Dunsmore: After Bin Laden

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(HOST) The meaning of Osama bin Laden’s death will inevitably be a matter of intense analysis in the coming days. Today commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore offers his perspective.

(DUNSMORE) There is one concrete way the killing of Bin Laden may be of long term benefit to the United States – and that is in Afghanistan. With a draw down of U.S. troops scheduled to begin in July, Bin Laden’s death is going to give President Obama much more flexibility to accomplish this. That suggests we may now expect the American military presence in Afghanistan to be reduced more quickly than it might otherwise have been.

Otherwise, the effects are less tangible.

For very many people in this country and abroad, every day Osama bin Laden was alive he was a symbol of American impotence. For nearly ten years, the world’s greatest superpower with its all-powerful military and sprawling intelligence operations aided by the very highest technology could not capture its number one enemy.

Even though he had become mostly a figurehead, Bin Laden’s continued prominence on the world scene was deeply troubling to the American psyche. I think that accounts, at least in part, for the ongoing belief by a substantial majority of Americans that their country was headed in the wrong direction. That’s why Bin Laden’s elimination was greeted here as much with relief as elation.

It’s also worth noting how reaction differed among the generations.

My youngest daughter Campbell, who is a student at New York University, was the first to text me with the news Sunday night. She and her friends then went off to join the patriotic demonstrations at Ground Zero because they wanted to be part of such an historic occasion. Certainly, for her generation it was. For most of their lives Bin Laden was evil incarnate and a realistic threat to the American way of life. As one who lived through World War II and the Cold War, I have never been able to equate Bin Laden with Hitler or Stalin, who had been genuine threats to my generation’s very existence. But I certainly understand why younger generations feel as they do.

Al Qaeda still has the capacity to retaliate, and would-be successors to Bin Laden in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen can be expected to try to mount major revenge operations – so the fight with Islamic extremism is not over. But just as America’s young people have a different perspective than their elders, there are significant signs that Bin Laden’s fundamentalist ideology had already begun to lose its grip on a younger generation of Muslims.

The best evidence for that is the Middle East, where the Arab World is experiencing an historic political shift, led mostly by young people. About half of the current population of the Arab World is under the age of twenty-five, and for these people al Qaeda is irrelevant. For all his acts of terror, Bin Laden never overthrew an existing government. But with peaceful protests seeking freedom and democracy, these Arab youngsters have already changed the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt – and there may well be changes yet to come.

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