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Obama’s Big Bet on Ground Zero Visit

Ground Zero construction.jpg

May 2: Work continues at the World Trade Center site and the Freedom Tower in New York. (AP)

Still Looking for a Bounce, Obama Raises Stakes for Ground Zero Trip

"President Bush will not be in attendance on Thursday. He appreciated the invite, but has chosen in his post-presidency to remain largely out of the spotlight. He continues to celebrate with all Americans this important victory in the war on terror."

-- David Sherzer, spokesman for former President George W. Bush.

It’s clear that the White House team is thinking very big when it comes to President Obama’s Thursday visit to Ground Zero, his first since taking office.

Obama invited former President George W. Bush and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to meet him at the former site of the World Trade Center. Bush declined and Giuliani’s status is unclear, but those are the kinds of guests one would invite for a major political event.

Bush has a strong defense for declining. He has kept a low profile since leaving office and largely limited his public events to a promotional tour for his memoir and charity events for wounded soldiers. But by not attending, Bush denies Obama the chance to associate himself with Bush’s iconic status in the days and months after the attack.

Had Bush been on stage when Obama took his bow for ordering the strike against bin Laden, it would have allowed Obama the chance to say that he had finally fulfilled Bush’s promise made to firefighters sorting through the burning rubble that “the whole world will hear you.”

Early polls show that while Americans overwhelmingly approve of Obama’s decision to neutralize bin Laden, the president hasn’t yet received the kind of bounce that Bush did after the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003. In fact, so far there hasn’t been any appreciable bounce at all except in one poll taken for the Washington Post.

What’s up? Is it the economy? Has it taken a few days for people to credit Obama for ordering the strike? Are complaints about the dignified Islamic burial for the butcher of 9/11 holding people back? Is it not real until people see the pictures?

In time, the nation’s generally better mood that stems from the knowledge that bin Laden is dead will undoubtedly help the president’s saggy approval ratings, but it will take some political acumen to turn the success into a transformative moment for Obama.

The establishment press is already creating massive and likely impossible expectations for Obama post-killing. Stories have suggested that the killing on bin Laden will make Obama invincible in 2012, silence critics of his foreign policy and even help revive the economy.

Obama will be freighted with those expectations when he heads to Ground Zero on Thursday and as he he works through a round of post-kill appearances, including an interview with his preferred TV outlet, “60 Minutes.”

Having Bush there would have helped Obama show himself, in the words of one Democratic strategist turned TV host, as “master and commander.” But Obama, who likes the chance to makes high-stakes speeches, will be swinging for the rhetorical fences anyway.

With the economy in peril, gasoline at $4 and rising and tough foreign policy choices ahead in Libya and Afghanistan, Obama needs to quickly amass some political capital from the killing of bin Laden. And he needs to do it before the moment is ruined by Democrats and Republicans already in a bitter fight over terror policies -- harsh interrogation, detainment, etc. -- and to what degree Bush-era decisions led to bin Laden’s elimination.

And as for the debate over releasing the pictures, you can surely count the folks in the White House political office among those hoping that the bloody .jpeg hits the Internet today.

If You Don’t Love America, You’ll Probably Hate the bin Laden Killing

"This was a complex operation and it would be helpful if we knew the precise facts surrounding his killing. The United Nations has consistently emphasized that all counter-terrorism acts must respect international law."

-- Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement calling for more details from the raid that killed Usama bin Laden.

There is something kind of quaint about the debate over whether or not Usama bin Laden had the chance to surrender or not before he was shot. What other great power in the history of the world would have a discussion about what rights -- or even battlefield gallantries -- were offered to such an enemy.

Power Play assumed that SEAL Team Six went to bin Laden’s compound to kill him, especially since there was nothing else to do with him. Where would one have put him if he had been taken alive?

President George W. Bush had allowed the creation of an alternate system of detainment and justice likely with the hope that bin Laden one day would be its most notorious subject. The teams at Guantanamo Bay, CIA facilities around the world and the military tribunal system had all probably anticipated that one day bin Laden would be brought, hooded and bound, into their world for interrogation, swift trial and execution.

But President Obama made the dismantling of that system a central campaign promise. He has ended up, though, caught between the old Bush system and the new system of civilian justice he and Attorney General Eric Holder had imagined. If Obama’s fellow Democrats would not tolerate having Khalid Sheikh Mohammed tried in Manhattan federal court, bin Laden would have been out of the question. Imagine the spectacle and risks of U.S. vs. bin Laden and imagine the platform a civilian trial would have given the master propagandist.

The Obama administration is working to clear the backlog of cases at Guantanamo Bay, using modified military tribunals to push through the cases, like Mohammed’s, that are too sensitive, or involve interrogations not permissible in civilian justice. The goal isn’t to keep the place running, but instead close it down. The system designed with bin Laden in mind is spinning down, not ramping up.

If Obama had put bin Laden in Gitmo he would have been highlighting in the brightest way possible what he and his team say is the “No. 1 terrorist recruiting tool” in the world. Neither could Obama have just snatched up bin Laden and held him in whatever undisclosed locations the CIA has left for such baddies. Holding people without charges in secret locations is even more antithetical to Obama’s stated polices (and contradictory of his attacks on George W. Bush) than sticking them in a military prison and using a military court. No Gitmo, no civilian courts, no black sites: no place for bin Laden but the bottom of the sea.

Except for among a few very dainty souls, there will be little concern in America about whether the raid on bin Laden’s compound was a “capture or kill” mission or just a “kill” mission.

But there will be considerable domestic debate about what to do with the enemy combatants captured presently and in the future. The necessity of killing bin Laden will be uncontroversial, but expect to hear more about the gaps in our system for handling and interrogating high-value terrorists.

If, for instance, the cache of information boosted from bin Laden’s house lets us net yet more baddies, where will the president keep and question them?

The confusion over the circumstances of bin Laden’s death – administration officials first said he was armed but may not have been able to fire a shot, then said he was unarmed but presented a danger – will, however, be fodder for the UN, the press in the Muslim world and human rights groups who are casting aspersions on the raid.

Already, Arab news outlets are reporting leaked details of the raid supposedly from bin Laden’s family captured at the scene and now in Pakistani custody. They are describing an assassination, which will not only inflame the already riled up Pakistani populace but also prompt international do-gooder groups to ramp up the pressure on Obama.

Pawlenty Gets Ready for His Close-Up

“We’ve got to get off the sideline. We’ve got big challenges and it requires a big challenge and, you know, I think the time to engage President Obama is now.”

-- Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Radio Iowa explaining why “it’s time” for the GOP presidential field to start making its case against Obama.

Thursday’s first-in-the-nation presidential debate will be a major opportunity for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

“There’s a lot of risk, but, yes, there is opportunity too,” said an aide to one of the fence-sitting GOP presidential candidates who opted out of the Thursday debate, hosted by FOX News and the South Carolina Republican Party.

Pawlenty will be the highest-profile candidate on stage for the event, which will also include Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, businessman Herman Cain and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

But being the big name in a debate also means being the big target for the other contestants looking to increase their own notorieties. Had former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney been on stage, he would have been the leader/target. But Romney, who faces a tough task in winning over super-conservative South Carolina Republicans anyway, has opted to run a low-profile candidacy so far.

Thursday’s debate promises to be the toughest test Pawlenty has faced on the national stage so far. Santorum, Cain and Paul are all considerable rivals in any verbal scrap and they will have lots of motivation to sic the Minnesota nice guy as the closest thing to an establishment Republican onstage.

If Pawlenty can trade barbs with the rest of the participants and still manage to turn his attention to zapping President Obama, other cusp candidates may regret giving him an unobstructed view.

Particularly puzzling is Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who has struggled to launch his own campaign. Gingrich must win in South Carolina if he expects to be a viable candidate next year. If Pawlenty performs, Gingrich may kick himself for passing up a chance for national attention and to show respect to a key constituency.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“If Senator Obama had been the president [in the aftermath of 9/11], it's quite possible we would not have had the information and result. That's a fact. You can make a moral judgment, OK, it would have been worth it not to do it and suffer the terrorist casualties that might have resulted otherwise in this and or instances. I would say no. The first responsibility as the president is to protect Americans, innocent Americans and you do what you have to do.”

-- Charles Kruathammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.