The death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of American forces is a semiotic victory in a semiotic war: Its strategic significance is largely tied to its symbolic resonance. "Jihadis I've interviewed since 9/11 always expressed cocky pride the US never got OBL," ABC foreign correspondent Jim Sciutto tweeted last night. "This is an enormous blow to that pride." As David Frum notes,
Bin Laden's cowardly death - hiding behind a woman taken as a human shield - further damages his image in Muslim world as "strong horse." Prestige of al Qaeda-style terrorism [is] diminished at exactly the moment that change is sweeping Arab world.
Frum identifies several other, somewhat less obvious strategic implications. Bin Laden's ability to hide in plain sight in Pakistan will inevitably chill relations between Washington and Islamabad -- and ought to improve relations between Washington and New Dehli. And the stability of Afghanistan suddenly seems less vital to US interests.
U.S. policy in Afghanistan is turning a corner - from a military surge to a military drawdown, from battering the Taliban to enticing them into negotiations...
That Afghan surge is now mostly complete, and Obama aides argue that it has been a success. "Remember that the surge had two key goals," a White House official told me last week. "One, to stop the Taliban's momentum; two, to give time and space for the Afghan security forces to grow. Both have gotten done, by and large."
The raid on bin Laden's compound may be a glimpse at the sort of light-footprint counterterrorism operations, often involving incursions into Pakistan, that will continue after the large-scale counterinsurgency campaign has wound down. If bin Laden's hard drive yields the cascade of actionable intelligence that we all hope, these counterterrorism operations could be quite productive indeed.
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