It is, of course, a U.S. victory that Navy SEALs, acting on CIA intelligence in a Muslim nation, killed al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden. The lethal firefight inside a fortified compound in Abbottabad, about 35 miles north of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, ended nearly 10 years of pursuit of the man viewed by many as the personification of evil.
The post-bin Laden era raises innumerable questions requiring U.S. policy decisions. The Obama administration would be wise to learn from previous mistakes, and advance cautiously. A few questions occur to us:
• How much of a threat is al-Qaida now? Has it lost a leader, but gained a martyr? U.S. intelligence sources for some time have believed the organization is less centralized than a decade ago, with splinter groups and factions operating independently.
• Will there be retaliation against the U.S. or our allies? To what extent do attacks on allies constitute attacks on us? Libya is proof the international community is clumsily ineffective militarily without overt U.S. management. Will widespread violence prompt calls for the U.S. to unwisely assume the role of world policeman?
• Does this effective, targeted strike change U.S. policy? If it is a step away from nation-building as a solution to terror, such as in Afghanistan, it is welcomed. If so, the Obama administration may be moving in the right direction.
• What effect will the stealthy attack have on already-strained relations with Pakistan, which has complained about U.S. drones killing innocents within its sovereign borders? What signal does this send to other Middle East nations? Will it aggravate anti-U.S. sentiment in the region that already opposes U.S. intervention?
• Can bin Laden’s death be a springboard to improved U.S. relations with Muslim nations? U.S.-based Muslim groups have taken the opportunity to condemn bin Laden.
•Does bin Laden’s demise give momentum to demands in Arab nations for new governments, free elections and other freedoms and a turning away from terror as politics?
• Will bin Laden’s death provide an opportunity to scale back the overbearing Homeland Security Department and intrusive Patriot Act? Or will it be an excuse to ratchet them up another notch?
• Oil prices dipped Monday. What economic ramifications will there be? Are Middle East oil sources more or less reliable today?
• Was the president’s reelection campaign boosted by achieving what the more-hawkish Bush administration began but couldn’t complete? Rightfully, there will be a bump in Mr. Obama’s poll numbers. Can it be sustained?
To be sure, many serious questions need to be weighed in the days ahead. But for this first moment of reflection, we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to be optimistic, and celebrate.