Remember the final scene of "Godfather III"? When Michael Corleone takes out all his enemies all around the world, in one fell swoop, from the steps of the Sicilian opera house to a New York barbershop?
Okay, maybe that’s taking it too far, but we are taking out Al Qaeda senior leaders, one after another. First it was Bin Laden, now it's Al Awlaki, and countless Al Qaeda middle level managers in between.
We’ve got the momentum, and every Al Qaeda operative has to be looking over his shoulder wondering if he’s next. If they’re busy scurrying for cover, their ability to recruit, train and launch new attacks is greatly reduced. Many will go silent, and off the grid, worrying that they will be tracked by cell phone calls or e-mail traffic. And a terrorist network in disarray is terrorist network that is vulnerable -- these guys will scatter like cockroaches.
The strategic implications are profound, especially in light of the Arab Spring.
If you’re an angry, young, disaffected Muslim in the Arab world, you’ve got two narratives bouncing around your head. Al Qaeda, Bin Laden, Al Awlaki, September 11. But what has Al Qaeda done lately? Failed underwear bomber, failed Times Square bomber, dead leaders, but not a lot more dead Americans. And how does Al Qaeda make your life better?
The other narrative is the Arab Spring – Muslim youth organizing, demonstrating, and forcing out long time dictators in their own countries. The Arab Spring may ultimately turn into the winter of their discontent for young people in the Middle East, but for now it looks to have a bright future. And it’s a cause that, for now, you figure could make your life better.
Usama Bin Laden was the founding father of Al Qaeda. Even though he was hiding out in a safe house in Pakistan when the Navy SEALs killed him, the intelligence cache captured indicates he was still plotting attacks and in touch with the network.
But no matter how revered he was in the international jihadist movement, he was the past. He was a pathetic old man, sitting in dirty clothes, in a windowless room in a safe house in Pakistan, watching pornography and old videos of himself. Al Awlaki was the next generation, he was the future.
Al Awlaki was the crown prince, he was the future of the international jihadist movement. He was a cyber-warrior – younger, Internet saavy, inspirational and a master recruiter.
And his bona fides were unshakable.
The 9/11 hijackers met with him. He was connected to the Fort Hood shooter Maj. Hassan, the so-called "Underwear Bomber," the Times Square Bomber, and the UPS cargo plane dry run bombs.
He was an American citizen, educated in the U.S., fluent in English and founder of the popular online jihadist lifestyle magazine Inspire.
And most important for the future of Al Qaeda, he specialized in recruiting homegrown terrorists in the English speaking world, the lone wolf American or Brit, inspired by Al Awlaki could tplant bombs on himself, in trucks or in public places.
Killing Al Awlaki not only settles a score, but like Michael Corleone in "The Godfather," killing him is also a massive blow to the future of Al Qaeda. We have demonstrated that Americans do not forget, that terrorists may run, but they can’t hide forever. And while they may not yet be finished, they are seriously wounded.