After bin Laden

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 4, 2011

For almost 10 years, Americans have waited, wondering if Osama bin Laden, mastermind and orchestrator of 9/11, had died of poor health, had been killed by U.S. bombs, or was hiding in the desert.

Late Sunday, we learned that he had been hiding almost in plain sight in Pakistan, where he met his demise, thanks to the efforts of U.S. special forces.

Perhaps more surprising than the fact that we finally got him was that U.S. intelligence officials had been focused on the compound in Pakistan as his possible location since last August and the news didn’t leak. There had been, we learned, five security council meetings since March to discuss the possibility of taking out the world’s most wanted man. Even as the president was touring tornado-devastated Alabama, he was hours away from calling the hit. And after he gave the go-ahead on Friday, he was cool in public, smiling broadly at the annual White House correspondents’ dinner and never letting on that half a world away, a team of highly-specialized men was about to strike.

We have cut off the head of the proverbial serpent Al Qaueda, yet we cannot assume the world is today a safer place. For more than the almost-10-years since 9/11, bin Laden was a hunted man. There is no doubt that he planned some reaction to occur in the event of his death; indeed, the loosely run organization could still strike at any moment.

And so as Americans take to the streets to cheer his death, we should be reminded that we question similar scenes broadcast from other countries. We must remember that, though bin Laden is gone, our lives won’t return to those pre-9/11, carefree days of minimum airport security. We still can’t take our half-empty bottles of water aboard a plane; we still must remove our shoes before boarding.

How quickly we Americans shift our collective attention.

It was on Jan. 25 of this year that a revolution began in Egypt; Feb. 11 that it was announced Mubarak would step down; Feb. 15 when the fighting began in Libya; March 11 when Japan was struck by a powerful earthquake followed by nuclear disaster. In April we turned our attention to the aftermath of powerful storms. Monday, Osama knocked those stories off of the front page.

Yes, even as we rejoice at having beheaded the serpent, we must remember that all across the world, the victims of storm and revolution still need our kindness and support. And our intelligence, military and homeland security forces must be ever-cautious and ever-vigilant, especially in the days ahead.