I’ve been in news junkie mode since last night.  All the Internet blowhards are busy doing what they do best, so me too!

In such circumstances there should probably be a 24-hour free zone for basic emotional expression.  In other words, don’t be a prig and lecture people that they shouldn’t be happy or use the occasion to pursue your favorite hobbyhorse. 

What will change because of Osama’s death?  You can make a case for “nothing”, that both terrorism and counter-terrorism will continue, and nothing really changed when Saddam was captured.  But being cynical isn’t a guarantee of being right.  This could have many effects.

  • In many ways Osama was past his sell-by date, who looks more out of touch than ever given the Arab Spring; but he was an active and charismatic terrorist leader (unlike Saddam, who was obviously not organizing the Iraqi resistance).  There’s a cachet to successfully thumbing one’s nose at the infidel; getting shot instead is just not as romantic. 
  • Some terrorists may attempt reprisals… but if Osama wasn’t able to hit the US hard since 9/11, he’s not going to be more successful at it when he’s dead.  (Guzman’s capture didn’t lead to any huge counter-attack in Peru.)  Large-scale attacks require very careful planning, and if people rush them into operation they’re likely to flub them.
  • This is a huge victory for the special forces– and more broadly, for the view that the best response to terrorism is intel and highly focused military missions, not generalized war aiming at occupying entire rogue states. 
  • Osama was living in a comfortable town less than a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy.   We needn’t jump to the conclusion that the Pakistani government was aware he was there… but if it wasn’t, it was instead spectacularly incompetent.  Whatever game Pakistan is playing suddenly looks a little dumber.
  • We’re slowly leaving Iraq, and now we have a good reason to shut down the war in Afghanistan too.  Karzai has hinted as much already; instead of reactively attempting to beat him into being the able ruler he obviously doesn’t want to be, why not take him at his word, declare victory, and leave? 
  • It’s not going to win Obama the election– it’s too far away– but it may help him win the next few months.  You’ve probably seen the pic of Obama in sunglasses with the label “Sorry I took so long on the birth certificate… I was too busy killing Osama bin Laden.”  A bunch of shameless demagogues, starting with The Combover, suddenly look even more frivolous and petty. 

In short, this could provide some closure to the overreaction that was the “War on Terror”.  Some folks depicted 9/11 as an existential threat that justified endless war and a vastly increased security apparatus; we’ll be living with some of their mistakes for years, but Osama’s death is a good time to dial back the anxiety.  Counter-terrorism is important, but it is not the Cold War all over again.