A few things are clear in the wake of the stunning news of the operation that penetrated Osama bin-Laden’s hideout outside Islamabad, Pakistan, and killed him in the early hours of May 2.
The first, of course, is the ruthless skill with which the Special Forces carried out a mission that had been meticulously prepared by intelligence agencies. This is a business where we mostly learn about failures like the Bay of Pigs in 1961. This was a success.
Barack Obama and his national security team were effective in leading the operation and in keeping it secret. Too often, especially since Reagan’s adventure with the Contras in Nicaragua, American presidents have bragged about their “covert” actions. The key to the effectiveness of such actions is their secrecy.
Obama may not much like war, but he has shown that if he believes he must wage it, he intends to win it. Liberals who were hostile to the Iraq war, skeptical of the Afghanistan war, and dubious about the Libyan intervention will find little comfort here. But Obama will surely gain among moderates and swing voters. The spontaneous crowds at the White House and Ground Zero, celebrating the death of a sworn enemy, remind us that the scars of 9/11 are still raw, and vengeance still moves many people.
Long-term effects are problematic. Bin Laden was no longer in direct control of al-Qaeda, and Islamist terror has grown far beyond al-Qaeda. The death of Osama bin-Laden will likely provoke a spike in terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, the flickering hopes for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement are dying, and the effort to force Qaddafi out in Libya is stalled. The Afghani government is weak and corrupt, yet repeatedly attacks the United States. The same can be said of the Iraqi government. In short, getting bin-Laden is about the only thing that’s going well in the Middle East. It’s possible, though, that Obama will gain more clout in the region as a result of this success.
None of this will matter to Obama’s reelection unless he can magically accomplish two contradictory goals: get the economy moving again, and get the deficit under control.