Now that Bin Laden is dead it is natural to wonder what impact this will have on the world.
The pundits have, of course, speculated on what effect this will have on Obama’s chances in 2012. Obviously, this will have some positive influence on his chances. Equally obviously, the election is still a long way off and much can happen between now and then. At the very least, memory of this event will fade away (although it will be brought up again in 2012) and its influence on the American psyche will diminish with each passing day. As such, the obvious conclusion is that this will help Obama a bit, but will not be a major factor in 2012.
It is, of course, interesting to do a bit of counter-factual history. While killing Bin Laden won’t be a huge plus for Obama, if the mission had failed, then it could very well have been a major loss for him. While a failed mission would not have been as bad as the failure of Carter’s mission to rescue the hostages in Iran, it would certainly have made America look bad and would have given Bin Laden a nice piece of propaganda. Obama probably could have recovered from such a disaster, but it would have been a significant problem.
Another point of concern is what impact this death will have on terror. On the face of it, the impact would seem to be fairly minimal. Bin Laden and Al Qaeda were not particularly active or impressive in recent years. After all Al Qaeda’s most famous attack in recent years (at least in America) was the underwear bomber. While Bin Laden no doubt served to inspire others, his influence and the influence of Al Qaeda seemed to have already been waning. As such, while killing Bin Laden was clearly important, the impact seems to be primarily symbolic rather than one that will radically change the world.
To engage in some more counter-factual history, if Bin Laden had been killed shortly after 9/11, then that would have most likely had a major impact. It could even be argued that his timely death might have resulted in the United States not going to Afghanistan or Iraq.
Returning to the actual world, his death might serve to remove some of the justification for our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. After all one of the reasons given for our presence in Afghanistan was to fight Al Qaeda and find Bin Laden. Since Bin Laden is dead, there is no reason to keep looking for him. Since the remains of Al Qaeda seem to be in Pakistan, there seems to be little compelling reason to stay in Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda. Of course, we seem to be stuck in Afghanistan which is a fate that history should have warned us against. After all, we actually used Afghanistan to grind the Soviets and hence we should have known better.
A third impact is that his death has enabled people to jump on the Bin Laden funeral wagon and make a buck. Some of this is honest buck making: people are already pushing books and movie deals are in the works. Cyber criminal have also been busy exploiting his death by trying to sucker people into exposing themselves to malware by promises of photos of the dead Bin Laden.