Although Bush and former officials were quick to declare bin Laden’s killing a victory that transcended party lines, it represented the culmination of the former president’s promise, never fulfilled during his time in office, to capture the al-Qaeda leader “dead or alive.”
In a statement, Bush congratulated Obama and the military and intelligence personnel who “devoted their lives to this mission.”
“They have our everlasting gratitude,” Bush said. “This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.”
Obama announced bin Laden’s death eight years to the day after Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq, a war spawned in large part by the Sept. 11 attacks, in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s secretary of state, said in her own statement: “Nothing can bring back bin Laden’s innocent victims, but perhaps this can help salve the wounds of their loved ones.”
Victory for U.S.
Bin Laden, the son of a billionaire Saudi Arabian contractor, was wanted by the United States not only for the Sept. 11 hijackings but also for al-Qaeda’s bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, which killed 224 civilians and wounded more than 5,000 people. The U.S. government had offered a $25 million reward for information leading to his capture or death.
He was one of a handful of Islamist radicals who in 1988 founded al-Qaeda — which means “the base” in Arabic — to coordinate the efforts of various groups fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan. After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, al-Qaeda eventually shifted its effort to target another superpower: the United States.
A senior administration official said the loss of bin Laden puts al-Qaeda “on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse.”
“As the only al-Qaeda leader whose authority was universally respected, he also maintained his cohesion, and his likely successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is far less charismatic and not as well respected within the organization, according to comments from several captured al-Qaeda leaders,” the official said. “He probably will have difficulty maintaining the loyalty of bin Laden’s largely Gulf Arab followers.”
That bin Laden was killed — rather than captured — was a victory itself for U.S. officials, who had dreaded the prospect of a long and complicated legal battle if he was taken into U.S. custody.