A few thoughts on the significance of bin Laden’s death to American politics:
Of course President Obama will get credit for the kill. He deserves plenty of credit for authorizing such a daring, high-risk mission. It’s a lot closer to being an act of war than most of the things Middle Eastern countries consider acts of war. Obama also deserves praise for not talking to the Pakistani government until the operation was over. Actually, I don’t even think his admirers will give him enough credit for that. It was a very rude, provocative, and damned smart thing to do.
Having said that, the current liberal euphoria that this will somehow make Obama invincible in 2012 is silly. Ask the elder George Bush about his 90% approval ratings after the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm.
The attempt to make this all about Obama, including the President’s clumsy and self-centered speech last night, is unseemly. We could have used a shorter speech that was more about thanking the men who pulled off the mission. Instead, we got a weird little history lesson about 9/11 and al-Qaeda that almost seemed intended to remind Obama’s youth vote exactly who this guy was, and why it’s a big deal that he’s dead. There would have been plenty of time for all that later.
Obama’s narrative about a single-minded, unshakeable focus on killing bin Laden is also hard to square with comments he made in January 2009, in which he said “My preference obviously would be to capture or kill him, but if we have so tightened the noose that he’s in a cave somewhere and can’t even communicate with his operatives, then we will meet our goal of protecting America.” The Times of London noted at the time that these comments “represent a significant watering down of the ‘dead or alive’ policy pursued by President Bush.”
The President’s remarks in 2009 were reasonable. As we can see from the deadly game of whack-a-mole being played out in Libya, killing one paranoid guy with a lot of money is hard. It’s a mistake to set up a policy that can be rendered a failure by the survival of a single individual. It’s great that we got him, but our policy for battling al-Qaeda and its allies had to be about more than Osama bin Laden.
The people trying to give Obama sole credit for putting bin Laden down have some tough questions to answer. The intelligence that finally bagged the old monster came from the same “secret CIA prisons” and nasty interrogation techniques that Obama and the Left have been denouncing for years. Don’t forget that the Obama Administration wanted to haul CIA interrogators and Bush Administration officials into court and prosecute them for the very techniques that developed this vital intelligence. Some of that intel came from the Guantanamo Bay facility that Obama spent his campaign vowing to shut down.
I’m glad Obama learned the error of his ways after he started to receive official national security briefings. It still matters that he was wrong back then, especially since he hasn’t publicly admitted changing his mind, or explaining why.
Bin Laden’s death is a crucial blow to al-Qaeda’s morale, but he wasn’t operationally significant any more. He was sufficiently cut off to require courier service for communications. We finally found him by tracking the couriers. This means al-Qaeda’s operational capability hasn’t been terribly damaged by the liquidation of bin Laden. They’re roughly as dangerous as they were a week ago, and they’re either enraged or demoralized. There’s more work to do. Obama’s overall performance in the War on Terror will not be judged only on the events of Sunday night. For what it’s worth, I hope he does a stellar job of following up, all the way through the 2012 elections.
One area that will demand Presidential attention is our relationship with Pakistan. This all looks very bad for them. Our relationship with the Pakistani government is going to become very tense. Islamabad need only look east to see the accusing finger of India pointed at them – and India has very good reasons to be angry about further evidence of terrorists hiding in Pakistan.
Also, bin Laden had plenty of admirers in Pakistan, and they’re going to be very unhappy about the American commando team that just swung through an affluent suburb of a major city and took out their hero. Pakistan is an unstable state with nuclear capability that just took a swift kick to the shins. Something tells me the President of the United States has not received his last 2 A.M. phone call concerning Osama bin Laden.