President Obama’s announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed during a predawn raid in Pakistan united all Americans in a sigh of relief, for about 10 seconds. After we exhaled that first unanimous gasp—a mixed pang of gratitude, sadness and virtue—the nation, and the world around us, inhaled our differences.
In this country, the White House can’t even reach a consensus on whether or not to release photos of the Saudi-born militant with two bullet wounds in his face.
Most Americans do seem to agree that taking out bin Laden was a necessary step in the struggle against evil—and maybe in restoring our financial markets as well. Remember, Wall Street had shut down for four days in the fallout from the September 11 attacks, and plunged upon reopening. With vengeance ours, markets were free to soar. But, after its first day of post-bin Laden trading, the New York Stock Exchange ended flat.
"We got a psychological lift [from bin Laden’s death],” investment strategist Russ Koesterich told the New York Daily News, “but it doesn't change anything."
2012 presidential politics went on as usual. Only four of the eight presidential frontrunners who released statements celebrating bin Laden’s demise acknowledged President Obama’s role in the mission. Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann felt Obama required no honorable mention. Mike Huckabee was among the Republican Oval Office hopefuls who congratulated Obama.
Welcome to hell, bin Laden. Today Americans and decent people the world over cheer the news that madman, murderer and terrorist Osama Bin Laden is dead.
On the other side of the world, Kenyan decent person Douglas Sidialo, blinded in al-Qaeda’s 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, wept at a memorial site for victims of explosions that killed 224 people and injured 5,000.
Sidialo told the AP:
"This is a day of great honor to the survivors and victims of terrorism in the world. A day to remember those whose lives were changed forever. A day of great relief to us victims and survivors to see that bin Laden has been killed."
Thoughts of Osama bin Laden’s Kenyan victims seemed far from the minds of celebrants in New York City and across the United States. Many of them chanted “USA! USA!” Some of them pounded beers.
The spontaneous enthusiasms failed to sweep along David Sirota at Salon:
"USA! USA!" is the wrong response…. Bin Laden's death is a great relief, but by cheering it we're mimicking our worst enemies.
Bin Laden … has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed.
The Vatican reminded Catholics that: "Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices," and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld reminded fans of the Frum Forum: “As the Children of Israel were crossing the sea, and the army of Pharaoh was drowning, God rebuked the angels for showing excessive joy.”
Kathryn Jean Lopez posted her reservations to the National Review:
I appreciate justice, but I can’t break out the champagne.
I keep thinking about those who have died in the ten years since 9/11, serving our country.
I keep thinking of those who were murdered at the hands of terrorists.
And that death is never a cause for celebration.
We should always be uneasy about such things.
Readers responded to Lopez with mixed comments, which is to be expected, unlike conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s unexpected opinion:
It was President Obama single-handedly and alone who came up with the strategy that brought about the effective assassination of Osama bin Laden. Thank God for President Obama.
Limbaugh then asserted that the information leading to bin Laden’s killing had been extracted by torture, an impression fostered by U.S. officials, who told the Associated Press that the CIA had picked up bin Laden’s trail through information gained from interrogated detainees.
Will bin Laden’s death vindicate torture at Guantánamo Bay? The question is one of eight mysteries posed by Slate writer William Saletan. Mysteries number three (was capture ever an option for the mission?) and eight (did Pakistan help with logistics or more?) may never be solved, but there is near universal agreement that taking out bin Laden has not taken out al-Qaeda.
"Bin Laden is dead," Leon Panetta wrote in a memo to CIA staff. "Al-Qaeda is not."
Shakib Shariffi, a 29-year-old Kabul, Afghanistan, resident, told Al Jazeera:
“Now that [bin Laden] is killed, we are happy. At lunch everyone was congratulating each other, especially those who lived under the Taliban. But people are worried there may be a reaction and that suicide bombers may come out on the streets."
Al Jazeera warns of the phenomenon known as:
SPIN (segmented, polycentric, ideologically networked) groups, where al-Qaeda fighters in various parts of the world have increasingly acted on their own without direct orders or logistical and financial support from "al-Qaeda central."
Be that as it may, the physical death of bin Laden will no doubt lead to a serious psychological and inspirational setback for al-Qaeda fighters and their causes.
The Arab news network quotes an online commentator loyal to al-Qaeda:
“If it is true [that bin Laden is dead] then we must thank Allah that America was not able to capture him alive. Else they would be humiliating him like Saddam Hussein.”
That al-Qaeda sigh of relief may have come too soon. Islamic scholars throughout the Arab world are offended that Osama’s corpse was buried at sea. Omar Bakri Mohammed, a cleric in Lebanon, said: "The Americans want to humiliate Muslims through this burial, and I don't think this is in the interest of the U.S. administration."
Maybe water burial was less than ideal, Omar, but the U.S. administration has no interest whatsoever in leaving behind a gravesite suitable for militant rallies and worship.
Speaking of rallying points, al Jazeera points out that the United States, in killing Osama bin Laden, has “killed the alibi.”
Certainly Washington has less reason or justification to wage a war in Afghanistan now that bin Laden is no more.
But even more certainly, finding bin Laden ensconced so close to nuclear power Pakistan’s seat of government gives American strategists all the more pause about removing military forces from the region.