is Ayman al-Zawahiri? With bin Laden dead, his chief lieutenant and the man frequently described as al Qaeda’s “brains” goes to the top of the most wanted listed. Zawahiri reportedly was gravely injured in a missile strike in Pakistan in 2008. Given his deep operational experience and cunning, the Egyptian-born Zawahiri is more than capable of plotting major terrorist attacks on his own.

4.  Is Pakistan a reliable partner for the United States? President Obama said last night that “our cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden.” But the White House didn’t notify the Pakistani government in advance and Pakistani troops did not participate in the attack. Bin Laden’s compound was located just forty miles north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad - or about the distance from Washington to Baltimore - in a city that hosts a Pakistani military base and military academy. Expect to hear more doubts inside the Washington Beltway about the value and viability of the U.S.-Pakistani partnership.

5. Can we leave Afghanistan now? Sometime in the next several months, President Obama will decide whether and how fast to draw down U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan. Last week the Pentagon reported mildly optimistic news about progress in the Afghan War. Bin Laden’s death gives the president the political opening to order the sizable draw-down that public opinion polls show that most Americans want. He has always justified the war in Afghanistan in terms of defeating and dismantling al Qaeda, and he can say that with bin Laden’s death that goal has been achieved.

6.  Will Obama benefit politically from bin Laden’s death? The president’s public approval ratings have slipped recently after enjoying a modest bump earlier in the year. Expect another bump in the coming weeks as the public gives the White House credit for a job well done. But if past “rally-‘round-the-flag” dynamics hold true, the boost that Obama gets from bin Laden’s death will be short-lived.

7. Will our current bipartisan moment last? John Boehner, Dick Cheney, and Rudy Giuliani are just a few of the Republican luminaries who have congratulated Obama. As John Kennedy once noted, victory has a thousand fathers. But don’t expect this moment of unity to last. The issues dividing Democrats and Republicans are too deep to be bridged by the death of the world’s foremost terrorist.

Asking these questions does not diminish the significance of what the Obama administration accomplished yesterday. Killing bin Laden brings closure to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11. It shows that terrorists will pay for their crimes. Justice was done.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of James Lindsay.

Topics: Q&A • Terrorism • United States

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soundoff (731 Responses)
  1. Rod

    I think you got it bullseye there. Bin Laden was more of an Icon of a struggle, of a cause. Focus should be the cause. Winning the war is defeating the cause, the rationale behind it.

    Getting Mr laden was winning a battle nowhere from winning a war.

    'Terrorists', the word as used, is a propaganda word. Mr Bush perhaps was so terrified, so terrorized, to use the word to describe his enemy. Trying to scare, murderous, indiscriminate, may have been fitter words.

    I suppose a real terrorist is someone who would say like "get me a knife". And scared, you got yourself one. Then he'd say "now,. cut off your little finger, or else..." And scared, you cut your little finger. And then he demanded all your other fingers off that you also did, or else...And finally he ordered you to kill yourself, or else... And, real terrorized, you you killed yourself as he said.

    A real terror, I suppose, make his enemies scamper just hearing him coming. [Mr Bush tagging organizations like the Communist Party of the Philippines, as terrorists is a joke.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:10 am | Reply
    • WilliamTeller

      And this is why your an idiot..

      Bush failed to get Osama during his time as POTUS.. It fact It was the Obama Administration to deflected using the term terrorist or the war on terror... Lest you forgotten "Man Made Disaster" .. as you are doing now.. The reallity here is OBL is dead. the picture/videos should be shown now.. without delay...

      More delay raises a doubt.. Of course not in you.. but to these Tribal Muslims.. OBL becomes more than a martyr..

      -+- -+-

      May 4, 2011 at 8:37 am | Reply
  2. richannkur

    Superb post.

    May 4, 2011 at 3:38 am | Reply
  3. harv

    question of this decade.Muslims need to teach tolerence tho their kids in schools or madrasa so that they understand the values of human life and democracy so that they will not believe on anicient ideas that only muslims are brothers and rest of the world are nonbelievers or infidels and if they convert to some in Islam get full benefits in heaven along with 72 beautiful womens. let our kids give real education and don't blackmail them respect all men women equally and live in a open society and develop tolerence. Why many muslims countries are poorer and those who are rich do less chairtable work and take advantage of poor people by blackmailing them. letus make this world heaven and prosperous for everyone.

    May 4, 2011 at 5:17 am | Reply
  4. blitzkrieg

    So Osama Bin Laden got what he wantes... to die as a martyr

    May 4, 2011 at 7:14 am | Reply
  5. undergroundnoises

    So you'd rather ask in what country you live. A country that officially kills another country's citizen abroad in a foreign country, even without any lawsuit and condemnation. You'll never learn anything...

    May 4, 2011 at 7:26 am | Reply
  6. WilliamTeller

    The MF got off easy...
    Shot in the head....

    Buried at sea..

    Puts more doubt then fact.. You do not want to give the Muslims an Lion ghost against the Wind...

    Put this to rest.. Show this MFker death photos, DNA results.. A piece of his F ing ear... Get it done..

    Put these International Terrorist and Tyrants (ITT's)on notice.. We will find you and give you Justice..

    -+- -+-

    May 4, 2011 at 8:15 am | Reply
  7. lex

    We can be sure how this was handled and is being portrayed now involved lots of input from Obama's political advisors. In the end, its all politics. The war on terroism is a side show for this crowd. Until now, just look at the lack of news coverage or publicized Obama time on the issue.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:00 am | Reply
  8. MikeBell

    War is symbolic.
    The terrorist themselves say 'God willing'. So this should indicate to them 'God's will' concerning OBL and the extremist.
    May his followers and his sympathizers repent of their evil against women, children, and the whole of humanity or have the same come upon them as OBL.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:11 am | Reply
  9. Larry Kegel (USAMY)

    If Obama was a White Catholic I bet You wouldn't want to see the picture!!! You People believed the lies of Bush's Iraq war and the Attempted of trying to kill Reagan... If Obama Was White I bet You wouldn't want to see them!!! I know I sure wouldn't want to myself...

    May 4, 2011 at 10:17 am | Reply
  10. Barry

    Isn’t the question: What do you do with countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are utterly corrupt, because of the lucrative opium trafficking trade?

    In Afghanistan and Pakistan the government (and the military) aid and support the drug traffickers. In fact the government and the military work for and with the drug traffickers.

    This multi-billion dollar industry supports the government and military, and it funds terrorism. In many ways what is occurring in Afghanistan and Pakistan is similar to what is occurring in Mexico, because of Mexico’s cocaine and marijuana trafficking to the US.

    Isn’t the question: What do you do about the opium trafficking and trafficking of other drugs (e.g., hashish) and other illicit trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

    And while we’re on the subject: What are we going to do about the cocaine and marijuana trafficking in Mexico?

    May 4, 2011 at 10:23 am | Reply
  11. dcbound

    Every major country has to be on their toes for the next 2 to 10 months in case members of Al-Qaeda retaliate. The only two major Al-Qaeda leaders now are Aymen Al-Zawihiri and another American Muslim man in Yemen who's name i cant remember, they honestly dont have any other major leaders then those two, Al-Zawihiri is the Egyptian leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who are trying to gain control over Egypt right now so finding him will not be much of a struggle. The US government should defiantly be questioning Pakistan. As for the moment of relief over his death lasting we will just have to wait and see.

    May 4, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  12. Chaoslawz

    You all have points that can be considered very good points on where you see it. Personally I think it doesn't matter who did more ground work to get the job done, you all missed the point that its done now point blank period!!! As far as a celebrations if you choose to celebrate publicly that is on you, if you chose to celebrate within your house that is on you. But to celebrate death is uncalled for and no better then them, to celebrate a victory is acceptable to a certain extent. Never should it have become a 3 ring circus all over the news, because all that did was boost us up for a day of emotional victory & satisfaction while we forget that this was the same display of celebration that made us consider them brutes & savages after 9/11 happened to see them celebrate in their country what happened to ours. Not realizing this public display will now fuel them for even more attacks & aggressive violence wether against our troops which I am or once again on our own soil.

    May 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  13. blizz

    again people of hollywood met with those in white house. coming up with something very confusing and time consuming for the benefit of politicians, capitalist, and military men. a little more for those who lost their loved ones on 9/11. let me tell you americans especially politicians...we are not stupid we are only powerless. remember the story of saddam with WMD, now you are in libya doing the same shit. stop it

    May 5, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Reply
  14. steeddy

    I agree with what you saying, but even more no pictures of his body, how do you no hes dead and not just an excuse to stay at war because now obama can say well we have suceeded so we will continue to suceed? ,
    They say they have DNA , DNA from what you need previous DNA in order to do that an they didnt, and now there saying theres bin laden 2 , his look alike. Just seems a bit secretive to me.

    May 6, 2011 at 5:20 am | Reply
  15. thor27

    No loss to the world. Better without him. I added some recipes on mine at http://thor27.wordpress.com

    May 6, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  16. justinp5960

    one common debate is whether killing Osama Bin Laden was a good decision, and will they just retaliate back now. I believe that it was a good thing to kill one of terrorisms biggest icons. It sends the message that our country will not stand by and let other countries attack us. Some say that by retaliating, they will just hurt us more. I do not believe this is the case. America is what it is today because we have shown a great deal of dominance in the world all together, and If we stood by while being attacked by other countries, we would be going against everything we stand for.

    May 11, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  17. cocoonstage

    it is a good thing we put a stop to one that has done so much damage to our lives and way of thinking and living but to celebrate it is to be like them. and although, with his death, it has lifted him to a status of martyrdom...which in itself is weirdly inhumane.

    May 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Reply
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