Osama bin Laden is dead. This is not something the President of the United States talks about lightly, and reports suggest that his body is in U.S. hands following a firefight involving U.S. special operations forces in Abbottobad, Pakistan.
We used to hang on every word bin Laden uttered and every indication that he was still alive. It long ago became of passing importance. That is the single most important thing about him and is a measure of how history has changed since 2001. Certainly the events that bin Laden put in motion continue to resonate — from the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq to expensive and intrusive efforts at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The U.S. and allied response that began on Sept. 11 goes on, but bin Laden himself had become essentially an onlooker and commentator.
That was the result of a real success by U.S. and allied intelligence. Their ability to attack and destroy bin Laden’s immediate network isolated him from new recruits, training and planning. Bin Laden and his immediate associates lost the ability, in three years or so after 9/11, to mount operations outside the Islamic world, and, to a great extent, operations inside the Islamic world might have been carried out in his name but not with his participation.
As STRATFOR once put it, Osama bin Laden once made history. He then made videos. He was eventually reduced to audio tapes — a testimony to the one part of the war that worked for the United States. But both the ideological and physical struggle against grassroots jihadists and transnational extremism continues.