I've heard that a cockroach can live for two weeks without its head. But what about real low life forms, like al Qaeda? What would happen if we caught Osama bin Laden tomorrow?
It all depends on how well he set up his organization. To a certain extent it's a cult of personality in that he himself is a potent symbol. But IMO there's no sign that his organization couldn't go on without him.
If that's true, then catching OBL might be meaningless at best. After all, we've been locking up gangsters for the better part of century, from Al Capone to John Gotti, and I don't hear anyone claiming that organized crime is gone. Al Qaeda would just have to come up with another leader just as the mob always has.
Do we know that bin Laden is a particularly effective leader? Someone had to set up his worldwide organization for sure. And although they've certainly had their successes, I have to wonder what another leader might have been able to do with the years of preparation and millions of dollars he's had available. How do we know that there's not a much more able successor waiting for the legend to pass so he can get his chance?
If there is, it would be positively counterproductive to catch bin Laden openly. Al Qaeda would still have him as a symbol even as they strengthened their management. Is it likely that anyone would make a move to take over while OBL is alive and at large?
Well, wouldn't he make a good scalp for GWB just before the election? I don't know why. People might get the idea that that meant that there was nothing more to be done in the Middle East, leading to a breakup of the "coalition of the bribed" and possibly even the election of that failure-in-waiting called John Kerry.
Catching and keeping him covertly, however, sounds good. I'm not sure that anyone needs to know besides the US govt and his followers. His followers IMO would not want anyone to know that he had been caught for PR reasons, and would have to wonder what information bin Laden had given to authorities.
Imagine this scenario - we already have OBL in custody, the Dems find out, and they release that info before the election as an October Surprise. Then what?