The end is just the beginning

Nearly 10 years to the day since the Sept. 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, the leader of the terrorist network al Qaeda and mastermind behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, is dead.

A coordinated air strike authorized by President Obama killed bin Laden in a compound hidden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, 150 km north of the capital of Islamabad.

Word of his death was announced late Sunday evening, followed by a formal address from the president confirming the news. Bin Laden’s body is currently in U.S. custody.

The news of bin Laden’s death has electrified the nation and the world at large; the ramifications of bin Laden’s death will are complex and, by large, are impossible to predict.

Al Qaeda will either be left reeling by the death of their leader, or, as is likely given al Qaeda’s ties to the tradition of jihad (bin Laden, before founding the al Qaeda network, was a mujahideen) will be galvanized by what they’ll perceive as their leader’s martyring.

In his address, the president swore continued vigilance in the face of continued threat from al Qaeda. If you cut off the head of a snake, the body will continue to writhe, something that the Obama Administration must remain conscious of.

The key to al Qaeda’s success – and bin Laden’s constant thwarting of the previous Bush Administration’s attempts to capture him – is their decentralization.

Al Qaeda operates less as a network or organization than a collection of errant cells unified under the banner of rabid extremist ideology that virulently leaches off and exploits fear and anger in the countries they’ve established footholds in.

Due to the nature of the beast, as it were, the death of bin Laden may hold little consequence to the logistics of the network – though morale (and recruiting) will flag.

One thing will remain certain in the days and weeks ahead: the death of Osama bin Laden is the punctuation of a near decade-long conflict begun by the Bush Administration – and Barack Obama held the pen.

But politically, the death of one of America’s greatest enemies will serve as the highlight of Obama’s political career, and certainly the highlight of his presidency.

No matter whom the Republican Party elects to run in the looming 2012 race – be it Palin or Bachman or Romney (or Trump) – they will be pitted against not only the incumbent president (an historically strong position), but the-incumbent-who-killed-bin-Laden.

 

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