Bin Laden's Gone - Now What?
We got him. We got him the way John Wayne would have - shot in the head at close range - no nice, sanitary drones or bombs. We have achieved at least a degree of retribution.
As this is being written, the commentators are still figuring that out. There are a lot of angles. Have we beheaded the monster, or did he even matter anymore? What will his followers do? Will there be any effect on the current upheavals in the Middle East? Pakistan: Who are those guys?
First reactions are treating bin Laden's death as an earthshaking event. We can feel relief, pride, patriotism, satisfaction at his demise, all fully justified, but has the world changed in any real way?
We can hope that it has. For the moment, at least, America is standing tall again. We persevered over nearly 10 years through two administrations and many billions of dollars to find and kill a single individual.
There was no dead-or-alive option involved here. We didn't need bin Laden at Guantanamo. We didn't need some arcane debate about where to hold a trial. We needed a body - even if it was dumped unceremoniously at sea to eliminate the possibility of a terrorist shrine. Done and done.
But once the plaudits are delivered and the celebrations over, we still have two and a half wars on our hands. Some terrorists will probably give up and go home, but others will seek revenge, and who knows what half-baked difficult-to-anticipate-and-defend schemes they may come up with? Bin Laden will be viewed as a hero or martyr by a significant number of his followers. Time will tell, but there can be no relaxing.
Our relations with Pakistan - nuclear Pakistan - have already become more muddled. What did the Pakistani government know and when did it know it? How could bin Laden remain undisturbed in a large conspicuously fortified compound a kilometer away from the country's main army training academy? Will we continue shoveling foreign aid to the Paks?
On a more mundane level, what will be the effect on domestic politics? The president's popularity will soar. Will fiscal reality become hostage to temporary euphoria? Will Congress cave in and pass an unrestricted increase in our debt ceiling, or will the deficit hawks stand their ground in the face of a resurgent president? Will anybody target Pentagon spending after this impressive military success?
The Republicans were having enough trouble finding a candidate while the president's popularity was in decline. Who will step up now, and what will happen to conservatives' criticisms of our foreign policy?
There will be, in the next few weeks, lots of speculation about all of these things and more. There may indeed follow some sea change in the global political outlook for good or ill, but I doubt it. Justifiably pleased as we may be that bin Laden has been removed from the terrorist equation, there will be others to take his place.
Nothing has changed in the global economic quandary as a result of the death of one man. Nothing has improved the demographics of hundreds of millions of unemployed young people throughout the Third World, or, for that matter, tens of millions in the First. Markets failed to react in any way to bin Laden's death, unless a small decline counts.
The best we can reasonably hope for is a boost in our national animal spirits. This is not nothing; it is just not a solution to what ails us. And it will last only until the media move on to the next big story.
Not only will we fairly quickly revert to the same old issues we have been debating for years, but that is exactly what we should do. Relish the moment if you will; it will pass soon enough. There is still a lot of unfinished business.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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