Don't Downplay Bin Laden's Death (Except Don't Overplay It, Either)

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Hussein Ibish:

For militant and extremist groups, defeat is disastrous, and this is an enormous defeat for Al Qaeda. The group's political fortunes were moribund following the rapid overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and were revived only by the ill-considered invasion of Iraq, which gave it a new battleground, rationalization and lease on life for a number of years.
 
The loss of this vital symbolic figure, no matter how impotent he had become in reality, will undoubtedly be another significant blow to Salafist-Jihadist ideology. They may have gained a martyr, but they've lost the image of a defiant leader able to combat the Soviet Union and America alike with impunity. His deputy, the Egyptian fanatic Ayman Zawahiri, lacks the charismatic appeal bin Laden had among certain extremists, and he has no apparent successor.
 On the other hand, Lawrence Kaplan warns against the American inclination to invest too much meaning into the death of any single bogeyman:

From Kaiser Wilhelm on, and for reasons that respond to needs unrelated to national security as such, we've always pinned the blame (and credit) for mass movements on their most visible spokesmen. Tojo, Milosevic, Saddam, and, on the flipside, Yeltsin or Aristide--George Kennan was right to lament the power of the bogeyman in American foreign policy. The persistence of nasty and divisive political impulses runs counter to our progress narrative, and also tends to be more difficult to explain. Rather, in accounting for the obduracy of certain countries and ideologies, presidents have advanced the proposition that, were it not for a handful of men like Saddam Hussein, the late Mohamed Farah Aideed, and Osama bin Laden, their supporters would eagerly sign on to the American program. "You think the Germans would have perpetrated the Holocaust on their own without Hitler?" President Clinton asked in reference to the bestial conduct of the Serbs in Kosovo. "Political leaders do this kind of thing."


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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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