We Got Him. Now What?

Finally.

After 10 years.

We got him.

If you need to ask who “him” is, then I hope the flight in from Mars was a comfortable one. Have a newspaper – yes, the one trumpeting the death of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The terrorist mastermind had surfaced and vanished so many times since the Sept. 11 attacks that it became a punch line, a sick and twisted version of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s verses: “They seek him here, they seek him there …”

But no one can run forever, it seems. And with Navy SEALs and the CIA dogging his heels, bin Laden was finally brought to bay in Pakistan and gunned down. The report is that he and his guards resisted. I’ll give our guys the benefit of the doubt on that one, although I suspect that a peaceful surrender was unlikely to be in the cards for this particular man:

“Pity we couldn’t bring him in, but he resisted. Right, boys?”

“Yes, SIR!”

In many ways, this simplifies what could have been a complicated situation: how to try him and where, how to protect the sites of his judgment and incarceration, and so on. It wouldn’t have been pretty, even if it would have been gratifying to see this man made one more prisoner with a roommate named “Bubba.”

But it doesn’t solve everything. And there’s a lot of “everything” left ahead.

Does it mean the end of Al-Qaeda? Probably not, though I suspect the faction fighting is about to become vicious. Ten years is enough time to train some bloody men with bloody minds, one of whom is likely to grab the reins sooner or later.

Does it mean a better, safer world? Maybe a little bit, in the long term. Right at the moment, it may actually amp the danger up a bit, as would-be holy warriors try to avenge the death of their icon.

Does it mean an end to the war in Afghanistan? Again, maybe, maybe not. A lot will depend on how many fighters lose heart, how many steel themselves to go down swinging and how quickly we can take advantage of the internal chaos.

A key chapter is over. But there’s still a lot of the book to go.

Right now, the biggest edge may be psychological – a demonstration that no matter who you are or how skilled you may be, we will catch up with you some day. That sends a message to friend and foe alike. And an important one.

In the end, wars are won by the side that quits last. Firepower, logistics, tactics can all make a big difference but in the end, it comes down to this: a war ends when one side can no longer see a hope of victory. Even the biggest battalions mean nothing if the men and women in them don’t see their cause as worth dying for.

Maybe this will make a difference. Maybe. I hope and pray so, anyway.

For now, we know this: a criminal with blood-soaked hands is dead. Whatever happens next, he will have no hand in it, no chance to shape it with his own will.

For now, that will have to suffice. For now, we celebrate that.

And then, we shall see about tomorrow.

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