The Implications of Bin Laden’s Death

Sunday night we heard the announcement of Bin Laden’s death at a compound near Islamabad. His passing is neither the end of Al Qaeda nor insignificant in a symbolic sense.  He may likely be replaced by Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon, who was Bin Laden’s chief deputy.  But most experts believe that the decentralized nature of the terrorist network will mean that there will not be a meaningful degrading in their tactical capabilities.  Yet President Obama’s action in ordering the attack clearly accomplishes a long-term American goal that eluded Bush and overcame especially Bush’s failure to provide adequate resources to press early the Afghanistan offensive and act in Tora Bora in December 2001at the onset of combat in Afghanistan.



There are also implications with our relations with Pakistan. It is still not clear as this is written if Pakistan cooperated with us or was merely informed after the action.  The place of the compound in a city largely under Pakistani military control and with so much external security profile makes it hard to believe that at some level the military or security forces did not know its purpose.  But at the same time it relieves perhaps some of the political pressure on Pakistan since many intelligence experts and U.S. military had long thought he was in the country and thought that the Pakistan secret service may have known where is was.

The larger issue is now to contain any negative reverberations within Pakistan about this action and try to manage the situation to our advantage since Pakistan remains a significant bastion for both Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The problem is that we have entered into a bad time in relations with the Pak military and with a weak civil government which hardly has much control over the military. Yet finding a strategic long-term engagement with and addressing common solutions to the many issues outstanding in the region, requires nuclear armed Pakistan’s participation. It remains the elephant in the room.

Afghanistan has reacted with some delight at the finding that Bin Laden was in Pakistan which is a long time contention of its leaders.  Yet they will not find that much comfort since Bin Laden had long given up a key role in directing his followers day to day in that country.  The question is whether it makes any difference in the effort to split the Taliban and Al Qaeda within Pakistan.



As President Obama said wisely “There is no doubt that al-Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us.” He added: “We must and will remain vigilant at home and abroad…”  It is likely that we will see a spat of attacks some of them spontaneous and others planned.  But we need to recognize that all of the terrorist groups already are trying to do just that in any case.  Our vulnerabilities remain as they were before Sunday, terrorist group are still there and throughout our country. Here and in the allied nations, heightened alerts have gone up. But it is acknowledged that, over time, some attacks will take place as they have since 2001.



While we have a symbolic victory we have not yet solved the problem of terrorism and indeed the roots of their power and reasons for adherents. It would be unwise for us not the address soon and comprehensively the latter. We must however not lose sight that terrorism has many roots including within the U.S. We will never stop the many crazies from attempting destruction of innocents. But we can and should act to contain the dangers and address the causes of unrest and anger. Building more secure, democratic, responsible, and prosperous societies abroad where privation and conflict abound is in our strategic interest.  Dealing multilaterally early with potential rouge state and unrest via development programs, peace making and peacekeeping efforts, would likely be a better approach than just waiting for disaster or making war.

One thought on “The Implications of Bin Laden’s Death

  1. Harry Blaney May 9, 2011 / 9:41 PM


    I have gotten a number of comments directly about the information given out about the SEALS and also that fact that they took away a number of computer disks, DVDs, and computer and other document. Also some said it was too bad that the SEAL team, because of their secret activities, would not be honored publically and given honors.

    Shortly afterwards President Obama visited their headquarters and indeed did honor them but in the way that would preserve their security — away from the media and public. That is as it should be.

    I would have preferred to not see the immediate release of the knowledge of taking away of the data/computers, so there might be a lingering doubt of what we had gained in the raid on the part of the terrorists. But a smart terrorist would normally assume that some information was compromised. We just might have gained a s much advantage from this information as we did from killing Bin Laden. Only time will tell. But, in any case, we will continue to live in a world with people who are willing to kill innocents and cause conflict even among those who they have lived and shared a common culture.

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