On April 18th, 1943, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto of the Imperial Japanese Navy left his stronghold at Rabaul on a trip to inspect Japanese units on an island near Bougainville, in the Pacific. American commanders blamed Yamamoto personally for the attack on Pearl Harbor, and when U.S. intelligence officials got word of his air journey -- and realized they had an opportunity to intercept it -- President Franklin Roosevelt issued the order to the Navy and Army Air Forces: Get Yamamoto. They did. American warplanes shot down Yamamoto's bomber over Bougainville, and his war ended as violently and suddenly as it began.
But on April 19th, 1943, World War II continued. All over the world, American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines met another sunrise in strange, uncomfortable places, thousands of miles from home, in peril for their lives, and uncertain when -- or whether -- they would ever get back again. The same thing applies for the more than 100,000 American service members serving in Afghanistan today. The man who started that war, Osama bin Laden, is now as dead as Yamamoto. Still, dozens of aircraft will take off and land today at Bagram and KAF; convoys will wind their way over treacherous mountain roads; foot patrols will make their way through villages and farmers' fields. The troops in Afghanistan have got to be ecstatic at the news of bin Laden's death, but the immediate effects will be negligible.
Bin Laden's death is a victory for the United States, but it does not fundamentally change the problems at hand in Afghanistan, where the weak, corrupt government still must assume responsibility for its own security; where American commanders still are expecting a spring offensive by the Taliban; and where the problem of Pakistani foot-dragging and obstruction has now been doubly underscored. President Obama was careful Sunday to praise Pakistani leaders for "cooperation" in helping to eliminate bin Laden, but the reality of the situation was there for all to see: Bin Laden, living not in a "network of caves," as we used to hear, or in Pakistan's ungoverned tribal territories, but in a million-dollar compound within an easy drive of the capital city. American officials didn't know -- or weren't revealing -- late Sunday how long bin Laden had been hiding there, but they did say they believe the compound in question was purpose-built about five years ago to hide him. And yet this mansion with no Internet or phone connection somehow escaped not only the notice of the local telecom utility, it escaped the notice of the Pakistani intelligence services. So although the White House wants to use bin Laden's discovery and death as a way to try to revive its relationship with Pakistan, almost everyone else in Washington will view it as the biggest reason yet not to trust Islamabad.
Will bin Laden's death deter Islamic radicals from taking up arms against the U.S. or the West? Will it end the absurd, intrusive Kabuki play we call airport security? Will it reimburse the Treasury for the trillions of dollars spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Will it end the "war on terror?"
No. For all the celebrations and toasts that accompanied the news of Bin Laden's demise on Sunday night, Monday morning has brought another day in a world still struggling to deal with what he wrought.