What grand words to bookend a long and dangerous effort. On September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush said “whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.” Last night, President Barack Obama proclaimed, “Justice has been done.” Usama bin Laden is dead.
Much credit goes to our Navy SEALs, armed forces, CIA operatives, and the intelligence community. They proved again they are the best in the world at what they do.
Congratulations also to President Obama and his national security team for their adroit leadership of this operation. And thanks is also due President Bush, whose policies provided the tools that led to the discovery of Bin Laden’s hiding place.
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Now, in response to questions I’ve been asked, here are more mundane political observations: in the short term, this event is sure to boost President Obama’s standing with the public. Giving the orders that kill an evil figure like bin Laden should redound to the president’s credit.
But President Obama faces new challenges. Bin Laden’s death may lead more Americans to conclude the War on Terror is done, much as the death of Hitler marked the collapse of the Third Reich. But bin Laden knew he might be killed and prepared Al Qaeda for that possibility by installing leadership that could act in the event of his death and decentralizing the organization so it could not be decapitated easily.
President Obama needs to go to the American people in the weeks ahead to explain plainly and forcefully why more days of danger and sacrifice lie ahead in Afghanistan and across the globe. Public opinion has soured on the war in Afghanistan already with 34% approving of the President’s handling of it and 54% disapproving. Before Bin Laden’s death on Sunday, only 32% of Americans thought we were winning the war on terror.
Nor can people in the West Wing think this event permanently alters the president’s relationship with the American people. Less than a week before Saddam Hussein was captured, President George W. Bush’s Gallup rating stood at 55% approve, 43% disapprove. Shortly after Saddam was pulled from his hole, Bush’s rating rose to 63% approve, 34% disapprove. But a month later, they had returned to 53% approve, 44% disapprove.
Last Friday, President Obama’s Gallup rating stood at 46% approve, 46% disapprove.
And because Bin Laden’s death is a bigger event to the American people than the death of Saddam Hussein, President Obama’s numbers may well see a bigger bump than Bush received, and it may last longer. But the effect could still be transitory as concerns about rising gas and grocery prices, government spending, the burgeoning national debt, and health care pull the president’s numbers down again.
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For now, however, President Obama has every reason to take pride in his handling of this operation, his national security team and, most important of all, our SEALs and CIA operators. He also has reason to be grateful to his predecessor for having put in place tools whose use hastened the extraordinary events that took place on an early Sunday morning in Abbottabad, Pakistan.