Impact of OBL’s Demise
It is interesting comparing this mornings posts. Ken’s sober, philosophical reflection on all that has gone on since 9/11, Kevin’s reflexive response to view events through a political lens, and Greg’s operationally-minded quest for figuring out “who’s next, and when will we get him?”
My reaction contained elements of all three. Having friends that died in Afghanistan trying to accomplish the task that the SEALs completed yesterday, my first thoughts were of them and their families. There is a deep satisfaction in having this search ended.
But, like Greg, I found it hard not to move on to the question “what does this mean?” For the triumphalists out there, I would point out that neither the capture nor the execution of Saddam Hussein significantly changed our fortunes in Iraq. Unless OBL’s killing is the first in a rapid succession of operations against top leadership throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan it is hard to imagine that this will significantly affect Taliban/al Qaeda operations in the region. So operationally it may not have much impact.
On the other hand, when the question “how will this ‘war’ ever end?” has been raised, whether in the detainee context or in the legal debate about whether operations against al Qaeda should be characterized as law enforcement or as an armed conflict, I have always thought that OBL’s capture or killing was a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition of conflict termination. There will be a new #1, whether Zawahiri or another, but no one whose incapacitation would be required before saying “it is over.” In light of this success, and barring any successful attack on the United States in the next few months, the Obama administration is likely to start publicly discussing Afghan withdrawals and the “end of the conflict” as spring turns to summer.
Lastly, of course this improves Obama’s re-election chances, but the election is 18 months away and today is not the time to be talking about such things.