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7 Questions on the Death of bin Laden

Author: James M. Lindsay, Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair
May 2, 2011
cnn.com

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Dr. James Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations (where he blogs), co-author of "America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy" and a former director for global issues and multilateral affairs at the National Security Council.

Americans are cheering the surprising news that U.S. Special Forces have killed Osama bin Laden. The successful military operation is a tribute to the skill of U.S. Special Forces, the perseverance of intelligence professionals who have hunted bin Laden for more than a decade and the nerve of a president to order a military strike that could have failed spectacularly.

The strike on bin Laden's compound also raises lots of questions.  Here are seven:

1. Does Bin Laden's death cripple al Qaeda and jihadist terrorism more broadly? Probably not. Al Qaeda long ago ceased to be a centralized operation. For the last decade bin Laden has been a figurehead than a mastermind. Terrorist attacks, like the bomb plot that German authorities broke up last week, have been planned and carried out by largely independent Al Qaeda “affiliates.” Nonetheless, U.S. Special Forces might have picked up valuable intelligence as they scoured bin Laden's command post that could help uncover terrorist cells and plots.

2.  Can you kill a symbol? In announcing bin Laden's death late last night, President Obama noted that “For over two decades, bin Laden has been Al Qaeda's leader and symbol.” Men die, symbols don't. In death, bin Laden will continue to inspire jihadists as much as he did in life. The biggest threat to bin Ladenism comes not from American bullets but from the prospect that the Arab spring will remake the political order in the Middle East.

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