A recurring question I’m getting today is whether Osama’s demise equals Obama’s political coup. Duh. Of course the president will get a bump in the polls, and he will deserve it. It will also be very short-lived.
In terms of a presidential election cycle, bin Laden has been killed at a time roughly similar to the point in the ’92 cycle when President George H.W. Bush won the Gulf War. (I realize there are a couple of months’ difference, but that’s immaterial.) The victory gave Bush approval ratings that brushed 90 percent — i.e., significantly higher than President Obama’s are today. Just as now, it was unclear which member of the opposition party would run against Bush (unlike the case with Obama, Bush’s sky-rocketing polls actually convinced big-name Dems not to make the race). Bush seemed like a shoo-in — which Obama does not. But the election turned out to be about the economy . . . which was a dream economy compared to the one we’re in.
President Obama deserves kudos for the vigor with which he has attacked al Qaeda leaders and cells in Pakistan. As I argued during the campaign, his position on the need to do this was far better than that of Sen. McCain — who regarded Pakistan as a valuable ally and portrayed Obama as reckless for threatening to conduct attacks there. Obama is also to be applauded for authorizing yesterday’s daring mission. President Carter’s failed mission to rescue the hostages in Iran is testament to how much can go wrong and how politically devastating it can be when such a mission fails. And all you need to do is read the pertinent section of the 9/11 Commission report about President Clinton’s failure to give clear authorization to kill bin Laden when we had several chances to do so in 1998–99 — i.e., before bin Laden bombed the Cole bombing and ordered 9/11. That it would have been irresponsible to pass up this latest chance to rid the world of this menace does not mean acting responsibly was without risk for Obama. We should commend him for pulling the trigger.
Still, the operation cannot but underscore the mind-bending inconsistencies in Obama’s counterterrorism — gold-plated due process for some 9/11 terrorists but assassination for others; the haste to close Gitmo even as it continues to serve valuable security purposes; the paralysis of interrogation policies that (as Shannen, Steve, and others point out) were key to obtaining intelligence that not only thwarts attacks but enabled us to find bin Laden; the crackdown against al Qaeda while engaging the Muslim Brotherhood despite its sustenance of Hamas; the avowed commitment to fight terrorism while demonstrating indifference to the promotion of terrorism by Iran, Syria, and other rogue regimes; rhetorically lashing out at the Taliban (as Obama did in yesterday’s speech) while seeking a negotiated settlement with the Taliban; and so on.
Obama rarely talks about the war — indeed, he resists referring to war as “war.” This, coupled with his paradoxical approach to it, will limit the political benefit he derives from positive developments in the war, including one as extremely positive as taking out bin Laden. Meanwhile, the urgency of debt, unemployment, and climbing consumer prices will very quickly divert the public’s attention from bin Laden. The 2012 election will probably not be any more influenced by yesterday’s successful operation than the 1992 election was by victory in the Gulf War.
We ought to take this very good news for what it is — very good news. Despite the irritating self-absorption of last night’s speech that Mark aptly describes, we should praise the president and, especially, our peerless military forces for a job well done. And we should forget about the politics of this. Whatever bump Obama gets will be about as enduring as tomorrow’s trip to the station to fill ’er up with $5/gallon gas.