Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and an expert on middle eastern politics, has a long, meaty, informed comment on the assassination of Osama bin Laden and what it means for al-Qaeda. Cole's piece provides great background on the historical Cold War forces that gave rise to al Qaeda and bin Laden's brand of extremism, and what the future holds for the violent caliphate movement in the face of pro-democracy movements in the middle east.
They were all dictatorships- the Soviet Union, the Communist government of Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Sudan, and the Taliban. Usama learned to take the law into his own hands because he had no other way to effect change. He wanted to see the region's dictatorship overthrown in favor of his renewed Islamic Caliphate. It was a crackpot, fringe, pipe dream, but he brought to the aspiration all the experiences and training he and his men had learned during the Reagan Jihad against the Soviets. Then he and his number two man, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, came to the conclusion that the reason they could not overthrow the governments of Egypt (Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship) and Saudi Arabia and so forth was that these were backed by the United States. They decided it had been a mistake to hit the "near enemy" first. They decided to hit the "far enemy" on American soil. Bin Laden thought that if only he could entice the US into the Middle East, he could do to it what he thought he had done to the Soviet Union.
Hence the horrific attacks on the US of September 11, 2001.
(via Making Light)