The death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of courageous U.S. commandos (just after the 66th anniversary of the death of Hitler) won’t end a terrorist threat that has grown much more diffuse since 9/11. Still, we join with those who are grateful that justice was done and an important symbolic blow was struck against those who promote and conduct terror attacks — whether they be with suicide bomb belts or hijacked jetliners flown into skyscrapers.
The world may not be a much safer place today because bin Laden is dead, but we have sent out a clear message: there is no statute of limitation for perpetrators of such horrors.
The Obama administration deserves enormous credit for continuing the intensive manhunt and, when bin Laden was located, apparently overseeing the raid with intelligence and skill. Sunday’s successful action speaks well of our growing ability to monitor and track down even the most elusive terrorists and, when necessary, deal with them with a flexible military force.
But complacency would be a big mistake. Al-Qaeda has been a diminishing force in the terrorist infrastructure for several years, a process accelerated by the Arab Spring, a movement that the terrorist group had almost nothing to do with and surely bemoans. Further, bin Laden’s removal from the scene raises some disturbing questions and poses some difficult new dilemmas for U.S. policymakers.
For example, while the Palestinian Authority supported the U.S. action, Hamas condemned the killing of a “holy warrior.” That makes the impending Palestinian unity government even more problematic for an administration that still hopes to rekindle direct peace negotiations. Hamas was shown once again for what it really is: a terrorist group driven not by determination to create a Palestinian state but by hatred for Israel and the United States, and a mandate to kill Jews.
The role of Pakistan in the bin Laden drama remains murky, with some indications that the dysfunctional government in Islamabad helped planners of the raid and others suggesting bin Laden has been protected for years by elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment. Indeed, bin Laden’s elaborate compound was less than a mile from a Pakistani Army military academy.
It is imperative that these issues be clarified and U.S. policy adjusted accordingly. We fear an Iran that is seeking nuclear weapons, but also face the very real possibility that Pakistan — a state that already has a substantial nuclear arsenal — could be sliding toward control by Islamic extremists who might be perfectly willing to supply weapons of mass destruction to their violent brethren.
None of this takes away from the fact bin Laden’s demise is a boost for this country’s war on a new kind of threat — and a small measure of closure for the arch terrorist’s many victims.