As crowds gathered outside the White House, at the site of ground zero and in other public places to cheer news of the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama said in a late Sunday night address from the White House, “Justice has been done.”
Justice has been done to one man, but not to the terrorist movement itself, which is bigger than any one man and whose franchise headquarters appears to have moved to Yemen.
At the end, bin Laden died a coward, hiding in a fortified mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan. This was no Hitler-in-his-bunker moment in which the Nazi dictator expired by his own hand. Adolf Hitler’s death came as Allied troops swept into Berlin, and by then the German war machine had been crushed.
While Nazism was based on the flawed premise of racial superiority, al-Qaidaism is based on the equally flawed notion of the superiority of a particularly radical form of Islam and the innate inferiority of all other religious beliefs.
Media reports in the aftermath of the president’s announcement said the key for the American forces hunting bin Laden was one of his most trusted couriers, identified by men captured shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The political implications of this successful operation are already being debated. Obama will probably get a bump in his sagging poll numbers, which is fine. After all, bin Laden was killed on his watch. But this operation was a team effort fanned out over three administrations. The war isn’t over, though, as Obama said.
Since bin Laden dropped out of sight, with only the occasional message filtered through the Al-Jazeera TV network, his effectiveness in planning new terror attacks has always been problematic. Surely he trained and inspired a new generation of terrorists who will now take up his mantle and seek to use whatever “martyrdom” they can sell to new recruits to encourage others to join the war against the “Great Satan.”
The killing of bin Laden might have erased a symbol, but it doesn’t end the conflict. The president made his obligatory statement, also made by his two predecessors, that the United States “is not — and never will be — at war with Islam.” But it cannot be denied that a particularly virulent strain of religious disease has invaded virtually all of those who have killed or wounded so many Americans, including those of the Muslim faith.
If our policy is to hunt down these terrorists and exact justice, it is a good policy that should be pursued with the rest of the al-Qaida leaders wherever we find them. Let’s celebrate this American victory — it’s needed in this ongoing war — but then let’s keep the pressure on and not give these terrorists a moment’s rest.