The American people have spent the past few days celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. After 10 years of searching for him, and numerous promises to hunt him down on the part of successive administrations, US special forces finally succeeded in tracking him down in Pakistan and killed him.
I can certainly understand why Americans celebrated the death of Bin Laden. He was responsible for the first real act of war on American soil since Pearl Harbour. He humiliated American security by having his operatives work from within the USA, and by having them use US equipment to create one of the greatest losses of lives on US soil. Not only that, but he managed to expose a construction weakness in the most cruel way, to destroy one of the beacons of American entrepreneurial spirit and freedom in the centre of New York City, the city that never sleeps. Americans were never going to rest until revenge was exacted on this audacious man, if only for the Americans to reassert their supremacy. One has to give credit to all those involved that they were prepared to stay the distance, and to continue to track down their target despite the passage of 10 long years. This sends a message of determination, not only to the American people, but also to those terrorists who felt that they may have escaped the consequences of such a heinous act of terror. As far as I can tell, Barack Obama has managed to seal the legacy of his presidency by this one act. He will always go down in history as the man who hunted down Bin Laden. His very personal control and presence in the incident room watching on his video screen as the events were unfolding, will also do no harm to his image or legacy.
Obama has made every effort to maximise the publicity that he can achieve from this success. There is so much bad news that world leaders are forced to endure, and this president is no exception, that they go out of their way to make good news last as long as possible. In playing up the achievement of finally hunting down Osama, however, the president runs the risk of misleading citizens of the United States and the world. There are a few harsh realities that we as law-abiding citizens should bear in mind, despite the fact that Bin Laden is no longer a force to be reckoned with.
The first and most important reality is that the assassination of Bin Laden makes no real difference to terror activities around the world. The fact that he is no longer around does not make the world a safer place. On the contrary, his death may have stirred up a hornets’ nest and may precipitate revenge violence against citizens of the free world. No matter whether the short-term outlook is better or worse, it is clear that the Al-Qaeda organisation and command-control infrastructure that has been put in place will continue to operate even without Osama at the helm. Bin Laden’s death may create a martyr-figure in the eyes of many of the Muslim world, such that they may be convinced to join the activities of the terrorists. The most frightening reality of all, is the fact that the Muslim world is full of would-be Bin Ladens. There are thousands out there who would be delighted to take over where Osama has left off, and they enjoy huge support and substantial funding. State-sponsored organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah are ready and willing to work alongside Al-Qaeda and other organisations, with the intention of ridding the world of the “infidels”.
Bin Laden succeeded in taking the Muslim extremist fight against the free world from the war-torn streets of Middle Eastern backwaters, to downtown Manhattan and the Pentagon. Like his arch-rival Obama, Osama’s legacy is assured. He has made being a Muslim extremist “cool”, and he has created a role model for future generations of Muslims wishing to oppose all that America and the free world stand for. Not only did he succeed in attacking America by using their own aircraft to bring down the bastion of freedom in New York City, he has successfully used the Internet and social media to taunt and tease those seeking him out. For 10 years, he managed to evade the world’s best armies and intelligence agencies while continuing to direct further activities of terror and destruction.
As much as it was important to destroy this man in his role as the ultimate architect of terrorism, it is equally important not to allow the celebrations to continue too long. It is time to get back to work to destroy Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and other terror organisations and cells. Unfortunately, Bin Laden was only the tip of this iceberg and the world really is not a safer place now that he has gone. If the indications prove to be correct, and Obama has succeeded in securing himself another presidential term on the back of the death of Bin Laden, he will need to move very quickly to reset the expectations of the American people. Failure to do this may risk his legacy in the future.