On September 11th, 2001, the content of any message to American friends and loved ones was easy and obvious: commiserations, empathy, and solidarity. It’s less easy to know what to say today. No nation can ignore the sort of provocation 9/11 represented; but targeted executions and assassinations remain roubling. As Blake Hounshell at FP Passport writes, it’s even uncertain what substantive achievements will proceed from the death of Osama bin Laden, a man who knew little about mercy himself – but revenge is not necessarily a dish best served quite this cold.
So this is an event within the theatre of power – a symbolic lifting up of the US, but also one might hope a turning of the page in the book of the war on terror. Its character had changed some time ago; bin Laden’s death makes this step-change explicit – but also easier for President Obama to sell to an American public which, from the celebrations on the streets of New York and Washington, is still somewhat uninterested in nuance when it comes to the fight against Islamism.
Politically, of course, Obama is immeasurably strengthened by this achivement: crassly, ‘four more years’ has apparently already been chanted by some of the crowds on Pennsylania Avenue. Obama’s speech was, I think, rather well pitched; but Howard Fineman at the HuffPo for one thinks that bin Laden’s death will intensify, rather than smooth, the political and strategic debates that now await America. Nevertheless, the LA Times has a piece which captures the tenor of the operation itself – one that seems to have been remarkably well executed. This will help after the Tora Bora debacles of the Bush years.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to know what to say about it all. Maybe I should have just written that piece on AV instead.
ETA: David Remnick at the New Yorker is a bit better than me at saying wise things.