1. Hooray. It is almost never right to celebrate a death. Almost.
2. The speech. When listening to Obama's statement in real time (at a tavern in Southern California, with my sisters and brother after a memorial service) I thought it might be too long and detailed for the circumstances. All the other big-screen TVs in the place, which had been carrying sports or reality shows, were suddenly silenced so that one carrying Obama could be heard. In that unlikely but representative setting, attention seemed to be flagging a minute or two before the president had finished speaking. But hearing excerpts on the radio as I drove home, I was more impressed by the craftsmanship and necessity of most parts of the speech. We will discuss this for a long time, but on short notice this was an effective presentation of both details and theme. The tone, which was sober rather than exultant, was also appropriate. Video is here, and below. [*See Update at bottom]
3. Emphasizing continuity. Good for Obama in going out of his way to stress, at both the beginning and end of the statement, the unified mood of the country ten years ago, and to try to summon it again. To his credit, he also several times emphasized the continuity of effort against al Qaeda over the past decade (while pointedly omitting any mention of the invasion of Iraq as part of the long effort against al Qaeda). To his further shrewdness and credit, he invoked his predecessor by name when mentioning one of George W. Bush's bravest and most important statements: "As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. I've made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam."
Good for Bush and his own statement, including saying that after Obama called him with the news, "I congratulated him and the men and women of our military and intelligence communities who devoted their lives to this mission. They have our everlasting gratitude."
Obviously there are going to be partisan implications of this news, many of which are tempting to tick off right now. It's reassuring that at least on the night of the news most major partisans avoided openly going into them.
4. 'Justice'. Further Bush/Obama resonance: In the best speech of his presidency, his address to the Joint Session of Congress nine days after the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush used this most memorable line: "Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done." Both Bush and Obama echoed that line tonight. Bush, in his statement: "the fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done." Obama, in his speech:
"On nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda's terror: Justice has been done.
Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who've worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice."
5. The potential significance: an end to the distortions of the GWOT? For years anti-terrorism experts have stressed the decentralized, self-sustaining nature of al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations around the world. The elimination of the celebrated symbol and inspiration of the movement will certainly not mean the end of terrorist threats, and in the short run could trigger revenge attacks. (I will be leaving from LAX tomorrow morning; will be interesting to see whether the security drill is different in any way.)