He may have eluded justice and the long reach of the world's most powerful military force; his followers may (and probably will) strike again at some point in the future, near or distant; but history's verdict on Osama bin Laden has been in for some time now: al-Qaeda failed.
Terrorism departs from the rules of war by deliberately targeting the innocent, but it shares the basic motivational force of conventional warfare " "the pursuit of politics by other means," as Clausewitz wrote.
The purpose of the 9/11 attacks was not simply to kill Americans. Rather, the attacks formed part of bin Laden's strategy to launch a global Islamist revolution aimed at ending U.S. influence in Muslim countries, overthrowing regimes there allied with Washington and putting al-Qaeda at the head of a global Islamist insurgency whose objective was to restore the caliphate that had once ruled territory stretching from Moorish Spain through much of Asia.
Today, however, al-Qaeda is believed to comprise a couple of hundred desperate men, their core leaders hiding out in Pakistan's tribal wilds and under constant threat of attack by ever present U.S. drone aircraft, their place in Western nightmares and security determinations long since eclipsed by such longtime rivals as Iran, Hizballah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sure, al-Qaeda continues to issue vituperative missives by video from its hideouts, many of them directed at the likes of Iran and Hamas. But Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan seemed to sum up al-Qaeda's plight two years ago, when responding to a particularly rabid attack from bin Laden's No. 2. Ayman al-Zawahiri had accused Hamas of "joining the surrender train" by participating in elections and agreeing to form a unity government with Fatah. Hamas, sneered Hamdan in response, had no need of advice from a "fugitive in the Afghan mountains" and did not accept criticism from "those who do not know what is going on."
He was in a cave at Tora Bora.
I seriously doubt he's in a cave now.
On June 5, 2006, the Muckraker Report contacted the FBI Headquarters, (202) 324-3000, to learn why Bin Laden’s Most Wanted poster did not indicate that Usama was also wanted in connection with 9/11. The Muckraker Report spoke with Rex Tomb, Chief of Investigative Publicity for the FBI. When asked why there is no mention of 9/11 on Bin Laden’s Most Wanted web page, Tomb said, “The reason why 9/11 is not mentioned on Usama Bin Laden’s Most Wanted page is because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11.”
Surprised by the ease in which this FBI spokesman made such an astonishing statement, I asked, “How this was possible?” Tomb continued, “Bin Laden has not been formally charged in connection to 9/11.” I asked, “How does that work?” Tomb continued, “The FBI gathers evidence. Once evidence is gathered, it is turned over to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice than decides whether it has enough evidence to present to a federal grand jury. In the case of the 1998 United States Embassies being bombed, Bin Laden has been formally indicted and charged by a grand jury. He has not been formally indicted and charged in connection with 9/11 because the FBI has no hard evidence connected Bin Laden to 9/11.”
Hopefully we can learn to stop creating these monsters.