COVERKilling bin Laden: How the U.S. Finally Got ItsManBy DAVID VON DREHLE Wednesday, May 04, 2011A jubilant crowd of mostly college students celebrated in front of the White House the night bin Ladensdeath was announced by the PresidentBrooks Kraft for TIMEThe Four Helicopters chuffed urgently through the Khyber Pass, racing over the lights of Peshawar anddown toward the quiet city of Abbottabad and the prosperous neighborhood of Bilal Town. In the darkhouses below slept doctors, lawyers, retired military officers — and perhaps the worlds most wantedfugitive. The birds were on their way to find out.Ahead loomed a strange-looking house in a walled compound. The pilots knew it well, having trained fortheir mission using a specially built replica. The house was three stories tall, as if to guarantee a clearview of approaching threats, and the walls were higher and thicker than any ordinary resident wouldrequire. Another high wall shielded the upper balcony from view. A second smaller house stood nearby.As a pair of backup helicopters orbited overhead, an HH-60 Pave Hawk chopper and a CH-47 Chinookdipped toward the compound. A dozen SEALs fast-roped onto the roof of a building from the HH-60before it lost its lift and landed hard against a wall. The Chinook landed, and its troops clambered out.Half a world away, it was Sunday afternoon in the crowded White House Situation Room. PresidentBarack Obama was stone-faced as he followed the unfolding drama on silent video screens — a dramahe alone had the power to start but now was powerless to control.At a meeting three days earlier, Obama had heard his options summarized, three ways of dealing withtantalizing yet uncertain intelligence that had been developed over painstaking months and years. Hecould continue to watch the strange compound using spies and satellites in hopes that the prey wouldreveal himself. He could knock out the building from a safe distance using B-2 bombers and theirprecision-guided payloads. Or he could unleash the special force of SEALs known as Team 6.
How strong was the intelligence? he asked. A 50% to 80% chance, he was told. What could go wrong?Plenty: a hostage situation, a diplomatic crisis — a dozen varieties of the sort of botch that ruins apresidency. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter authorized a daring helicopter raid on Tehran to freeAmerican hostages. The ensuing debacle helped bury his re-election hopes.To wait was to risk a leak, now that more than a hundred people had been briefed on the possible raid.To bomb might mean that the U.S. would never know for sure whether the mission was a success. As foran assault by special forces, U.S. relations with the Pakistani government were tricky enough withoutstaging a raid on sovereign territory.It is said that only the hard decisions make it to a Presidents plate. This was one. Obamas inner circlewas deeply divided. After more than an hour of discussion, Obama dismissed the group, saying hewanted time to reflect — but not much time. The next morning, as the President left the White House totour tornado damage in Alabama, he paused on his way through the Diplomatic Reception Room torender his decision: send the SEALs.On Saturday the weather was cloudy in Abbottabad. Obama kept his appointment at the annual WhiteHouse Correspondents Dinner, where a ballroom full of snoops had no inkling of the news volcanorumbling under their feet. The next morning, White House officials closed the West Wing to visitors, andObama joined his staff in the Situation Room as the mission lifted off from a base in Jalalabad, southernAfghanistan. The bet was placed: American choppers invaded the airspace of a foreign country withoutwarning, to attack a walled compound housing unknown occupants.Obama returned to the Situation Room a short time later as the birds swooped down on the mysterioushouse. Over the next 40 minutes, chaos addled the satellite feeds. A hole was blown through the side ofthe house, gunfire erupted. SEALs worked their way through the smaller buildings inside the compound.Others swarmed upward in the main building, floor by floor, until they came to the room where theyhoped to find their cornered target. Then they were inside the room for a final burst of gunfire.What had happened? The President sat and stared while several of his aides paced. The minutes"passed like days," one official recalls. The grounded chopper felt like a bad omen.Then a voice briskly crackled with the hoped-for code name: "Visual on Geronimo."Osama bin Laden, elusive emir of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, the man who said yes to the 9/11attacks, the taunting voice and daunting catalyst of thousands of political murders on four continents, wasdead. The U.S. had finally found the long-sought needle in a huge and dangerous haystack. Through 15of the most divisive years of modern American politics, the hunt for bin Laden was one of the few steadilyshared endeavors. President Bill Clinton sent a shower of Tomahawk missiles down on bin Ladenssuspected hiding place in 1998 after al-Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa. President GeorgeW. Bush dispatched troops to Afghanistan in 2001 after al-Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Center anddamaged the Pentagon. Each time, bin Laden escaped, evaporating into the lawless Afghan borderlandswhere no spy, drone or satellite could find him. Meanwhile, the slender Saudi changed our lives in wayslarge and small, touched off a moral reckoning over the use of torture and introduced us to the 3-oz. (90ml) toothpaste tube.
"Dead or alive," Bush declared in 2001, when the smell of smoke was still acrid, and the cowboy rhetoricstruck a chord. It took a long time to make good on that vow — an interval in which the very idea ofAmerican power and effectiveness took a beating. Thus, to find this one man on a planet of close to 7billion, to roar out of the night and strike with the coiled wrath of an unforgetting people, was grimlysatisfying. The thousands of Americans across the country whose impulse was to celebrate — bangingdrums outside the White House, waving flags at Ground Zero — were moved perhaps by more thanunrefined delight at the villains comeuppance. It was a relief to find that America can still fix a bulls-eyeon a difficult goal, stick with it year after frustrating year and succeed when almost no one expects it.Living the Good LifeSo he wasnt in a cave after all. Osama bin Laden, master marketer of mass murder, loved to traffic in theimage of the ascetic warrior-prophet. In one of his most famous videotapes, he chose gray rocks for abackdrop, a rough camo jacket for a costume and a rifle for a prop. He portrayed a hard, pure alternativeto the decadent weakness of the modern world. Soft Westerners and their corrupt puppet princesreclined in luxury and sin while he wanted nothing but a gun and a prayer rug. The zealot travels light, hisbloodred thoughts so pure that even stones are as cushions for his untroubled sleep.Now we know otherwise. Bin Laden was not the stoic soldier that he played onscreen. The exiled son ofa Saudi construction mogul was living in a million-dollar home in a wealthy town nestled among greenhills. He apparently slept in a king-size bed with a much younger wife. He had satellite TV. This, most ofall, was fitting, because no matter how many hours he spent talking nostalgically of the 12th century andthe glory of the Islamic caliphate, bin Laden was a master of the 21st century image machine.He understood the power of the underdog to turn an opponents strength into a fatal weakness. If yourenemy spans the globe, blow up his embassies. If he fills the skies with airplanes, hijack some andsmash them into his buildings. Bin Laden learned this judo as a mujahid fighting the Soviet Union inAfghanistan, and he perfected it against the U.S. In 1996 he laid down a marker, literally declaring war onthe worlds lone superpower — an incredibly audacious act of twisted imagination. And then, withpatience and cunning, he somehow made the war come true. No Hollywood filmmaker ever staged amore terrifying spectacle than 9/11, which bin Laden conjured from a few box cutters and 19 misguidedmartyrs. When the Twin Towers collapsed, he became the real-life answer to the ruthless, stateless andseemingly unstoppable villains of James Bond fantasy.It was necessary, then, to find him and render him mortal again, reduce him to mere humanity — not justas a matter of justice but as a matter of self-defense. The raid took him down to size. Obamas chiefcounterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, found himself disgusted by bin Laden in a whole new way:"Here is bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks, living in this million-dollar-plus compound,living in an area that is far removed from the front. I think it really just speaks to just how false hisnarrative has been over the years."Remember that bin Laden once declared, "We love death. The U.S. loves life." Evidently that was a linehe peddled to would-be suicide bombers. For himself, he preferred life in tranquil Abbottabad.That proved his undoing. In 2005 an unknown benefactor built the strange compound where bin Ladenwas eventually found. The site was a triangle-shaped piece of farmland. Walls ranging from 10 ft. (3 m) to
18 ft. (5.5 m) high and topped with barbed wire enclosed the 1-acre (0.4 hectare) property, which lay lessthan a mile from the military academy that is Pakistans answer to West Point. An interior wall 12 ft. (3.7m) high separated the house from the rest of the grounds. Thus to reach the living areas, it wasnecessary to pass through two locked gates. A pit in the yard was used for burning household trash,leaving nothing for snooping garbage collectors. On the north side of the house, where the windows werevisible, the glass was opaque.Bin Laden took up residence soon after the compound was finished. Perhaps he knew of other terroristsin the area. Earlier this year, Umar Patek, an Indonesian linked to the 2002 al-Qaeda bombing in Bali,was arrested at the home of an Abbottabad retiree. Pateks capture came not long after Pakistaniauthorities arrested an alleged al-Qaeda facilitator named Tahir Shehzad. According to documentspublished by WikiLeaks, bin Ladens senior lieutenant in the period after Tora Bora, Abu Faraj al-Libbi,lived for a time in Abbottabad before his capture in 2005 and was visited there by one of bin Ladenstrusted couriers.But if bin Laden knew that this pretty town with its rolling golf course was home to sympathizers, heshould have surmised that it was also home to his enemies. And a person who truly wants to stay hiddenshould not live in a big house behind towering walls in an otherwise sparsely populated field. People arebound to grow curious — including people working for the CIA."Once we came across this compound, we paid close attention to it because it became clear thatwhoever was living here was trying to maintain a very discreet profile," a senior U.S. intelligenceoperative explained. Brennan summed it up more tersely: "It had the appearance of sort of a fortress."In Plain SightBy the time of the raid, Bin Laden had been living in the compound for some five years, surrounded bymembers of his extensive family, including the adult son who died with him. Why did it take so long for thefortress to come under suspicion? Obamas view was clear in his televised address from the East Roomlate Sunday night, when he delivered the news of bin Ladens death to a stunned global audience. Hesubtly reprised the charge he had made during his campaign for the presidency: the Bush Administrationtook its eye off the ball. "Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military andour counterterrorism professionals, weve made great strides" in the war against al-Qaeda, he said. "YetOsama bin Laden avoided capture."Obama continued, "And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, tomake the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al-Qaeda, even as wecontinued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle and defeat his network."The implication wasnt lost on Bushs supporters. While the former President and his senior adviserswere quick to praise the successful raid, other Republicans groused about the way it was framed. "ThatsObama politics," Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the SenateIntelligence Committee, told Time. He continued, "I can tell you I was involved in a very close way withthe Bush Administration — Director [Michael] Hayden when he was at the CIA, as well as Director [Porter]Goss when he was there, and Director [George] Tenet. I know that the focus of everyone in the BushAdministration was to take out bin Laden irrespective of what it took. They never lost their focus."
A larger and more pressing question was the failure of Pakistan to note the terrorist chieftains luxury digs.Abbottabad is just 75 winding highway miles (120 km) from the capital, Islamabad, and teems withPakistani military brass — current, future and retired. It is home to an entire brigade of the Pakistani army.How could the worlds most wanted terrorist spend five years in a fortress compound under the nose ofthe government? White House adviser Brennan said it is "inconceivable" that bin Laden didnt have asupport system inside Pakistan. "The United States provides billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan," saysDemocratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey." Before we send another dime, we need to knowwhether Pakistan truly stands with us in the fight against terrorism."For President Asif Ali Zardari, the charge that Pakistan shielded bin Laden is a personal affront. Heblames the al-Qaeda leader for the murder of his wife, former President Benazir Bhutto, who was, asZardari wrote in the Washington Post, "bin Ladens worst nightmare — a democratically elected,progressive, moderate, pluralistic female leader." Zardari moved quickly after the raid to tamp downpossible protests, noting that the Taliban was blaming him for the al-Qaeda leaders death. "We will notbe intimidated," Zardari declared. "Pakistan has never been and never will be the hotbed of fanaticismthat is often described by the media."Yet another of the lessons we have learned as a consequence of bin Ladens jihad is that the politics ofPakistan are Byzantine and double-dealing in ways no spy novelist could conjure. Only a week before theraid, news reports revealed that Pakistan — a supposed U.S. ally in the war on terrorism — has beenurging Afghan President Hamid Karzai to break with the Americans and team up with China. This is agovernment, after all, that manages to fight the Taliban with one arm even as elements of its internal spyagency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, support the Taliban with the other.As Daniel Markey, a former State Department specialist on South Asia, explains, Pakistan is full ofsuspicious characters and fortified homesteads. Government officials often decide that its better not toknow too much. So as we ask in coming weeks whether forces inside Pakistan protected bin Laden,pursued him or ignored him, the answer is likely yes to all three. And that should warn us that bin Ladensdeath resolves only a part of the twisted, complex drama that is the war on terrorism. Indeed, it may bethe easy part.From Intel to CaptureThe path to bin Laden began in the dark prisons of the CIAs post-9/11 terrorist crackdown. Underquestioning, captured al-Qaeda operatives described bin Ladens preferred mode of communication. Heknew that he couldnt trust electronics, so he passed his orders through letters hand-carried by fanaticallydevoted couriers. One in particular caught the CIAs attention, though he was known only by a nickname.Interrogators grilled 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for details about the courier. When hepleaded ignorance, they knew they were onto something promising. Al-Libbi, the senior al-Qaeda figurecaptured in 2005, also played dumb. Both men were subjected to so-called enhanced interrogationtechniques, including, in Mohammeds case, the waterboard. The U.S. previously prosecuted as torturersthose who used waterboarding, and critics say it violates international treaties. They also argue thatextreme techniques are counterproductive. The report that Mohammed and al-Libbi were moreforthcoming after the harsh treatment guarantees that the argument will go on.
Gradually, the couriers identity was pieced together. The next job was to find him. The CIA tracked downhis family and associates, then turned to the National Security Agency to put them under electronicsurveillance. For a long time, nothing happened. Finally, last summer, agents intercepted the call theydbeen waiting for.The CIA picked up the couriers trail in Peshawar and then followed him until he led them to thecompound in Abbottabad. Now the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency trained a spy satellite on thetriangular fortress. Over time, despite the residents extreme secrecy, analysts grew more confident thatthey had hit the jackpot."There wasnt perfect visibility on everything inside the compound, but we did have a very goodunderstanding of the residents who were there, in terms of the number there and in terms of who themales were and the women and children," a senior U.S. intelligence official told reporters. "We were ableto identify a family at the compound that, in terms of numbers, squared with the number of bin Ladenfamily members we thought were probably living with him in Pakistan."Obama was first informed of the breakthrough in August. By February the clues were solid enough forPanetta to begin planning a raid. Panetta called the commander of the Joint Special OperationsCommand (JSOC), Vice Admiral William McRaven, to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. JSOC is thepotent weapon created from the humiliation of the failed 1980 hostage-rescue mission. That effort wasdoomed by inadequate preparation, poor communication and cascading equipment failures. JSOC putan end to those obstacles among the elite U.S. strike forces and has become one of the most effectivetools in the American military for dealing with unconventional enemies in the shape-shifting war on terror.Ultimately, the plan devised by McRavens troops called for about 80 men aboard four helicopters. "Idont want you to plan for an option that doesnt allow you to fight your way out," Obama told his militaryplanners. Darkness was the cloak and speed essential; the force had to be in and out of Pakistan beforethe Pakistani military could respond. They rehearsed against a 30-minute clock. The orders were captureor kill.Meanwhile, the pace of secret White House briefings accelerated in March and April, culminating in theApril 28 session at which Obama weighed the conflicting advice of his senior circle. When the decisionwas made to strike the compound, bin Laden still had not been spotted among the residents behind thewalls.The raiders found him near the end of their search through the house. The courier was already dead onthe first floor, along with his brother and a woman caught in the cross fire. When the SEALs encounteredbin Laden, he was with one of his wives. The young woman started toward the SEALs and was shot inthe leg. Bin Laden, unarmed, appeared ready to resist, according to a Defense Department account.In an instant it was over: in all, four men and one woman lay dead. Bin Laden was shot in the head and inthe chest. One of bin Ladens wives confirmed his identity even as a photograph of the dead mans facewas relayed for examination by a face-recognition program. As the SEAL team prepared to load the bodyonto a helicopter, at Langley McRaven delivered the verdict. His voice was relayed to the White HouseSituation Room: "Geronimo: E-KIA," meaning enemy — killed in action.
"We got him," Obama said.The strike force had eluded Pakistani radar on the flight into the country, but once the firefight erupted,the air force scrambled jets, which might arrive with guns blazing. A decision was made to destroy thestricken chopper. Surviving women and children in the compound — some of them wounded — weremoved to safety as the explosives were placed and detonated. In the meantime, SEALs emerged fromthe house carrying computer drives and other potential intelligence treasures collected during a hastysearch.Aloft, the raiders performed a head count to confirm that they hadnt lost a man. That news sent a secondwave of smiles through the Situation Room. "They said all the helicopters are up, none of our people arehurt," a senior Administration official told TIME. "That was actually the period of most relief." DNA fromthe body was matched to known relatives of bin Ladens — a third form of identification.According to officials, the dead mans next stop was the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier in theArabian Sea. There, his body was washed and wrapped in a white sheet, then dropped overboard. Therewould be no grave for his admirers to venerate. The face that haunted the Western world, the eyes thatlooked on the blazing towers with pride of authorship, sank sightless beneath the waves.What He Leaves BehindOn Sept. 17, 2001, the same day that President Bush promised "dead or alive," Secretary of State ColinPowell — already a seasoned veteran of the hunt for bin Laden — had this to say: "We are after theal-Qaeda network. Its not one individual; its lots of individuals, and its lots of cells. Osama bin Laden isthe chairman of the holding company, and within that holding company are terrorist cells andorganizations in dozens of countries around the world, any one them capable of committing a terroristact."The hunt for bin Laden was only one aspect of the war that he unleashed. It has been a war unlike anyother, one that defies definition. It has persisted in Afghanistan long after bin Laden and his enablerMullah Omar were driven from the country. It bled into Iraq without Americans being able to agreewhether we had chased or created it there. It is a gray war, without borders or uniforms, fought onfrontiers ranging from the rocky highlands of the Silk Road to the aisles of the suburban beauty-supplywarehouse where an al-Qaeda trainee bought chemicals to make a bomb. You cant ignore the war,because it can come and find you when you least expect it.So while its not enough to get one individual, the occasion of bin Ladens death is a moment to takestock. A scattered enemy can still be a dangerous one. Terrorism experts warn of the possibility that anisolated cell or lone wolf might try to strike in retaliation for the killing of the leader.But the al-Qaeda network is a tattered tissue compared with what it was when it managed to hit theAmerican mainland as it had never been hit by outsiders before. According to polling by the PewResearch Centers Global Attitudes Project, across the Muslim world confidence in bin Laden hadplunged long before his death — down by half in the Palestinian territories, by even more in Indonesia,Jordan and, yes, Pakistan.
From Tunisia to Egypt to Syria this year, scores of thousands of young people — the very people binLaden hoped to lead backward across a millennium — have poured into the streets in peaceful uprisings,chanting slogans of democracy. To be sure, Islamic fundamentalists will seek to turn the Arab Spring intheir own direction, but regardless of how that plays out, it has been a bad season for bin Ladenism.The successes against al-Qaeda have cost us dearly — in money, time, easy freedom and untroubledsleep. It has cost the lives of more than 5,000 U.S. and allied service members while leaving many morethousands wounded. The war on terrorism is nearly 10 years old and has no clear end in sight.But perhaps the most important thing to come from bin Ladens death is the sense that maybe thisstruggle wont last forever. That hope seemed to animate the young people who greeted the newsSunday night with jubilation. Outside the White House, college students turned Pennsylvania Avenue intoa giant party, waving flags and chanting "U.S.A.!" They shimmied trees, sang patriotic songs and huggedstrangers like sailors on V-J Day. Similar celebrations broke out across the country, but the next day amore contemplative mood settled over people whose lives were marked by 9/11. People like Ben Hughes,21, a junior at Savannah College of Art and Design, who typed this Facebook message on the first daywithout Osama bin Laden:"I was a sixth grade student in Chatham, MA. I distinctly remember walking into school that morning withtwo friends, one of whom had his birthday that day and was planning a party. When the first plane hit, wewere all ushered to the main hallway and made to take seats on the floor for an announcement from ourprincipal. She told us that it seemed an accident had occurred with one of the World Trade Centerbuildings in New York City. A pilot may have suffered a heart attack at the helm of the aircraft and hit thebuilding, she said."We continued our day without access to television or news outlets. But you could see that the teachersknew more than they let on. When I arrived home I asked my mother if I could watch the news reports,and for what seemed like days we sat there, in both awe and terror. It was the first moment in my shortlife where I felt entirely helpless."In the years since that day I have marked every year with a solid time of reflection and silence. And I willalways remember also that I was on a flight between Charlotte, NC and Savannah, GA when the pilotcame over the loudspeaker to announce that Osama bin Laden had been killed."The innocence lost can never be restored. But the feeling of helplessness need not last forever. It is anolder, wiser country that writes the epitaph of the terrorist.
Obama 1, Osama 0By JOE KLEIN Friday, May 20, 2011White House Situation Room, Sunday, May 1. The "minutes passed like days"Pete Souza / White HouseSometimes the tabloid route is best: Obama got Osama. President Barack Hussein Obama approved theattack that killed his near namesake Osama bin Laden the very same week that Obama revealed hislong-form birth certificate, addressing a silly dispute that was really about something heinous and serious:the suspicion of far too many Americans that the President was not who he said he was, that he was asecret Muslim and maybe not even playing for our team. All such doubts are resolved now, by documentand deed, although the various birthers and truthers and mouthers will continue to play their vile games.But the facts are there for posterity and for the voters who will have to make a judgment in 2012: thisprofoundly American President ran an exquisite operation to find and kill one of the great villains ofhistory. In the process, U.S. presidential politics and the so-called war on terror were transformeddramatically; suddenly, both foreign policy experts and Republican candidates for President had vastnew landscapes to consider. And so much for No Drama, by the way.there is no measure of competence the public takes more seriously than a Presidents performance asCommander in Chief. On the most basic level, the bin Laden raid was a vivid demonstration of how thisCommander in Chief operates. He is discreet, precise, patient and willing to be lethal. He did not take theeasy route, which would have been a stealth-bomber strike on bin Ladens compound. He ordered theNavy SEAL operation, even though there were myriad ways it could have failed — or turned out to be anembarrassment if bin Laden hadnt been there, or a disaster if the SEALs had been slaughtered, or if ahelicopter had been damaged (as several aircraft were when Jimmy Carter tried to rescue the hostagesfrom Iran). In at least nine National Security Council meetings, Obama insisted on reviewing every crucialdetail of the operation. He made sure, after a decade of witless Islam-related goofs by U.S. leaders, thatbin Ladens body would be handled and consigned to the lower depths in a way that would not offendMuslims; that in the early hours, at least, there wouldnt be gory photos or films or any evidence ofbarbaric gloating; that the operation would be surgical and stealthy enough that bin Ladens documenthoard would be preserved and dispositive DNA evidence would be gathered. These are the sort ofnuances — a word his predecessor mocked — that have marked many of Obamas foreign policy
decisions, made in a deliberative style that his critics, and even some supporters, have seen as evidenceof dithering or indecision.George W. Bush certainly deserves some of the credit for this raid. It would not have been possiblewithout his decision to amp up human-intelligence assets and special-operations forces after decades ofneglect. But you have to wonder whether Bush would have had the patience or subtlety to conduct thisoperation with the same thoroughness Obama did. Bush certainly lacked the strategic focus tounderstand that the war against al-Qaeda had to be primarily a slow-moving special-forces affair; he wasdiverted into bold gestures, like the disastrous war in Iraq. He never studied the intelligence rigorouslyenough; he bought the sources that backed his predispositions. He understood too late the style andsubstance of Islam, how words like crusade resonated through the region. His was a bumper-stickerforeign policy. His speeches were full of God and Freedom and Evildoers. His troops rushed intoBaghdad in three weeks, and he celebrated their victory with another bumper sticker: MISSIONACCOMPLISHED. He was able to use these simplicities to win re-election in 2004, although he lost a lotof lives unnecessarily and damaged Americas esteem in the eyes of the world.Obamas national-security practices, if not his actual policies, have been almost the exact opposite,almost to a fault. There have been no three-week victories; there have been three-month deliberationsabout what to do in Afghanistan. There were precious few victories at all before the bin Laden operation.There was a lot of multilateralism and deference to foreign leaders. Critics said Obama bowed too deeplyto the Emperor of Japan. There were few dramatic pronouncements and zero foreign policy bumperstickers; there were more than a few embarrassments. He was dissed by the Chinese. He was dissed bythe Iranians. He was defied by corrupt nonentities like Afghanistans Hamid Karzai; he was double-dealtby the Pakistanis. And in recent weeks, there was a growing chorus that his handling of the Arab Springrevolutions had been incoherent and his indulgence in a humanitarian intervention in Libya had beenmuscled through by a coterie of female policy advisers who were tougher than he was.In the days before the bin Laden raid, Obamas national-security staff was increasingly frustrated withhow his foreign policy was being portrayed. He was not indecisive, they argued, just careful. They madea transcript of a crucial Feb. 1 phone call between Obama and Egypts Hosni Mubarak available to me. Itwas classic Obama. "I have no interest in embarrassing you," the President said. "I want to help yousecure your legacy by ushering in a new era." He worked this track patiently, twice, three times. "I respectmy elders," Obama said, "but because things worked one way in the past, that doesnt mean theyregoing to work the same way in the future. You need to seize this historic moment and leave a positivelegacy." Mubarak said hed think about it and would talk again in a week. Obama said he wanted to talkagain the next day. Mubarak said maybe over the weekend; Obama said no: "Well talk in 24 hours." Nothreats, but no give, either."You have to see this in the context of history," a senior Administration official told me. "Thats a prettytough decision to make, involving a longtime U.S. ally. But he was very firm with Mubarak. If you look atReagan, he agonized far longer over whether to abandon governments we had supported in Indonesiaand the Philippines than the President did about Egypt." Last Aug. 12, four months before the Tunisianrebellion began, the President issued a national-security directive ordering his staff to develop a newpolicy that assumed the governments in the Middle East were rickety and might soon topple. A copy ofthis memo was provided to me as well.
Too much has been made of what some are calling Obamas taste for humanitarian intervention. Officialsat the National Security Council and the State Department insist that the roles of NSC staffer SamanthaPower, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and former State Department director of policy planningAnne-Marie Slaughter have been exaggerated. Power is a well-known human-rights activist, but sheattended only one meeting with the President on Middle East policy in the past six months; Slaughter is aprominent academic, but she never met with the President on these issues. Indeed, Secretary of StateHillary Clinton was leaning against taking military action in Libya until the last moment, when members ofthe Arab League convinced her that a massacre would take place in Benghazi if nothing were done. ThePresident opposed a no-fly zone because it wouldnt effectively stop a Gaddafi massacre. "He expandedthe U.N. resolution to include attacks on Libyan equipment and forces about to move into the city," anAdministration official said. "He drove the policy. No one talked him into anything."But there was something incoherent, or perhaps insufficiently explained, about Obamas foreign policyperformance. The Libya intervention opened the door to a series of logical questions: Why choose thishumanitarian intervention and not others? Why not get involved in Syria, a far more crucial country,where the government was brutally suppressing its citizens and perhaps even conducting massacres?Whom were we actually supporting in Libya? What if the conflict slipped into a tribal stalemate? Howwere we going to deal with the economic catastrophe looming in Egypt, which Administration officials sayis the most pressing problem in the region? Werent the Presidents priorities all screwed up? "Libya wastough," the official told me. "The President decided to make a front-end decision to save Benghazi and letour allies carry the burden after that." This policy became the subject of ridicule after an anonymousAdministration official called it "leading from the rear."The splendid success of the bin Laden operation should clarify the precise way that this President goesabout his work. It also provides an insight into the reasons for Obamas ill-concealed frustration with hiscritics: the metabolism of policy runs much more slowly than the metabolism of the media. Policy,especially foreign policy, does not lend itself to spiffy one-size-fits-all doctrines. The same President candecide to take a risky shot at killing Osama bin Laden and choose not to take out Muammar Gaddafi; hecan decide to make a discreet humanitarian intervention in Benghazi, at the behest of all the countries inthe region, while allowing blood to flow in Syria. Not all of these decisions will prove correct over time —every President makes mistakes — but the overall pattern of judgments can be assessed only withsufficient hindsight. It is difficult for a President and his team to keep things in perspective when themedia pulse has reached tuning-fork speed and now includes not just CNN and Fox News but alsoal-Jazeera, Facebook and Twitter. It is particularly difficult for a President whose every decision isquestioned by an opposition whose most prominent spokespeople are willing to toy with despicablerumors about his nationality and religious background."My fellow Americans," the President opened at the White House correspondents dinner on the nightbefore bin Laden was killed, and the audience roared with laughter. His decimation of Donald Trump,who sat in the audience, was particularly brutal. He marveled at Trumps decision to "fire" Gary Buseyinstead of Meat Loaf on his Celebrity Apprentice show. "These are the kinds of decisions that would keepme up at night. Well handled, sir." The audience didnt know it at the time, but two nights earlier Obamahad been kept up trying to decide whether to launch the SEAL team against bin Laden or take thestealth-bomber route. A President lives at the intersection of historic decisions like that one and a mediaenvironment in which Donald Trump can make outlandish claims about the Presidents birthplace — and
shoot to the top of Republican presidential polls. The distance between those two worlds ismind-bending.The Obama presidency has been plagued by complexities: How do you conduct a presidency withoutbumper stickers? How can you explain counterintuitive policies like the need to spend money to softenthe blow of a killer recession, even if it expands the federal deficit? How do you convey the policytightrope that has to be walked as longtime despotic allies in the Arab world are toppled, or not, byrevolutions without leaders? How can you explain the delicate task of managing relations with China,when all the public wants to know is why the U.S. seems to be falling behind economically?The one slogan Obama has attempted — WINNING THE FUTURE — seems pretty lame and lamer stillwhen he repeats it incessantly. Why isnt he focused on winning the present? There have been times —his speech after the Tucson, Ariz., shootings, his bin Laden announcement — when the President hastapped directly into the heart of American sensibility and sentiment. More often, he seems a stranger,unable to fix on the momentary needs of the public, unwilling to indulge the instantaneous needs of themedia. His strategy is to hope that the accumulated wisdom of his decisionmaking will count for morewhen 2012 rolls around than the pyrotechnics that pass for political discourse in this jittery, nano-wiredage. He will mediate congressional disputes rather than make grand policy proposals that others canshoot down. He will eschew dramatic gestures overseas — unless he has carefully considered everyfacet, as he did in Abbottabad, Pakistan. He will play the grownup because he is a grownup. It will beinteresting to see if that works.The White House Situation Room Through the Years
War RoomPresident Lyndon B. Johnson, Walt Rostow and others look at relief map of the Khe Sanh area, Vietnam,on February 15, 1968. LBJs predecessor, President John F. Kennedy created the situation room as aninformation center in May 1961 after he grew frustrated at the inability to work with real time informationduring the Bay of Pigs fiasco.Dark MattersPresident Jimmy Carter participates in a National Security Council Special Coordination Committeemeeting on February 3, 1977.
On the MapPresident Ronald Reagan meets in the sit room with Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, GeneralRobert T. Herres (top left) and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to discuss the condition of the USmissile frigate Stark on May 1, 1987.PanelsPresident Bill Clinton holds a video tele-conference with former South African President Nelson Mandela
in the situation room on February 22, 2000. Clinton offered continuing US support to Burundi peace talksin a message to participants of Arusha discussions chaired by Mandela.Secure LocationPresident George W. Bush speaks with Iraqs Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki via secure videoconferencefrom the Situation Room at the White House January 4, 2007.Person to Person
A secure, soundproof telephone cabin, known as a "Superman tube" is seen in the White HouseSituation Room complex in the basement of the West Wing of the White House, May 18, 2007. Thecomplex went through a major renovation in 2007 — both the size of the suite was enhanced as well asthe technological capabilities.Multiple ScreensThe President and senior staff use the room, seen here May 18, 2007, for regular meetings with of theNational Security Council and to talk via secure videoconference with foreign leaders. In times ofemergency, the Situation Room becomes a crisis-management center.
Commander-in-ChiefPresident Barack Obama talks with members of the national security team at the conclusion of one in aseries of meetings discussing the mission against Osama bin Laden, in the Situation Room of the WhiteHouse, May 1, 2011.Photo EssayCrowds, Chaos and Some Closure at GroundZeroMonday, May 2, 2011 | By TIME Photo DepartmentThere was perhaps no place more fitting to go than the place where it all began. As President Obama wrapped up hisremarks, confirming the death of Public Enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden, a few people started to gather at New YorkCity’s Ground Zero. They kept coming. By the time a man shinnied up a lamppost around midnight and sprayedbottles of champagne over the crowd, several hundred people had gathered.The word for the night was “closure”. It sprung from the lips of almost every person who went to the hallowed groundof the World Trade Center to mark an end of sorts to the U.S.’s most painful open wound. While capturing bin Ladenlikely won’t change much of the operations of al-Qaeda, tonight, that didn’t matter. What mattered was the peoplewho gathered to celebrate the conquering of the person who killed many of this city’s loved ones.As everyone knows, in America, when the words are slow to come, the booze pours freely. This colorful crowd,American flags draped around their necks, sang the national anthem, “God Bless the U.S.A.” and “America, the
Beautiful” in spurts of unison. They chanted “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!,” “Yes, we can!” (the slogan of Obama’s 2008presidential campaign) and “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye.” “This is New York — this what we do,” said Sonam Velani, a23-year-old who lives just a few blocks from the site of the 9/11 WTC attack. “We come together to celebrate thesethings — even at two in the morning.”One man, wearing what can only be described as stunner shades, clad in an American flag hat and T-shirt, broadcast“Born in the U.S.A.” on a makeshift boom box he held high above his head. Another man scrambled up a pole toaddress the crowd. “I have something to say. You see what the enemy can do,” he said, gesturing at the empty holewhere the Twin Towers once stood. “We will go further.”Lauren Fleishman for TIMEA crowd gathered at New Yorks Ground Zero right after Obamas speech announcing the death of Osama Bin Ladenon May 1, 2011. Revelers in the crowd scrambled up light poles over the cheering crowd.As the hours ticked by, the usual antics were to be expected. There were the sellers hawking American flags for $5 apop, the trampled cardboard cases of Keystone Light (evidence of the drunken college kids who stumbled aroundlooking for more) and the few who took things a little too far, climbing things not meant to be climbed. But in lookingfor the quieter ones, the people standing solemnly at the back of the crowd, it was easy to spot those who hadjourneyed to Ground Zero not for a boisterous celebration but to reflect on the magnitude of the night.Among them was Mickey Carroll, a 29-year-old firefighter from Staten Island who lost his father, also a firefighter, on9/11. He couldn’t quite sum up the emotions he felt. “It’s hard to explain. I feel anxious. I feel excited,” he said. “Thisis something that this country [EM] these families, my family [EM] has been waiting for for so long.”Jamie Roman, a 17-year-old from Astoria, Queens, who came to Ground Zero with her mother, echoed that sentiment.Holding a T-shirt tightly to her chest, she fought tears as she remembered the man it memorialized. She spoke of
Christopher Santora, a close family friend who, at 23, was the youngest firefighter to lose his life in the attacks. “Thisis a little bit of closure,” she said. “We finally have some peace in our lives.”By Kayla Webley, with reporting by Paul MoakleyEmotions ran high among those gathering from solemn to excited. A young student Kathleen Lampert sings along toGod Bless America with the crowd.
Young servicemen of the U.S. Army drove into the city from Yonkers, New York to join the gathering.Much of the crowd was made up of young college students who came with all kinds of flags.The crowd held handmade signs to celebrate including this impromptu one on an iPad.
There were sellers hawking American flags for $5 a pop like Lance (who would only give his firstname) early on in the gathering.Some young visitors purchased them from the competing vendors to celebrate with the crowd.
Those driving by Ground Zero blew their horns to the delight of the crowds.20-year-old Chris Lombari, the son of a firefighter from Staten Island, climbed on top of a phonebooth to cheer on the crowd and reflect on the night.
It was an emotional night for many of those who attended the impromptu gathering and a time tobe close with friends.The crowd made lots of noise with patriotic chants, boom boxes and all kinds of horns.
From left: Andrea Osbourne and Jessica Davis from F.I.T. celebrated with some patriotic makeup.An excited young man raised the spirits of the crowd while waving a tattered flag over the streets.
A young man gets a lift from his friend to wave a flag over the crowd.The word for the night was "closure". It sprung from almost every persons lips who came to thehallowed ground of the World Trade Center to mark an end of sorts to our nations most painfulopen wound. Many where young patriotic men waving or wrapping themselves in the stars andstripes.
Amid the cheers it was easy to spot those who had come to Ground Zero not for the boisterouscelebration, but to reflect on the magnitude of the night.Michael Carroll, 27 years old from Ladder 120 in Brownsville, Brooklyn who lost his father, alsoa firefighter, on 9/11. He couldnt quite sum up the emotions he felt. "Its hard to explain. I feelanxious. I feel excited," he said. "This is something that this country, these families, my family,has been waiting for for so long."
The crowd grew to several hundred people by 1:00am cheering slogans like "USA! USA! USA!"and "Yes, We Can!" (the slogan of Obamas 2008 campaign).A Long Time GoingBy PETER BERGEN Friday, May 20, 2011Bin Laden enjoys a laugh in the Jalalabad region of Afghanistan in 1988AFP/Getty ImagesOsama bin Laden long fancied himself something of a poet. His compositions tended to the morbid, anda poem written two years after 9/11 in which he contemplated the circumstances of his death was no
exception. Bin Laden wrote, "Let my grave be an eagles belly, its resting place in the skys atmosphereamongst perched eagles."As it turns out, bin Ladens grave is somewhere at the bottom of the Arabian Sea, to which his body wasconsigned after his death in Pakistan at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs. If there is poetry in bin Ladensend, it is the poetry of justice, and it calls to mind what President George W. Bush had predicted wouldhappen in a speech he gave to Congress just nine days after 9/11. In an uncharacteristic burst ofeloquence, Bush asserted that bin Laden and al-Qaeda would eventually be consigned to "historysunmarked grave of discarded lies," just as communism and Nazism had been before them.Though bin Ladens body may have been buried at sea on May 2, the burial of bin Ladenism has been adecade in the making. Indeed, it began on the very day of bin Ladens greatest triumph. At first glance,the 9/11 assault looked like a stunning win for al-Qaeda, a ragtag band of jihadists who had bloodied thenose of the worlds only superpower. But on closer look it became something far less significant, becausethe attacks on Washington and New York City did not achieve bin Ladens key strategic goal: thewithdrawal of the U.S. from the Middle East, which he imagined would lead to the collapse of all theAmerican-backed authoritarian regimes in the region.Instead, the opposite happened: the U.S. invaded and occupied first Afghanistan and then Iraq. Byattacking the American mainland and inviting reprisal, al-Qaeda — which means "the base" in Arabic —lost the best base it had ever had: Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. In this sense, 9/11 was similar to anothersurprise attack, that on Pearl Harbor on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, a stunning tactical victory that set inmotion events that would end in the defeat of imperial Japan.Shrewder members of bin Ladens inner circle had warned him before 9/11 that antagonizing the U.S.would be counterproductive, and internal al-Qaeda memos written after the fall of the Taliban and laterrecovered by the U.S. military show that some of bin Ladens followers fully understood the folly of theattacks. In 2002 an al-Qaeda insider wrote to another, saying, "Regrettably, my brother ... during just sixmonths, we lost what we built in years."The responsibility for that act of hubris lies squarely with bin Laden: despite his reputation for shynessand diffidence, he ran al-Qaeda as a dictatorship. His son Omar recalls that the men who worked for hisfather had a habit of requesting permission before they spoke with their leader, saying, "Dear prince, mayI speak?" Joining al-Qaeda meant taking a personal religious oath of allegiance to bin Laden, just asjoining the Nazi Party had required swearing personal fealty to the Führer. So bin Ladens group becamejust as much a hostage to its leaders flawed strategic vision as the Nazis were to Hitlers.The key to understanding this vision and all of bin Ladens actions was his utter conviction that he was aninstrument of Gods will. In short, he was a religious zealot. That zealotry first revealed itself when he wasa teenager. Khaled Batarfi, a soccer-playing buddy of bin Ladens on the streets of Jidda, Saudi Arabia,where they both grew up, remembers his solemn friend praying seven times a day (two more thanmandated by Islamic convention) and fasting twice a week in imitation of the Prophet Muhammad. Forentertainment, bin Laden would assemble a group of friends at his house to chant songs about theliberation of Palestine.
Bin Ladens religious zeal was colored by the fact that his family had made its vast fortune as theprincipal contractor renovating the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, which gave him a direct connection toIslams holiest places. In his early 20s, bin Laden worked in the family business; he was a priggish youngman who was also studying economics at a university.His destiny would change with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979. The Afghan war promptedthe billionaires son to launch an ambitious plan to confront the Soviets with a small group of Arabs underhis command. That group eventually provided the nucleus of al-Qaeda, which bin Laden founded in 1988as the war against the Soviets began to wind down. The purpose of al-Qaeda was to take jihad to otherparts of the globe and eventually to the U.S., the nation he believed was leading a Western conspiracy todestroy true Islam. In the 1990s bin Laden would often describe America as "the head of the snake."Jamal Khalifa, his best friend at the university in Jidda and later also his brother-in-law, told me bin Ladenwas driven not only by a desire to implement what he saw as Gods will but also by a fear of divinepunishment if he failed to do so. So not defending Islam from what he came to believe was its mostimportant enemy would be disobeying God, something he would never do.In 1997, when I was a producer for CNN, I met with bin Laden in eastern Afghanistan to film his firsttelevision interview. He struck me as intelligent and well informed, someone who comported himselfmore like a cleric than like the revolutionary he was quickly becoming. His followers treated bin Ladenwith great deference, referring to him as "the sheik," and hung on his every pronouncement.During the course of that interview, bin Laden laid out his rationale for his plan to attack the U.S., whosesupport for Israel and the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt made it, in his mind, the enemy of Islam. BinLaden also explained that the U.S. was as weak as the Soviet Union had been, and he cited theAmerican withdrawal from Vietnam in the 1970s as evidence for this view. He poured scorn on the notionthat the U.S. thought of itself as a superpower "even after all these successive defeats."That would turn out to be a dangerous delusion, which would culminate in bin Ladens death at the handsof the same U.S. soldiers he had long disparaged as weaklings. Now that he is gone, there will inevitablybe some jockeying to succeed him. A U.S. counterterrorism official told me that there was "no successionplan in place" to replace bin Laden. While the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri had long been his deputy, heis not the natural, charismatic leader that bin Laden was. U.S. officials believe that al-Zawahiri is notpopular with his colleagues, and they hope there will be disharmony and discord as the militants sort outthe succession.As they do so, the jihadists will be mindful that their world has passed them by. The al-Qaeda leadership,its foot soldiers and its ideology played no role in the series of protests and revolts that have rolled acrossthe Middle East and North Africa, from Tunisia to Egypt and then on to Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. BinLaden must have watched these events unfold with a mixture of excitement and deep worry.Overthrowing the dictatorships and monarchies of the Middle East was long his central goal, but the Arabrevolutions were not the kind he had envisioned. Protesters in the streets of Tunis and Cairo didnt carryplacards with pictures of bin Ladens face, and the Facebook revolutionaries who launched the uprisingsrepresent everything al-Qaeda hates: they are secular, liberal and antiauthoritarian, and their ranksinclude women. The eventual outcome of these revolts will not be to al-Qaedas satisfaction either,
because almost no one in the streets of Egypt, Libya or Yemen is clamoring for the imposition of aTaliban-style theocracy, al-Qaedas preferred end for the states in the region.Between the Arab Spring and the death of bin Laden, it is hard to imagine greater blows to al-Qaedasideology and organization. President Obama has characterized al-Qaeda and its affiliates as "small menon the wrong side of history." For al-Qaeda, that history just sped up, as bin Ladens body floated downinto the ocean deeps and its proper place in the unmarked grave of discarded lies.Bergen is the director of the national-security-studies program at the New America Foundation. His latestbook is The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-QaedaA Life of Extremes
When Terror Loses its GripBy FAREED ZAKARIA Friday, May 20, 2011Bin Ladens sudden, unexpected death unleashed a decades worth of pent-up anxiety — and reliefJames Nachtwey for TIMEIt is a bizarre historical coincidence. President Barack Obama announced to the world that Osama binLaden was dead on May 1, the very same day that, 66 years earlier, the German government announcedthat Adolf Hitler was dead. Its fitting that two of historys great mass murderers share a day of death.(Sort of. Hitler actually killed himself a day earlier, but his death was not revealed to the world until thefollowing day.) Both embodied charisma and intelligence deployed in the service of evil — and both wereutterly callous about the killing of innocents to further their causes.There are, of course, many differences between Hitler and bin Laden. But one great similarity holds.Hitlers death marked the end of the Nazi challenge from Germany. And bin Ladens death will mark theend of the global threat of al-Qaeda.Let me be clear. Of course, there are still groups that call themselves al-Qaeda in Pakistan, Yemen,North Africa, Somalia and elsewhere. They will still plot and execute terrorist attacks. We will still have tobe vigilant and go after them. But the danger from al-Qaeda was always much more than that of a fewisolated terrorist attacks. It was an ideological message that we feared had an appeal across the Muslimworld of 1.5 billion believers. The organization had created a message of opposition and defiance thatwas resonating in that world during the 1990s and right after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.A few weeks after 9/11, I wrote an essay titled "Why They Hate Us," exploring the roots of this Muslimrage. I argued that while U.S. foreign policy might be a contributing factor to the unhappiness of Arabs, itcould not alone explain the scale, depth and intensity of Islamic terrorism. After all, U.S. foreign policyover the years has victimized many countries in Latin America and killed millions of Vietnamese, and yetyou did not see terrorism emanating from those quarters. There was something different about the natureof Arab frustration that had morphed into anti-American terrorism.The central problem, I argued, was that the stagnation and repression of the Arab world — 40 years oftyranny and decay — had led to deep despair and finally to extreme opposition movements. The one
aspect of Arab society that dictators could not ban was religion. So the mosque became the gatheringground of opposition movements, and Islam — the one language that could not be censored — becamethe voice of opposition. The U.S. became a target because we supported the Arab autocracies.Al-Qaeda is a Saudi-Egyptian alliance — bin Laden was Saudi; Ayman al-Zawahiri, his deputy, isEgyptian — that was formed to topple the Saudi and Egyptian regimes and others like them. And that iswhy bin Ladens death comes at a particularly bad moment for the movement he launched. Its foundingrationale has been shattered by the Arab Spring of this year. Al-Qaeda believed that the only way totopple the dictatorships of the Arab world was through violence, that participation in secular politicalprocesses was heretical and that people wanted and would cheer an Islamic regime. Over the past fewmonths, millions in the Arab world have toppled regimes relatively peacefully, and what they have soughtwas not a caliphate, not a theocracy, but a modern democracy. The crowds in Cairos Tahrir Square didnot have pictures of bin Laden or al-Zawahiri in their hands as they chanted for President HosniMubaraks ouster.Polls around the Muslim world confirm that support for bin Laden has been plummeting over the past fiveyears. As al-Qaeda morphed into a series of small, local groups, the only places it could mount attackswere cafés and subway stations — in other words, against locals. That turned the locals againstal-Qaeda. Their "support" for radical jihadism had in any event always been more theoretical than real, asupport for a romantic notion of militant opposition to the West and its domination of the modern world.And it was premised on the assumption that any violence would be directed against "them" (the West),not "us" (Muslims). Once the terrorism came home, even people in Saudi Arabia realized that they didntwant to return to the 7th century, and they didnt much like the men who wanted to bomb them backthere.Al-Qaeda is not like Hitlers Germany, which was a vast, rich country with a massive army. It never hadmany resources or people. Al-Qaeda is an idea, an ideology. And it was personified by bin Laden, a manwho for his followers represented courage and conviction. Coming from a wealthy family, he hadforsaken a life of luxury to fight the Soviet Union in the mountains of Afghanistan and then trained hisguns on the U.S. He used literary Arabic, spoke movingly and tried to seduce millions of Muslims. Thosewho were duly seduced and joined the group swore a personal oath to him. Young men who volunteeredfor suicide missions were not dying for al-Zawahiri or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the 9/11attacks. They were dying for bin Laden. And with bin Ladens death, the cause and the man have bothbeen extinguished. We will battle terrorists for many years to come, but that does not make them a mortalthreat to the Western world or its way of life. The existential danger is over.The nature of the operation against bin Laden spotlights a path for the future of the war on terrorism.Presidents George W. Bush and Obama can share the credit for bin Ladens death, as should many inthe U.S. government and military. But it is fair to say that Obama made a decision to dramatically expandthe counterterrorism aspect of this struggle. He increased the number of special operations inAfghanistan and Pakistan, quadrupled the number of drone attacks on al-Qaedas senior leadership inPakistan and devoted new resources and attention to intelligence gathering. (That is one reason whyGeneral David Petraeus is leaving his powerful position directing the war in Afghanistan to run the CIA.)This renewed focus paid off in many captures and kills before May 1, and it has finally paid off in the BigOne.
While Bush certainly used counterterrorism to fight al-Qaeda, the signature element of his strategy wasnation building. He believed that deposing one of the worst Arab dictators, Saddam Hussein, anddelivering democracy to Iraq would shatter al-Qaedas appeal. The theory was correct, as the ArabSpring has demonstrated: people in the Arab world want democracy, not dictatorship and not theocracy.But in practice it is a very hard task for an outside power to deliver democracy — which first requirespolitical order and stability — to another nation. It is also a task for which militaries are not best suited.The U.S. armed forces have done their best in Iraq and Afghanistan but — despite huge costs in bloodand treasure — the results in both nations are mixed at best.Counterterrorism, by contrast, is a task well suited for military power. It requires good intelligence, aboveall, and then the swiftness, skill and deadly firepower at which U.S. forces excel. The results speak forthemselves. The U.S. has inflicted significant and substantial losses on al-Qaeda by decapitating itsleadership and keeping the organization on the run, in hiding and in constant fear. It has been a moreeffective strategy and vastly less costly than trying to clear, hold and build huge parts of Afghanistan inthe hope that order, stability, good governance and democracy will eventually flourish there.Along the way, the efforts at nation building have tarnished the image of the American military. Theworlds greatest fighting force was shown to be unable to deliver stability to Iraq and Afghanistan, had todeal with scandals like the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and saw its soldiers losingtheir once high morale. May 1 changed all that. The image of a smart, wise and supremely competentU.S. has flashed across the globe. The lesson should be clear. An America that uses its military powerless promiscuously, more intelligently and in a targeted and focused manner might once again gain theworlds respect and fear, if not affection. And an America that can provide a compelling picture of amodern, open society will be a far more attractive model for Arabs than Osama bin Ladens vision of abackward medieval caliphate.A Revival In LangleyBy MASSIMO CALABRESI Friday, May 20, 2011
Leon PanettaMichele Asselin / Contour / Getty Images for TIMEThe spooks werent even close to being certain that Osama bin Laden was holed up in the 1-acre (0.4hectare) compound outside Abbottabad, Pakistan, on April 28. CIA Director Leon Panetta explained toPresident Obama that afternoon that the agency had no hard proof he was there, no pictures orvoice-recognition data of his presence, nothing that could guarantee that the worlds most-wanted manwas sheltering inside. If you had to lay odds on bin Ladens being inside, CIA officers said soberly, itcould be as low as 50-50. This was not, by any measure, a slam dunk.But the window for action was closing, Panetta worried. In an interview with TIME, the CIA director (andsoon to be the next Secretary of Defense) explained that more than 100 people had already been briefedon the mission, a fact that by itself was making an operation riskier by the day. Panetta was also fearfulthat bin Laden might move again and the U.S.s decadelong hunt to bring him to justice would start allover. Besides, Panetta explained, the CIA was confident enough that bin Laden was inside that he feltthe Presidents national-security team was looking at "an obligation and a responsibility on all of us toact."The next day, Obama delivered written authorization for Panetta to run the operation that would kill binLaden using a Navy Seal team.That marked quite a change. A few years ago, it would have been hard — maybe impossible — to find apolitician in Washington willing to bet on a CIA weather forecast, let alone a life-and-death mission ofnational importance. The CIA, according to a 2005 CIA inspector generals report, had "suffered asystemic failure" in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks when it failed to work with other U.S. agencies to thwartthe plot. The agency had been part of the team that lost bin Laden at Tora Bora in December 2001, thelast time anyone had a clear idea of where he was. Under pressure from Bush Administration officials tojustify a war with Iraq, the top spooks helped convince the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons ofmass destruction when it turned out he had none. Few complained when Congress started carving theagency into pieces in late 2004.So with the spectacular coup in Abbottabad, its fair to ask, Has the CIA turned itself around? Can thesecret agency in suburban Virginia once more protect the country, while telling the truth about the threatsit faces? In his first interview since running the operation that killed bin Laden, Panetta argued that hisagency has earned the nations trust again. "This place really does have a fundamental commitment toprotecting the country," he said. "If you provide the right leadership and the right values, theyre going todo one hell of a job."The Upside of DownsizingNot for the first time, the CIA has marched a long road back to self-respect. When Panetta, a formerCongressman, Cabinet member and White House chief of staff, arrived at the agency in February 2009,the place resembled nothing so much as a whipped dog. It had been the favorite punching bag during theBush years, blamed for its errors as well as the misjudgments of the political leaders to whom it answered.
Panettas predecessor, General Michael Hayden, had tried to rebuild the agencys reputation on CapitolHill, rolling back interrogation and detention programs that had brought accusations of torture and illegalactivity, focusing instead on producing reliable, actionable intelligence. But "the relationship withCongress had gone to hell," Panetta says, and the agency was gun-shy. "Every time they went up on theHill, they got the hell kicked out of them, and they became very defensive."It helped that the CIA was much diminished. Acting on the recommendation of the 9/11 commission,Congress stripped the CIA of much of its power over sister agencies like the National Security Agencyand the 11 other members of the U.S. "intelligence community" in 2004. Whereas once the CIA chiefdetermined the budgets of the other agencies and safeguarded CIA supremacy in intelligence operationsabroad and intelligence analysis at home, by 2006 it was merely one agency among many competing forthe attention of policymakers. The CIA fought the restructuring and lost.But current and past senior CIA officials say the downsizing has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.Instead of wasting time worrying about the budget for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, CIAleaders were able to concentrate on their core mission of collecting and analyzing intelligence forpolicymakers. "Removing the managerial stuff has made them leaner and more muscular," says formeracting director John McLaughlin. It "has freed the agency to focus intensely on a lot of other things."And, apparently, double-check its work. Panetta says the bin Laden mission is a good example of that.On April 26, he held a final briefing on the Abbottabad compound in his office that included 15 teamleaders from the CIA CounterTerrorism Center, some from the special-activities division (which runscovert operations) and some from the office of South Asian analysis.Panetta wanted to get their final opinion of the coming mission. Support was not unanimous, and therewere ghosts in the room: some of the officers had been involved in the Carter Administration effort to goafter the hostages held by the Iranians; others had been involved in the ill-fated raid against Somaliwarlords in 1993. Some officials, Panetta says, worried, "What if you go down and youre in a firefight andthe Pakistanis show up and start firing? How do you fight your way out?" But he says the agency hadsecond- and third-guessed the problem, arranging for backups and double-backups in the event ofsnafus. "Wed red-teamed that issue to death," he says.The biggest change at Langley may be Panetta himself. The boss pushed the spooks much harder thansome of their previous leaders had to share information with lawmakers on Capitol Hill in order to buildtrust — and free up cash for vital missions in return. But Panetta also surprised agency veterans bypushing back when Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. launched an investigation into the destruction by theCIAs top clandestine official, Jose Rodriguez, of videotapes containing interrogations of al-Qaedaleaders. That earned Panetta high marks inside the building, observers say. Though he lost the battle, hehelped limit the scope of Holders investigation.He also fought a fierce battle over turf with Dennis Blair, the former director of National Intelligence, whowanted to decide who would be in charge of gathering intelligence at foreign posts.Panetta contested the release of the legal memos that justified "enhanced interrogation techniques" likewaterboarding. President Obama, Holder and Panetta say waterboarding constitutes torture; Rodriguez
tells TIME that enhanced interrogation techniques provided "the lead information that eventually led tothe location of [bin Ladens] compound." Rodriguez says Panetta "has done a fantastic job."Panetta insists his approach is just common sense. "I said, Look, the key here is to tell the Congresswhats going on and to be very up-front about what were doing, because in the end, if you do that, theymay not always like what youre doing, but at least they know that youre being honest with them."Panetta moves to the Pentagon on July 1 and will be replaced at the CIA by General David Petraeus,who has spent the past decade, on and off, fighting overt and covert wars in South Asia. He watched themission in Abbottabad from his seventh-floor conference room at CIA headquarters, which had beenrepurposed into an operations center. The hardest part was waiting to hear that bin Laden was there.When special-ops chief William McRaven finally said they had "Geronimo," using the code word toconfirm that bin Laden was in the compound, there was an audible sigh of relief. But it was only when thehelicopter took off from the compound with the Seal team and bin Ladens body on board that Panettasoffice broke into applause.The director then went to the White House at 6:30 to oversee and report on the formal identification of binLadens body and wrapped up meetings an hour after the President made his announcement of binLadens death to the country. As he left the White House, he could hear the crowds in Lafayette Squarecheering and waving flags. One chant, he says, was "CIA! CIA!""Weve really turned a corner," the spymaster said to himself.How Can We Trust Them?By ARYN BAKER Friday, May 20, 2011Pakistanis gather for prayer at the Data Darbar Sufi shrine in LahoreDaniel Berehulak/Getty Images for TIME
The resort town of Abbottabad is a familiar one to day-tripping Pakistanis seeking escape from the urbantumult of the Punjab plain. Just 75 miles (120 km) from the capital, Islamabad, colonial-era bungalowsabut modern whitewashed villas on small streets largely devoid of traffic. Its the kind of place wherefamilies take a stroll as the day cools into night, where you might still go and ask a neighbor for a cup ofsugar. So when residents learned that Osama bin Laden had been living there, possibly for several years,they were shocked.Much less understandable is the claim, being made by defensive officials in Islamabad, that no one elsein Pakistan was aware that bin Laden was in Abbottabad.That the worlds best-known terrorist could be hiding in plain sight may be plausible in a country whereprivacy is a sacred right. But in Pakistan, household secrets rarely stay that way. Housekeepers andservants gossip at the back doors, and drivers chuckle over the infidelities of their employers. Anythingthat raises more than an eyebrow is quickly brought to the attention of "the agencies" — local parlancefor Pakistans ubiquitous intelligence groups, which closely monitor the daily lives of citizens, as much inan effort to collect information as to enforce a paranoia-driven code of good behavior.As any foreigner living in Pakistan knows, "the agencies" are especially adept at ferreting out thepresence of strangers. The crackle and click of telephone lines is a constant reminder that noconversation is private, the crew-cut men in beige who materialize at inopportune moments proof thatone is never quite alone in Pakistan. So it beggars belief that absolutely no one knew who was living in acompound that was, according to a U.S. official, "custom-built to hide someone of significance." JohnBrennan, President Obamas adviser on counterterrorism, didnt arch his eyebrows when he declined at aMay 2 press conference to "speculate about who [within the Pakistani leadership] had foreknowledgeabout bin Laden being in Abbottabad." But his skepticism was palpable. The location of bin Ladens lastaddress "there, outside of the capital, raises questions," Brennan said.Those questions are at the heart of the renewed debate about one of the U.S.s oldest partners in thebattle against terrorism. It can be summed up quite simply: Can Pakistan be trusted? If not, what can theObama Administration, so keen to extricate U.S. troops from the region, do about it? And just how safe isPakistan now that bin Laden is gone? The answers are not reassuring.Bin Laden was not the cause of Pakistans problems. But his presence in Abbottabad was a symptom ofa deeply ambivalent official approach to militancy that threatens to undermine the stability of thisnuclear-armed state. Elements in the Pakistani military have long viewed militants and extremists asuseful proxies. A blinkered focus on a perceived threat from the old enemy, India — with which Pakistanhas fought three wars over the disputed territory of Kashmir — has led to massive military spending,depriving generations of Pakistanis of good education, adequate health care and the basic buildingblocks of an economy — electricity, irrigation, roads. Then theres the sheer corruption andincompetence of most Pakistani institutions: the leadership, both civilian and military, has pursued powerat the expense of building a functional political apparatus that promotes accountability over cronyism andpunishes inefficiency.Even as Pakistan attempts to function, it is racked by insurgencies — one in the western province ofBaluchistan, where residents are demanding a share of the oil and gas wealth coming from their lands,
and another in the northeast, where the Pakistani Taliban are forcing their particular brand of radicalIslam on a population long neglected by the state. A weakening relationship with the U.S., a source ofsupport and financial aid, could cause Pakistan to lash out in unpredictable ways. Now, more than ever,Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world.Since the early days following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Pakistans leaders have tried to balancetheir interests between continued support for militant organizations deployed in a proxy fight against Indiaand a desire to benefit from a lucrative relationship with the West. This allowed Pakistan to help captureseveral top-ranking al-Qaeda members, even while it turned a blind eye when homegrown militantscrossed into Afghanistan to fight coalition troops there. The schizophrenia spread to the populace: in apoll conducted early this year, Pakistanis overwhelmingly supported bin Laden but ranked the threat ofterrorist attacks as one of their greatest fears. Their leaders have failed to guide them out of the 90s-eraembrace of jihad as foreign policy into a modern era in which education, innovation and human resourcesare a nations most competitive weapons. Equally at fault is U.S. willingness to support the Pakistanimilitary, which promises quick solutions to regional problems (even if it does not always deliver) over theslower process of investing in the institutions of civil society. Now Pakistan is on the verge of collapse,held up only by a thin shell of military might with loyalties only to itself.Long before Mohamed Atta started learning to pilot airplanes in a Florida flight school, Pakistan wasfostering its own breed of jihadis ready to wage war on India. The school curriculum was based oncontempt for infidels and glorification of martyrdom, the better to prepare a generation of guerrillas farmore effective than any conventional army. It would be a mistake to think bin Ladens death would be adeterrent to anyone considering the path of militant jihad. If anything, it may inspire more young men,devoid of alternatives, to seek glory in taking an American bullet.It is true that school textbooks have lately been modified (though they still portray India as an enemy). Butthe jihadist rhetoric resonates at weekly prayers in mosques where radical mullahs spew hate andintolerance, unchecked by government authority. When a provincial governor was killed in January by abodyguard who saw him as a blasphemer for suggesting that the countrys harsh blasphemy laws bechanged, thousands went into the streets to praise the murderer. Few government officials went onrecord to condemn the assassin. The official silence smothered a small but growing civil-societymovement promoting tolerance and education. Two months later, the Minority Affairs Minister, aChristian, was shot dead for the same reason. His assailants remain at large.Nor do the extremists limit their violence to Pakistan. The roster of recent international terrorist attacks,from London in 2005 to Mumbai in 2008 to the 2009 attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul and the foiled2010 attack on New York Citys Times Square, have one element in common: Pakistan. The attackerseither were Pakistani, were trained in Pakistan or were assisted by Pakistani handlers. Its a record thatmakes a mockery of Pakistani government assertions that it is doing everything it can to stop terrorism.Pakistani terrorist groups have not yet produced a leader of bin Ladens stature, but then, in a sense,they dont need to. The skills they impart, from bombmaking to the wherewithal for multipronged attacks,are far more valuable in a world where al-Qaeda franchises are focused less on expensive spectacularslike 9/11 and more on smaller operations that sow fear and chaos. The perfect template is the 2008
attack on the Indian financial capital of Mumbai, in which four teams of Pakistani terrorists armed withguns and grenades took the city hostage for 36 hours, killing 174.That operation is thought to have been carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a terrorist group with longand deep ties to Pakistani officialdom. At a trial in Chicago later this month, David Headley, a PakistaniAmerican accused of scoping out Mumbai targets for LeT, is expected to implicate PakistansInter-Services Intelligence Agency, confirming long-held suspicions by American and Indian authorities,as well as many Pakistanis, that the intelligence agency is dabbling in terrorism as much as spycraft.Another Mumbai-style attack on Indian soil carries a very real possibility of war between India andPakistan, both of which have nuclear arms.Pakistani officials never tire of pointing out that they have rolled up more al-Qaeda members than anyother nation, a claim that, while true, says much about the concentration of terrorists in the country. Suchcaptures have become diplomatic theater, produced with a flourish when Islamabads relationship withWashington is under particular strain. "Pakistan can be described as both the fireman and the arsonist,"says Christine Fair, an expert at Georgetown Universitys School of Foreign Policy. "It constantly findsways of renewing its strategic relevance."That is the crux of the matter. Pakistan has convinced the world that its geographical location and heftare such that its interests need attending to, no matter how often it lets others — and itself — down.Obama cannot be the first President to have wished that fate would rid him of the duty of working with,and worrying about, so inconstant a partner. But as his predecessors have all discovered, fate wont.Osama bin Ladens Pakistan HideawayAbbottabad, Pakistan, May 2, 2011This is the house where Osama bin Laden was killed in a ground operation by U.S. special forces.
On FireA still image taken from video shows the compound in flames during the attack; this image was releasedon May 2, 2011.An Interior BedroomA video frame grab obtained from ABC News shows the inside of the house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on
May 2, 2011.AftermathA video frame grab from inside the house, released May 2, 2011.Deadly SceneThe floor of one of the rooms in the compound is seen in an image released on May 2, 2011.
BurntHelicopter wreckage lies strewn across a charred portion of the compound lawn on May 2, 2011.RotorPart of the wreckage of the helicopter lies on the compound lawn, May 2 2011.
DownAnother view of the helicopter.The GroundsA grab from a video made May 2, 2011 shows part of the compound yard.
AerialThe U.S. Department of Defense released this photo on May 2, 2011, showing the compound(highlighted) from above.LayoutThe Department of Defense released this graphic of the compound on May 2, 2011.
Crashed HelicopterThe remains of a helicopter that made a hard landing during the operation lies near the compound inAbbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011.RemovalPakistani soldiers remove pieces of the downed helicopter in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011.
ConvoyMilitary trucks cart the covered debris of the helicopter away from Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011.PullingSoldiers escort the trucks with the helicopters remains out of Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011.
RooftopA soldier stands on the roof of the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011.PressPakistani security officials grant access to journalists on May 3, 2011, to cover the compound whereOsama Bin Laden was killed by US military forces, in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
BarbedResidents look up towards a military helicopter flying over the compound where al Qaeda leader Osamabin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, May 4, 2011.The Interrupted Reading: The Kids withGeorge W. Bush on 9/11By TIM PADGETT Tuesday, May 03, 2011President George W. Bush, at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla., listens as chief ofstaff Andrew Card informs him of a second attack on the World Trade Center Win McNamee / Reuters
There has rarely been a starker juxtaposition of evil and innocence than the moment President George W.Bush received the news about 9/11 while reading The Pet Goat with second-graders in Sarasota, Fla.Seven-year-olds cant understand what Islamic terrorism is all about. But they know when an adults faceis telling them something is wrong — and none of the students sitting in Sandra Kay Daniels class atEmma E. Booker Elementary School that morning can forget the devastating change in Bushsexpression when White House chief of staff Andrew Card whispered the terrible news of the al-Qaedaattack. Lazaro Dubrocqs heart started racing because he assumed they were all in trouble — with noless than the Commander in Chief — but he wasnt sure why. "In a heartbeat, he leaned back and helooked flabbergasted, shocked, horrified," recalls Dubrocq, now 17. "I was baffled. I mean, did we readsomething wrong? Was he mad or disappointed in us?"Chantal Guerrero and Mariah Williams, both 16 Bob Croslin for TIMESimilar fears started running through Mariah Williams head. "I dont remember the story we were reading— was it about pigs?" says Williams, 16. "But Ill always remember watching his face turn red. He gotreally serious all of a sudden. But I was clueless. I was just 7. Im just glad he didnt get up and leave,because then I would have been more scared and confused." Chantal Guerrero, 16, agrees. Even today,shes grateful that Bush regained his composure and stayed with the students until The Pet Goat wasfinished. "I think the President was trying to keep us from finding out," says Guerrero, "so we all wouldntfreak out."Even if that didnt happen, its apparent that the sharing of that terrifying Tuesday with Bush has affectedthose students in the decade since — and, they say, it made the news of al-Qaeda leader Osama binLadens killing by U.S. commandos on May 1 all the more meaningful. Dubrocq, now a junior at RiverviewHigh School in Sarasota, doubts that he would be a student in the rigorous international-baccalaureateprogram if he hadnt been with the President as one of historys most infamous global events unfolded."Because of that," he says, "I came to realize as I grew up that the world is a much bigger place and thatthere are differing opinions about us out there, not all of them good."Guerrero, today a junior at the Sarasota Military Academy, believes the experience "has since given usall a better understanding of the situation, sort of made us take it all more seriously. At that age, I couldntunderstand how anyone could take innocent lives that way. And I still of course cant. But today I canproblem-solve it all a lot better, maybe better than other kids because I was kind of part of it." Williams,also a junior at the military academy, says those moments spent with Bush conferred on the kids a sort of
historical authority as they grew up. "Today, when we talk about 9/11 in class and you hear kids makemistakes about what happened with the President that day, I can tell them theyre wrong," she says,"because I was there."Lazaro Dubrocq, 17 Bob Croslin for TIMEOne thing the students would like to tell Bushs critics — like liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, whose2004 documentary Fahrenheit 911 disparaged Bush for lingering almost 10 minutes with the studentsafter getting word that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center — is that they think thePresident did the right thing. "I think he was trying to keep everybody calm, starting with us," saysGuerrero. Dubrocq agrees: "I think he was trying to protect us." Booker Principal Gwendolyn Tose-Rigell,who died in 2007, later insisted, "I dont think anyone could have handled it better. What would it haveserved if [Bush] had jumped out of his chair and ran out of the room?"When the childrens story was done, Bush left for the schools library, where he discussed the New YorkCity, Washington and Pennsylvania nightmare with aides, reporters and another group of studentswaiting for him. Back in the classroom, Daniels brought in a television and turned on the first bewilderingimages of the Twin Towers in flames and smoke. At that point, the kids started connecting the dots. "Itwas pretty scary," says Williams, "and I remember thinking, So thats why the President looked so mad."Dubrocq got mad himself. "But I had to wait a few years before I could digest what had really happenedand why they attacked us," he says. "I, of course, grew up to have nothing but contempt for Osama binLaden." Yet he adds the episode "motivated me to get a better handle on the world and to want to helpimprove the world." It also made Dubrocq, who wants to study international business, more aware of hismultinational roots — hes French and Cuban on his fathers side and Spanish and Mexican on hismothers. Not surprisingly, he also wants to learn other languages, like Chinese and, in an echo of his9/11 memories, perhaps even Arabic.Williams says she also hated bin Laden more as she grew up and gained a better appreciation of howfanatics had changed her world on 9/11. "All that just because he wanted to control everybody in theworld, control how we think and what we do," she says. Williams doesnt plan to pursue a military career— she wants to be a veterinarian — but the military-academy student was impressed by the Navy Sealraid in Pakistan that killed bin Laden: "I was shocked. I thought after 10 years, theyd never find him. Butwhat the SEALs did, it, like, gives me even more respect for that kind of training."
Guerrero, in fact, may as well be part of that training. She also plans a civilian life — she hopes to studyart and musical theater — but shes a Junior ROTC member and part of her schools state championRaiders team, which competes against other academies in contests like rope-bridge races, mapnavigation and marksmanship. In other words, the same sort of skills the Seal commandos have tomaster. She admits to feeling an added rush when she woke up to Monday mornings news: the Sealsoperation, she says, "was very, very cool."More than cool, Guerrero adds, it was also "so reassuring, after a whole decade of being scared aboutthese things." Most of all, it "brought back a flood of memories" of their tragic morning with a President —memories that prove kids can carry a lot heavier stuff in those plastic backpacks than adults often realize.The 25th HourBy JAMES PONIEWOZIK Friday, May 20, 2011The decade was defined by 24s Jack BauerEverettThe day Osama bin Laden died, his name was paired once again with the agent whose illustrious careerhe helped make possible. The Twitter trending-topics list — that social-media pulse meter that trackswhat people are posting about most often — filled up with references to OBLs demise: "Navy Seals,""Abbottabad," "God Bless America." And one more: "Jack Bauer," the counterterrorism ace played byKiefer Sutherland who foiled attacks in real time on Foxs 24. "Right now," quipped user Nick Schug,"Jack Bauer is washing his hands and changing out of his bloody clothes."It was a joke, yes, but it was also catharsis. The operation that took out al-Qaedas leader was satisfyingbecause it matched the retribution scenario you might have scripted in that dark autumn of 2001: Thehelicopters, the explosions, the villain blazing out with gunfire in his gangsta million-dollar compound. Ashot to the head, and roll credits. An era that began with a scene from a Michael Bay movie — people
running down city streets from a billowing cloud of dust and rubble — ended like a season finale of 24. Itwas a fitting finish to a saga that framed, and was framed by, pop culture.Bin Laden and 9/11 generally didnt change our culture in the ways predicted. They did not — contra aTIME column written after the attacks — mean "the end of irony." (If anything, we saw the opposite, fromhipsters wearing trucker hats to the passionate ironies of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.) They did notspell the end of gory violence in entertainment, the birth of a postpartisan media or the dawn of WestWing — like elevated discourse.In a way, this stubbornness was the perfect riposte to an extremism driven in part by hatred of the secularWest. Pop culture stayed defiantly trashy. Within months of the Twin Towers falling, America wasfascinated by The Osbournes. In 2001 we had the summer of Gary Condit and shark attacks; in 2011 wehad the winter of Charlie Sheens tiger blood.But American culture still absorbed the new wars, playing them for history, tragedy and farce. Thesacrifices of the airline passengers who died in Shanksville, Pa., saving the White House werecommemorated in United 93. New York Citys ache (and survivors guilt) over 9/11 was rendered withblack-humored bile by Denis Learys Rescue Me. The decades greatest sitcom, Arrested Development,was on one level an extended satire of the Iraq war. Cable series from The Shield to Battlestar Galacticahandled the wars dark lessons metaphorically.The 9/11 attacks didnt create 24; the series pilot was filmed well before Sept. 11. (It premiered thatNovember.) The show ended in 2010, having — maybe like bin Laden — outlived its relevance. But theterrorism era gave it urgency, made Bauer an icon and drove its story lines deep into Americassubconscious. After 9/11, 24 confronted Islamic (and other) extremism and ratcheted up the massdestruction — nuke, bio, chemical and otherwise. It posited an agency, the CTU, which never met athreat it couldnt neutralize in a day with a little computer hacking and finger breaking.The series at times played like an ad for the Rumsfeld School of Enhanced Interrogation. But it wasalways more complicated than detractors gave it credit for. Season 2 involved a conspiracy to trick theU.S. into a Middle East war on the basis of phony evidence — this in early 2003, when Washington couldstill say the word yellowcake with a straight face. And Bauer, a sorrowful warrior, became regretful aboutthe use of torture in later seasons.In the end, 24 seduced viewers not with ideology but with competence, which — from the phantomWMDs to the Valerie Plame fiasco to Tora Bora — real life was not providing in abundance. And JackBauer made the fantasy personal. Imagine if a Predator drone had vaporized bin Laden from 10,000 ft.(3,000 m). Sure, it would have been celebrated. But a push-button assassination would not have felt likeknowing that one of us was there, in a room, and popped that son of a bitch.That too was what 24 was about: emotional, not just operational, wish fulfillment. Jack Bauer waspersonally invested: his wife was murdered by her terrorist kidnappers; his daughter was abducted; helost friends. He, like his country, was just so damn tired.
The Abbottabad raid, like Bauers victories, gave us a feeling of agency. But like many reruns, it camewith a bittersweet nostalgia. It brought the closure we wanted with the knowledge that we had wanted it adecade before, when you could say the country felt something like a unity of purpose. (This is the samenostalgia Foxs Glenn Beck traded on with his — ironically divisive — 9/12 Project.)After bin Laden died, there was that brief feeling of unity again. But now we know how that show ends.Not 24 hours after the news, there was chatter about the attacks effects on the Presidents re-electionand the appropriateness of his speech. There were even theories that the whole thing was faked —another resonance with the paranoid 24, where the "dead" regularly returned to life.Even at this extraordinary time, you could see our eventual return to ordinary form — the form the mediawas in when we busied ourselves with birtherism, royal marriage and celeb meltdowns like cats batting atso many Christmas ornaments. Our news cycle, after all, demands constant distraction. And, like JackBauer, every dawn it faces another longest day.