Bin Laden's death: A cathartic moment for the US
The president said that on taking office he had told the CIA that the al-Qaeda chief's death or capture was to be the agency's top priority. Senior administration officials say that he chaired five meetings in March working out the plans for this attack. It's really not clear to me if the political leadership makes much difference to operations like this, but it is certainly the impression Mr Obama wants to linger.
The raid took 40 minutes. The intelligence operation took years. It started with the search for a courier, perhaps something of a misnomer for a senior aide to Bin Laden, one of the few men he trusted, according to prisoners who had been interrogated. Four years ago they uncovered his identity. The very high level of precautions the man took made them all the more suspicious. Two years ago they discovered the areas in which he operated. Last summer they identified the compound, in an affluent suburb of Islamabad. Eight times the size of similar homes in the area, it had 18ft-high walls topped with barbed wire and inner walls 7ft high. A large place, worth a million dollars, but with no phone, no internet access. The CIA believes it was purpose-built to hide Bin Laden.
The US didn't tell the Pakistanis about the compound or about the raid until it had happened. That may create some diplomatic friction.
But the mood in America is exultant. As Twitter proclaimed the death of Bin Laden, before the president spoke, crowds gathered outside the White House, waving the stars and stripes and chanting "USA, USA". This is not a country that does quiet satisfaction. This is a cathartic moment for the nation, a moment when America's military might, know how and sheer will power seem to have come together to produce a result.
At a time when there are so many doubts about America's role in the world, and so much economic gloom, there is something clear and plain about celebrating the "rubbing out" of a bad guy, an enemy. The president has been congratulated by even his opponents, and this success allows him to appear grimly resolute in pursuit of America's core interests.
Senior administration officials say Bin Laden's death is not just a symbol, it removes a charismatic and respected leader whom al-Qaeda cannot replace. The official suggests the organisation is on a downward path that will be difficult to reverse. The domestic implications for Mr Obama are in the opposite direction, but may be just as important.