Why the death of bin Laden matters — and why it doesn’t

I heard commentary earlier today, on our local DC news radio station, that bin Laden really didn't matter anymore from an operational standpoint for al Qaeda.  The fact that his compound didn't have modern communications, this analyst said, demonstrated he wasn't really in charge, and was only a "spiritual leader."

I disagree with this analysis.  Bin Laden had not, in fact, employed advanced communications since the mid- to late-1990's, after he discovered NSA was tracking his communications and whereabouts thanks to his use of satellite phones.  Yet, he signed off on and played a pivotal leadership role in planning and training for 9/11, from tents and caves in Afghanistan.

If anything, I think bin Laden's living conditions demonstrate that, far from being hunkered down, too fearful, bombarded and cut off to have involvement in al Qaeda's operations, he was in fact living in comfort and likely continued to serve a pivotal and active role in that organization.

So, in my opinion, the death of bin Laden will serve as more than a "feel-good moment" for the Western world.  It is a critical and damaging blow to al Qaeda.

I've also heard concerns from various people today that al Qaeda will launch revenge counterattacks in the near future, and put Americans in danger.  Frankly, I doubt it.

While al Qaeda likely remains the most capable of terrorist organizations on an international scale, we must keep in mind that that isn't necessarily saying much.  This is not a nation-state, with military capabilities.  Their operations typically require years of planning and training, and even then are usually foiled.  Yeah, i suppose some sympathizers could decide to haphazardly pick up guns and start shooting, but that would be sporadic at best, and hardly the kind of spectacular mass-casualty attacks that would be worth writing home about.

al Qaeda wasn't lacking in motivation to attack Western targets.  What they lack is capability.  And they have no more capability to inflict massive damage today than they did yesterday.

So while vigilance is always a good idea, and the State Dept. (and others) have already issued advisories in response to the death of bin Laden, I think today should be seen as nothing but a good day.

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