Impact of OBL’s Demise

by Michael W. Lewis

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.

http://opiniojuris.org/2011/05/02/impact-of-obls-demise/

3 Responses

  1. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/05/02/press-briefing-senior-administration-officials-killing-osama-bin-laden

    Above is the press briefing.  Over at lawfareblog.com and at keepamericasafe.com the “torture worked” meme is already started up – appearing to rely on the press briefing. 

    The theory seems to be that the key courier was one for KSM and Al-Libbi and so their torture was how we got the name. 

    From what I can see, the press briefing speaks generally of detainees but does not address the question of whether this intelligence came from the torture. 

    This is studied ambiguity to serve the purpose of deflecting efforts to go after those who tortured also.  More of the “acquiescence to torture” machine at work.

    Best,
    Ben

  2. Michael’s swipe at me is entertaining.  Again, it’s amazing how quickly right-wingers have discovered that national security is supposed to be non-political now that a Democrat has accomplished what they could not.

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  1. [...] is no doubt a significant victory in the conflict with al Qaeda (see Michael Lewis’ post here).  However, contrary to Peter Bergen’s assertion that “Killing bin Laden is the end of [...]