We feel safer today. Not completely safe, but safer.
Osama bin Laden’s death does not eradicate al Qaeda, nor does it eliminate the terrorist threat from this virulent network of violent radicals. It may, in fact, make the United States and its allies, notably Israel, more vulnerable to revenge attacks in the coming days and months.
But those fears are far outweighed by the sense of relief occasioned by the news, and a certain sense of pride in how this operation was carried out — months of secretive, careful planning that led to a conclusion that can only be described as an unqualified success. This showed the Obama administration at its best: cool, determined, committed to the most audacious outcome, no matter how difficult it was to execute.
For anyone familiar with President Carter’s failed attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages and, later, the bungled exploits of “Black Hawk Down”, the risks of doing this sort of surgical strike were enormous. Politico is reporting that the original plan was to bomb the million-dollar compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was hiding, but that the president nixed the idea for all the right reasons: The rubble from a bomb may destroy the necessary evidence, and it would certainly result in a greater number of civilian casualties. So Obama ordered the riskiest operation — an assault from the air — but one that had the best chance of catching the culprit while limiting human fatalities.
From what we know at this point, this was a laudable approach. And most of the world agrees, though notably Hamas, continually on the wrong side of history, condemned the assassination of bin Laden, calling him “an Arab holy warrior.” The deep doctrinal differences between Hamas and its newly reconciled partner, the Palestinian Authority, were on display here, as the PA rightly praised the American action. But that’s a story for another day.
Today’s story is about relief, and pride, and most of all, a sense of justice. On the morning after Obama’s dramatic announcement, the construction site that is Ground Zero looked and felt different. Amidst the swarm of police officers and the snaking equipment of television broadcasters, were more than the usual tourists snapping photos. There were people there to remember and feel the magnitude of the moment in the very place where Osama bin Laden’s followers committed murder.
And affixed to the tall fence surrounding the site were notes and bright pink flowers and American flags. They were not the signs of a gloating, callous nation. They were tender reminders of the lives lost at the orders of a man who long ago relinquished his own right to live.