Payback, Served Cold
There is no doubt America would have rather this day come sooner. Coupled with the phenomenal popular waves of change sweeping the Arab world, 2011 stands to be a watershed year, one that will hopefully allow more people to live their lives free of autocratic and dictatorial rule.
Let us not forget al-Qaeda's recruiting-well of the 9/11 attacks could be found, at least in part, in the subterranean torture rooms of Egypt under Hosni Mubarak (who in a striking irony might himself become a resident of those very jails before long).
For now, a few quick thoughts on the killing of bin Laden in Pakistan by US operatives:
-Senior Obama Administration officials say a mansion had been under watch in Abbotabad since August 2010. It is clear great planning and, above all else, patience, went into identifying and attacking this target.
While the same can't be said of so many other US-led drone strikes in Pakistan, killing more civilians than most Americans will ever appreciate, one can speculate now those were less about keeping up appearances.
Anytime al-Qaeda targets were killed in the past few months, it may have been useful to see what news and messages, if any, would have been couriered to that Mansion under watch, and whether other al-Qaeda networks will later be rolled up as a result of today's operation and the extensive surveillance that went into it.
In their zeal to "kill," one can imagine other US politicians in the Oval, including Republican provocateur Donald Trump, jumping the gun to "show quick results."
The White House will be sure to encash Obama's handling of the raid, which is pretty much the exact opposite of what Democrat Presidents have been known for in recent memory (see Jimmy Carter's Desert One fiasco over Iran), and an Achilles heel to the Republican argument that "Democrats are weak on defense."
-One of the most important acts is yet to come: releasing pictures and forensic evidence of Bin Laden's body. Forget conspiracy theorists, who may never be convinced. The world will rightfully demand to see that America is not pulling a fast one. This is not about a trophy photo, but about bringing closure to all those who have been victimised by bin Laden, and the world's ham-handed response to him as well.
-Bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri's capture or killing, while important, is less so now for the Obama Administration for the simple reason that most Americans simply don't know who he is. It would be suicidal for Zawahiri to raise his head anytime soon, and his marginalisation will probably only continue as most understand al-Qaeda had zero to do with liberating Arabs from their dictatorships.
-Obama announced the news with grace toward all Americans involved in trying to kill bin Laden over the years, making clear this was not an operation targeting Islam or against Muslims. As reasoned as it is, going forward there is a lot more explaining that needs to be done.
During the 2008 presidential contest, Obama pledged to concentrate American focuses on the "real war," namely, to concentrate on Afghanistan and defeat al-Qaeda and take the fight to bin Laden.
He drastically increased ("surged") troops into Afghanistan promising to show effective results by the summer of 2010. And now, with American political support for the Afghan war waning (and the US clearly losing what little ground they had), the Obama Administration now has a face saving excuse to end its failed 10 year entanglement there and to stop killing innocent Muslims.
-Since 9/11, social media has become today's platform for expressing news and views. A sign on Facebook aptly summed President Obama's political rejoinder to Donald Trump: "Sorry it took me so long to get you a copy of my birth certificate. I was too busy killing Osama bin Laden." Meanwhile, on Twitter, a Pakistani in Abbotabad named Sohaib Athar (@reallyvirtual) unwittingly reported of the compound strike and ensuing helicopter crash, scooping everyone.
-Passing healthcare reform and killing bin Laden are two seminal domestic political victories for Barack Obama. But the Arab and Muslim world will look for more substantive policy changes as it is logical the US obsession with al-Qaeda should curtail and change the conversation.
It is not a "policy" to kill "terrorists." It will be for the Obama Administration to finally resolve issues that create terrorism, including the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands. To that end, Obama still has his work cut out for him if he wants to earn that Nobel Prize for acts of peace, rather than war.