Bin Laden's Demise: Death of a Salesman

By Heilbrunn, Jacob | World Affairs, July-August 2011 | Go to article overview

Bin Laden's Demise: Death of a Salesman

Heilbrunn, Jacob, World Affairs

While adjustments in the "fact pattern" of the killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces, and arguments over afterdeath issues such as whether or not to release photos, continue to be made, this much at least is clear from what happened on May 1st: the long war against terrorism has now become a little shorter. The terrorist attacks on 9/11, it's important to remember, had revealed numerous weaknesses in American defenses. The very morning that tragedy struck, the Northeast Air Defense Sector in Rome, New York, went on alert--to rehearse a Cold War exercise against the threat of Russian planes flying over the North Pole to bomb the United States. No effective opposition was mounted against al-Qaeda's assault by America's trillion-dollar defense establishment. Instead, it was left to passengers to bring down United Airlines Flight 93 over Pennsylvania before it could reach Washington, DC.

Al-Qaeda's heinous attacks prompted President George W. Bush to establish the Homeland Security Department, in an effort to coordinate the bickering intelligence services, including the FBI and CIA, and launch wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Adaptation was demanded to the new kind of battlefield created by the war on terror. Now, a decade later, President Obama, in an audacious operation, finally presided over the tracking down and killing of bin Laden.

Just as the 9/11 attacks had a clarifying effect on American foreign policy, so the death of bin Laden recasts the battle over the war on terror itself. From the outset, 9/11 has functioned as a crossroads where rival assumptions about the meaning of the assertion of American power, relations with foreign allies and adversaries, and the mission of our government agencies and institutions meet and sometimes violently disagree. No event since the inception of the Cold War has had a more transformative effect on American policy, both domestic and foreign, than 9/11. Now that bin Laden is dead, some of the controversy is resolved and conclusions can perhaps begin to be drawn about the consequences and course of the war on terror.

The first such lesson is that George W. Bush had it right about the need to deal with terror in a military rather than law enforcement framework. Operation Geronimo was a success, not because of the role played by waterboarding and other aspects of "coercive interrogation," as Bush's supporters implausibly insisted directly after the event, but because of something more sweeping and profound--the methodical buildup and streamlining of the defense and intelligence establishment that lay behind these techniques. Obama's venture was not in danger of replaying the chaos of the 1975 Mayaguez "incident" or of the helicopters crashing in the Iranian desert in the ill-fated 1980 effort to rescue American hostages in Tehran. This time, when a Black Hawk helicopter failed, a Chinook was right there as backup. Eschewing half-hearted measures, the military had the reserves and resources to pull off the operation, audacious as it was, successfully. Just as George H. W. Bush profited from the Reagan defense buildup when he went to war against Saddam Hussein, so Obama benefitted from the stronger and more versatile military he had inherited, one that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has emphasized must become more nimble and adept at tackling precisely the kinds of threats posed by al-Qaeda and the kind of challenges posed by the killing of its commander in chief.

The much-reviled CIA also deserves credit for its careful intelligence work, an effort whose thoroughness became clear in after-action reports of nearby safe houses and long-term surveillance. Had the operation failed, it would have been Obama's Bay of Pigs and might well have effectively terminated his presidency. Instead, the CIA, which had been caught napping on 9/11 and playing internecine war games with the FBI over the disposition of intelligence gathered, went a long way toward redeeming its reputation. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Bin Laden's Demise: Death of a Salesman


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.