The World from Berlin: 'In Obama, Terror Has Finally Met Its Match'

Americans and their allies are celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden, but the long-term consequences of the killing remain unclear. German commentators praise President Obama's resolve but warn that al-Qaida remains a threat.

Demonstrators in New Delhi welcome the death of bin Laden on Tuesday. Zoom
AFP

Demonstrators in New Delhi welcome the death of bin Laden on Tuesday.

It took 10 long years, but the news that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden had been killed in a US commando raid delighted Americans and led to rejoicing in the streets of several American cities. "The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al-Qaida," said US President Barack Obama on Sunday evening, announcing that the al-Qaida leader was dead.

World leaders also welcomed the news. "The forces of peace achieved a victory last night," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy talked of a "historic defeat" for terrorism.

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Photo Gallery: The Hunt for Bin Laden
But it remains unclear just what the long-term effects of the killing will be. Experts say that, although bin Laden's death is a symbolic blow to al-Qaida, it doesn't significantly lessen the threat of terrorism inspired by Islamist extremism. Islamist groups have become increasingly decentralized and no longer rely on central al-Qaida leadership, say terror-watchers. Bin Laden's assassination does, however, seem set to boost President Obama's chances of re-election next year.

It will also likely change US relations with Pakistan. The revelation that bin Laden had been living in comfort in a luxury compound in the military garrison city of Abbottabad, just 60 kilometers north of the capital Islamabad, is deeply embarrassing to Pakistan and has led US lawmakers to call for a review of US government aid to the country. On Tuesday, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari acknowledged that his security forces were left out of a US operation to kill bin Laden but defended his country's record on tackling terrorism. In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Zardari wrote that Pakistan had "never been and never will be the hotbed of fanaticism that is often described by the media."

On Tuesday, Germany's newspapers take a look at the implications of bin Laden's death for the US and the world.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"For the Americans, the successful commando raid is an act of reaffirming its identity, both internally and externally. The message for America's enemies is that no one can attack the US with impunity. The nation 'under God' … has plenty of stamina and (at least for now) succeeds in everything it undertakes."

"Nevertheless, doubts had arisen within America as the gigantic -- in comparison with the deadly targeted strike at Abbottabad -- military responses to the 9/11 attacks dragged on. The interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost America thousands of its own dead, billions of dollars that are urgently needed elsewhere and a stain on its international reputation, particularly in the Muslim world."

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Photo Gallery: Bin Laden's High-Security Hideout
"In this situation, the killing of the person who -- at least from an American perspective -- was responsible for a global chain of deaths and violence was very welcome news. Many Americans will now feel a great temptation to regard the mission as finally accomplished, and return their attention to domestic problems. In Washington, however, they know very well that bin Laden's death will not mean the end of al-Qaida."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Osama bin Laden became an icon because the US, and the Bush administration in particular, needed to personalize terrorism. … In the US, evil needs to have a face, which is why the hunt for Osama had more symbolic than real importance. The killing of the man is now being perceived in Washington and New York as a liberation, and above all as a victory. Both feelings are deceptive: Terrorism has not been defeated, even if bin Laden's death may give satisfaction and even some relief. A dark chapter in the nation's history has come to an end."

"But America has not been liberated. The United States must engage in critical self-examination to answer the question of whether the fixation on terror and wars has not tended to paralyze the nation and restrict it in its development. In the 10 years (since 9/11), America has surrounded itself with both physical and mental barriers. The 'Land of the Free' paid the price for its supposedly increased security in the currency that is most important to it: openness and freedom."

"Barack Obama, Bush's successor, was the one who recognized the fatal connection (between US foreign policy and terrorism) and ordered a policy of international self-restraint for the country. One day, that will be recognized as the most important foreign policy act of the incumbent president. America is providing less and less ammunition for terrorists to use to justify their acts -- and is therefore able to display its true strengths again. Obama and Osama -- terror has finally met its match."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"Had he died without being discovered and appearing practically untouchable, bin Laden would have most likely been elevated to a status of an almost legendary figure. It was tremendously important to track him down and rob him of this aura of invulnerability. The US had worked untiringly toward this goal and never lost sight of it."

"If it is true that important information on the whereabouts of bin Laden came from sources among the Guantanamo detainees, then it throws an entirely new light on America's handling of terrorism suspects. Despite all the problems with the camp and the selection of the detainees, there were good reasons to set up Guantanamo and not to close it prematurely. With the death of bin Laden, America has once again powerfully demonstrated that no one can attack and humiliate the US and go unpunished. America has shown that it does not forget, and that it has the resources, technology, courage and skills to go after its enemies with perseverance and a long reach."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The death of Osama bin Laden by no means implies the end of the terrorist network al-Qaida. Its structure has no hierarchy and no central command. … But the central messages of radical Islam were united in the person of bin Laden in a particularly effective manner: the struggle against the Western 'crusaders,' their corrupt morals and their destructive ideologies. Elements such as militant anti-Semitism, the related conspiracy theories, and the demand for a reestablishment of a caliphate will all continue to exist in the Muslim world after the death of Osama bin Laden. The al-Qaida leader will also continue to play a role as a figurehead. But this symbolic figure will rapidly lose its power."

"The reason for this is the initiative and the power of the democratic movements that have recently been threatening the rule of autocrats in the Arab world. The anger of the people was directed at the autocrats, not because they were subject to Western influence or were traitors to Islam, but because they were oppressive and corrupt. … The struggle for democracy and for democratic rights such as freedom of expression and association is incompatible with the absolutist claims of al-Qaida supporters."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"The US war on terror has created many terrorists, probably more than it eliminated. That is the reason why the killing of Osama bin Laden will not change the current situation in any way. There will be no shortage of incidents that will be presented as acts of revenge. But one needs to assume that such attacks had already been planned and would have been carried out just the same, albeit with a different stated justification, even if bin Laden had not been tracked down."

"Osama bin Laden had for years been nothing more than a symbol -- a symbol that stood for less and less. The danger that he will become a more important symbol as a result of his death is small. His time was already over. Now that is definite -- thankfully."

The mass-circulation tabloid Bild writes:

"Osama bin Laden was the only tyrant who ever succeeded in terrorizing America. He was a shadow prince who plunged the superpower into fear and terror. He was a murderer who always showed scorn for his victims, their families and compatriots."

"Osama bin Laden had always said that he wanted to die as a 'martyr in battle.' US special forces have now granted him that wish. And it is not only good that bin Laden is dead. It is also good that the US, after 10 agonizing years, has finally freed itself from his terrible stranglehold."

-- David Gordon Smith and David Crossland

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'The Forces of Peace Achieved a Victory Last Night'

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