The value of yesterday's assassination of Osama bin Laden is more symbolic than practical. The Al-Qaida leader has influenced events around the world more than anyone else in the past decade. He ordered the attacks of September 11, 2001, which led to the American military intervention in Afghanistan and indirectly led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
But bin Laden-style terrorism has changed shape over the years. Its headquarters and training bases are still in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, but its terror cells exist independently, or in loose alliance with distant terror networks. The death of the spiritual leader of Al-Qaida terrorists won't extinguish the zealotry surging through their murderous activities against Western targets, including Israeli and Jewish ones, in their attempt to impose Islam on the entire world.
All the same, even symbols can have practical ramifications. First and foremost, bin Laden's assassination will have an effect on U.S. domestic politics. The Republican critics of President Barack Obama will find it harder to carp at him than in the past. While they were wrapping themselves in the national flag, he was taking action - convening secret security meetings, weighing intelligence information and diplomatic angles, making a decision and carrying it out.
It's true that years of effort are needed to build up the ability to surround an isolated compound, and that the president himself wasn't the one on the ground or in a helicopter above the compound, but the political risk falls on the one who makes the decision. Obama dared, and won.
This doesn't assure Obama a victory at the polls in 2012 - George H.W. Bush came out of the first Gulf War victorious, but lost to Bill Clinton a year and a half later - but it's enough for Obama to deter potential candidates by giving them the impression that it would be a lost cause for them to jump into the race. On the foreign affairs and security front, bin Laden's assassination will make it easier for Obama to gradually pull out of Afghanistan, as a follow-up to its reduced presence in Iraq, and to cut the Pentagon's budget.
For Israel, which is in Al-Qaida's sights, news of bin Laden's death offers some encouragement. If Obama becomes stronger domestically, that could - and should - drive his administration to make a more aggressive effort to bring peace to the Middle East. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have yet to internalize that, it would be best for them to hear it directly from Obama.
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