James C. Banks

Osama’s Death: Obama Deserves Credit, but Is Credit Enough?

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2011 at 12:28 am

President Obama, President Bush and their military and intelligence advisors are the only individuals we will ever know who deserve credit for the dispatching Osama bin Laden. They are not the only individuals who deserve credit itself; numerous unknown individuals—from the sources who gave us bin Laden’s whereabouts, to the Central Intelligence Agents who processed this information, to the SEALs and paramilitary operatives who brought bin Laden down—deserve the most credit for this feat.  But they embody quintessentially American modes of heroism: They are courageous but anonymous.

However, President Obama deserves his share of credit for continuing to wage the War on Terror and, if his statement on the death of bin Laden is to be trusted, for reinvigorating the manhunt for bin Laden. It is unfortunate that, already, speculation has arisen as to whether it might guarantee his reelection. If anything merits bipartisan support, it should be the assassination of Osama bin Laden, and whatever popularity President Obama musters from this accomplishment is well-deserved.  

Ultimately, though I find it doubtful that the death of bin Laden will make a significant difference for the president’s reelection prospects.  After all, it has not made an enormous difference in the past.  As may be recalled, Saddam Hussein was captured as late as December, 2003, less than a year before the 2004 election. Yes, Bush won reelection, but by November, 2004,  the issue of Saddam Hussein’s capture had sunk enough in public consciousness that it never materialized into a major accomplishment during the campaign.

Admittedly, Osama bin Laden is a much more important target symbolically than Saddam Hussein ever was. Saddam Hussein had some significance as a vicious dictator with whom we had a score—from a decade earlier—to settle, but this fact did not even approach the horror caused by Osama bin Laden’s September 11th Attacks. 

Even so, Hussein’s capture had the potential to materialize into a major issue for reasons unrelated to his relative unimportance: Because he was captured rather than killed, this accomplishment of the Bush Administration had legs. News of Hussein’s trial was frequently printed on the front pages of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal as a constant reminder that America had brought a tyrant to justice. Bin Laden’s death will not be forgotten, but its significance will fade after the newspapers stop reporting on the nuances and details of the operation. A year from now, no newspaper will be reporting on “a new report confirming bin Laden’s death.”

The only entity who will be constantly reminding the public of bin Laden’s death will be the Obama Administration.  Since killing bin Laden is a formidable accomplishment, they should have every right to do so, but it is not clear to me that this will be to their advantage come 2012. If they keep it on the front-burner too long while better conditions fail to develop in Libya or Afghanistan, the administration will come to resemble that decrepit drunk at the bar who turns out to be a former child star. The president has won a great victory for America, but he will have to follow up with even greater successes abroad if he wants to win another victory for himself.

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