Killing bin Laden: What it means for the war on terrorism

America's No. 1 enemy is dead. Does that mean we can declare victory?

Osama bin Laden, pictured here in 1998.
(Image credit: Corbis)

U.S. special operations forces killed Osama bin Laden on Sunday at a walled luxury compound 40 miles outside Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. The U.S. buried the al Qaeda leader's body at sea. Two of bin Laden's couriers, one of his adult sons, and an unidentified woman also were killed in the firefight. All of the U.S. forces got out by helicopter, uninjured. In a dramatic late-night television appearance, President Obama said that killing bin Laden "marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al Qaeda." (Watch video.) But will it make much difference in the war on terrorism?

Yes, America looks strong again: Bin Laden's death "matters because the U.S. put a marker down," says David Von Drehle in TIME. George W. Bush said we would get the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks "dead or alive," and almost 10 years later he was still alive. "People had begun to doubt whether American power was truly power; and to ask whether its day was past." Now they know: When you're placing your bets, al Qaeda is the weak horse, not America.

"After bin Laden: A stronger America"

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No, al Qaeda remains a deadly force: Hold that exuberance, says John Payne in The American Conservative. Bin Laden has long been more a symbol than a leader, so "the effect on al Qaeda and other terrorist groups' capabilities to attack Americans will be marginal." Still, this is as clear a win as we're ever going to get in our war against terrorism, because "you can't defeat a tactic." So we might as well declare victory anyway, "and bring the boys back home."

"Let's declare victory"

It is a qualified win: Taking out bin Laden does improve our chances of striking a deal with the Taliban to end the Afghan war, says Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times. It also really is "the single most important success the United States has had in its war against al Qaeda." There are still dangerous al Qaeda leaders and offshoots, but decapitating the network could help us unravel it, and its finances, too. "Imagine the effort to go through Osama's laptop."

"After Osama bin Laden..."

It is too soon to tell: Al Qaeda doesn't have anyone of bin Laden's stature to lead the network now, says Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker. In the short run, look for the the remaining branches to attempt "a powerful statement in the next several weeks to demonstrate that they are still relevant following this mighty loss." But in the long run, the threat to al Qaeda isn't from America, it's from the Arab Spring and its promise of Arab tolerance and democracy.

"Bin Laden: Hey, hey goodbye"

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