Let's face it: it was kind of cool, the way that Osama bin Laden died. No drones or precision airstrikes. It was a ground operation that included a break-in at the house on the outskirts of Islamabad in which the al-Qaeda leader was hiding, and shooting him in the head. Nice. The symbolism for the U.S. military will resonate in the Middle Eastern consciousness (Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it was "a lesson to the whole world").
But amid the celebrations today (especially here in New York), there are a few questions. Such as: What happens now to al-Qaeda?
Dr. Marc Lynch of George Washington University points out (in his own report) that al-Qaeda had already been effectively marginalized and adds, "His death removes the only al-Qaeda figure still able to speak effectively to that Arab mainstream, and marks the end of an era of Arab politics which had already largely faded away."
What did Pakistan know? The official US line is, it didn't. However, the Pakistani news channel Geo is reporting that Pakistani troops helped cordon off the compound in Abbotabad. Juan Cole, who began Informed Comment specifically to cover al-Qaeda in the wake of 9/11--writes, "My guess is that the US agreed to shield the government of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asaf Ali Zardari from al-Qaeda reprisals by putting out the story that the operation against Bin Laden was solely a US one. And it may be that suspect elements of the Pakistani elite, such as the Inter-Services Intelligence, were kept out the the loop because it was feared they might have ties to Bin Laden and might tip him off."
How much did this cost? In the decade since the 9/11 attacks, Congress has approved a total of $444 billion for Operation Enduring Freedom and other counter-terror operations in Afghanistan. You can crawl through the entire Congressional Research Service report here.
This long war has been largely easy to ignore. Not many people have fought in it, so the burden has been born by a disproportionate few. This is why we were so interested in this video from the celebration last night at the US Naval Academy. Watch it through to the teeth-rattling chant "I believe that we have won!"