By Matthew Cooper
May 1, 2011After two wars and more than 45,000 Americans killed or wounded to get Osama Bin Laden dead or alive, President Obama surprised the nation and the world tonight to declare that the man behind the 9/11 attack on America is indeed dead, killed by U.S. forces.
Decrying the "gaping hole in our hearts" caused by the 9/11 attacks that Bin Laden led, praising the "tireless" efforts by the military, Obama recounted the history of America's war on terror including the back story of leads on Bin Laden's location.
According to the president, just last week, Obama had determined Bin Laden's location in Pakistan and dispatched U.S. forces to take him. The president said that the effort led to a brief firefight, a minimum of civilian casualties and the death of Bin Laden.
"He was not a Muslim leader," Obama declared. "He was a mass murderer of Muslims" and he noted that a vast intelligence network and cooperation with Pakistan led to the killing of Bin Laden.
The president took special note to encourage the government in Islamabad to continue its cooperation with the U.S.
The announcement took Washington by surprise and gave the Obama administration an extraordinary accomplishment--one that had alluded its Republican predecessor and one that comes just days after the president announced a new national security team composed of long time Bin Laden hunters especially Leon Panetta, the CIA Director, and Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan who are due to change jobs with Petraeus heading the CIA and Panetta becoming Secretary of Defense. If the CIA was the point of the spear in killing Bin Laden, it can only enhance Panetta's credibility at the Pentagon when he is expected to arrive later this spring.
It was not immediately clear whether Bin Laden's death would significantly stymie Al Qaeda's already beleaguered operations or how the death would play throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds, whether it would be greeted to a fist or a shrug.
But it surely marked the end of a significant era in America's war on terror. The Bin Laden death came eight years to the day after President George W. Bush famously declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, a claim that his political enemies never let him forget as the war in Iraq dragged on and American casualties mounted.
Outside the White House, crowds of several hundred gathered to cheer "Obama Obama" and chant "USA USA."
Capturing Bin Laden has consumed American officials for years and has been central to American politics, as Democrats long charged that the Bush administration was distracted by the war in Iraq, allowing Bin Laden to elude capture or death.
Bin Laden had long been considered to be in poor health, traveling furtively to delay detection despite reportedly needing dialysis. Since 9/11 he has issued some 30 taped communiques that have simultaneously infuriated Americans and given authorities tantalizing clues as to his whereabouts and state of mind.
The death of Bin Laden means the U.S. is spared taking him alive, a prospect of a capture and trial that would have surely strained the already creaky system of military tribunals that has been slow to prosecute those who have been in captivity at the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A Bin Laden trial, or the possibility of his dying, while awaiting trial would have presented enormous woes for the Obama administration.
Whether the Administration will accrue political capital from the death of Bin Laden remains to be seen although it seems likely to rebound to his benefit and to make it harder for Republican challengers to claim that American strength has been diminished under Obama's leadership.
Bin Laden's death poses other, myriad questions. Will the U.S. be able to scale back its operations in Pakistan where the Al Qaeda leader was reportedly killed.
Would the U.S. be able to produce enough DNA testing and other proof to make it clear that Bin Laden was in fact dead?
How would American allies, such as Saudi Arabia, Bin Laden's native land, react? Would this be dispiriting to America's enemies such as Iran or the Taliban?
The president himself was aware of the gravity of the moment, working throughout Sunday evening on his remarks.
Most importantly, would this leave Al Qaeda less potent? The group has not had a successful attack on American soil since 9/11 but it's been linked to myriad attacks around the globe since then including devastating attacks in Madrid, London, Bali and throughout the Middle East.
Obama himself warned that "the cause of securing our country is not complete."
By Matthew Cooper
May 1, 2011