With bin Laden Dead, Questions for Pakistan, al Qaeda, U.S.

How much of a threat is al Qaeda? And what does it mean for U.S. politics?

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Amidst all the celebrating, high-fiving and Champagne-popping (local wine shop, MacArthur’s, tells me they have experienced an uptick in sales), my thoughts go back to the day that made Osama bin Laden a household name: September 11, 2001 and the days and weeks that followed. They also look forward: The world is a better place without bin Laden but the war on terror is not yet won and there are many questions still to be answered.

First and foremost, what will a bin Laden-less al Qaeda look like? Will Ayman al-Zawahiri become the new leader and will there be a power struggle that could potentially splinter the terrorist organization? We know that al Qaeda today is weakened, but it is not dead. Given the celebratory news Sunday night, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the threat remains. It is as important as ever to remain vigilant in our fight against terrorism. [See photos of reactions to Osama bin Laden's death.]

There is also the question of Pakistan. Our Treasury has been rather generous over the past several years, hoping it would help Pakistan play an important role in, broadly, ending terrorism in the region and, specifically, capturing Osama bin Laden. As John Brennan said in the White House press briefing Monday afternoon, it is “inconceivable” that bin Laden did not have some kind of “support system.” Pakistani leaders will have to be prepared to answer the questions--what did they know and when did they know it? [See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.]

In Washington, there is the expected instant analysis of what impact this has on the 2012 presidential election. (For a broader look at the history of how national security events have affected presidential approval ratings, please see pollster Glen Bolger’s expert analysis.) In the meantime, let’s leave the politics out of this for the time being and instead note the successful work by both Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush and, most importantly, our servicemen and women--and all of the coalition forces--for their efforts on our behalf. Since September 11, 2001, we have lost 5,885 of our troops. Sunday night’s news was an important reminder that they have not died in vain.

  • See photos of reactions to Osama bin Laden's death.
  • See a slide show of six potential terrorist targets.
  • See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
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