Operation Neptune Spear was the culmination of years of patient intelligence-gathering. The CIA identified bin Laden's compound nearly 10 months ago, in August 2010, and monitored it by satellite and from a secret safe house in Abbottabad at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.
And even that was breakneck speed compared with the years our government spent hunting bin Laden. In 2002, the CIA heard about a possible courier code-named Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. In 2004, it learned that he might have worked closely with bin Laden. It wasn't until 2007 that it got al-Kuwaiti's real name. It took two more years to track him down to a specific region.
That, of course, barely skims the surface of American patience and sacrifice. We've spent billions of dollars and lost numerous American and allied lives trying to defeat al-Qaeda. Those efforts have ripped apart our politics, from the debates over waterboarding and what some claim is torture to extraordinary rendition, black sites and Guantanamo Bay. Some of those techniques and decisions seem to have led us to bin Laden's door.
Surely one more week of harmlessly searching hard drives while the public was kept in the dark wouldn't have been too great an additional burden. The White House would have still gotten their moment to preen and to ride their bump in the polls as far as they could. All they had to do is hold their tongues for a little while longer.
Obama says he won't release bin Laden's death photo for fear that American triumphalism might hurt American interests. Would that he had the same concern when it came to White House triumphalism.