Atrios notes the president’s continuing inability to decide whether Osama bin Laden is the Most Important Dude Ever or else just “not a priority” before remarking, “It’s unclear if taking Bin Laden off the world stage would really reduce any threats of terrorism – how would I know.”
Well, I wouldn’t know either. I’ll pass on some notions about this that I’ve gleaned from others. One question in dispute is the extent to which the perpetrators of things like the Madrid and London bombings have actual communication with al-Qaeda Central, i.e. bin Laden and/or Ayman al-Zawahiri. For a while, the predominant sentiment was that there wasn’t any, but subsequent investigations seem to indicate that these people were in contact with someone or other in the vicinity of Pakistan, possibly the big two. Another thing is that some folks feel that bin Laden is simply very good at doing those taped performances and written statements. Were he killed or captured, someone else would step up, but that someone might be less skilled. On the other hand, at least some of America’s counterterrorism professionals maintain that Zawahiri rather than bin Laden is actually the brains behind that stuff. I recently heard Rand Beers take the view that simply nobody knows what the answer to that question is. Which, I guess, is a longwinded way of saying it probably would make a difference to kill or capture him, but nobody seems to me to have a convincing account of how big a difference.
That said, there’s a certain importance to simply having justice be done (as Atrios writes, “some reason I thought bringing a mass murderer to justice might be a wee bit important”) especially because the President once upon a time committed us to this end and launched a war that had getting OBL as one of its main aims.