The old cliché about actions speaking louder than words is certainly true in foreign policy. Lieutenants of al-Qaida around the world must now be examining their positions with a new sense of insecurity. Yesterday’s splendid raid on the bin Laden compound in Pakistan will have spoken clearly enough to put a little dread in the adversaries of liberty. More than a little. In fact, if the world’s most elusive mass-murderer cannot escape U.S. vengeance, after nine-and-a-half years of hiding, who among them is safe? There certainly is much public rhetoric about martyrdom among the fanatics. Still, in the silent calculus of individual power, influence, and survival, it pays little to take up the leadership of a cause when doing so ends in a burial at sea.
Even so, there will probably be a counter-punch. How hard will it be? We will not know until after it lands—if it lands—but it is vital to make clear to the enemy which horse is the stronger after all (to use bin Laden’s own metaphor). Now we must pursue the leads from the intelligence cache seized during the raid. Now is not the time to let up, to relax, to lower our guard. Nonetheless, it is a day to celebrate.