Given the spontaneous celebrations which broke out late Sunday outside the White House, in New York, and elsewhere, the news that Osama bin Laden is dead is an historic development — and a defining moment for Barack Obama’s presidency.
Chris Cillizza, the prominent Washington Post political commentator, puts it this way:
While the work of tracking down and catching bin Laden was a decades-long process that involved three presidents — not to mention thousands of people — it was President Obama who made the order today that put the operation in place that killed bin Laden. It was President Obama who announced bin Laden’s death. It was President Obama who, in his remarks tonight, used the killing of bin Laden as evidence that America can accomplish anything to which it sets its mind.
All of the above — not to mention the surge of patriotism in the wake of bin Laden’s death — will strengthen the image of Obama as a leader. It will also complicate attempts by Republican presidential candidates — at least in the near term — to attack Obama on any topic.
Republicans seem to understand this, and they aren’t happy.
Of course, they know they can’t appear too partisan in the glow of an achievement so huge as the elimination of the mastermind of the worst attack ever on U.S. soil. They understand that in doing so, they would risk looking too small and petty.
Instead, they appear to want to dilute whatever credit Obama is due as commander-in-chief by forcing the president to share the limelight with his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush.
House Speaker John Boehner, for instance, says that he wanted to “commend President Obama and his team, as well as President Bush, for all of their efforts to bring Osama bin Laden to justice.”
GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor went ever further, praising Obama, but adding that the president was just following “the vigilance of President Bush in bringing Bin Laden to justice.” This is most ridiculous, and conservatives could well find linking Obama and Bush too closely could seriously backfire.
The truth is that Bush was not vigilant at all in pursuit of bin Laden. He lost focus on bin Laden as the real enemy as he ramped up his colossal misadventure in Iraq. Further, like Obama, Bush had a real shot of getting bin Laden years ago in Tora Bora, but bungled that operation.
Talking about Bush now could set up all kinds of comparisons that make Obama look so much more competent than Bush. After all, Bush swaggered on the deck of an aircraft carrier under his “Mission Accomplished” banner, only to watch years of further violence and death unfold in Iraq.
In announcing bin Laden’s death to the world on Sunday night, Obama gave no hint of swagger or cockiness. He was businesslike and matter-of-fact.
Bush was a cocky cowboy but when it came to America’s No. 1 enemy, he never got it done. Obama simply delivered results. Who would you want as your commander-in-chief?
Time will tell, but the bin Laden operation may well have sealed Obama’s re-election next year. You can believe if Bush had been the one to get bin Laden, Bush’s team would have wrung every possible political advantage from it.
Of course, the real heroes of the moment are the Navy Seals and other U.S. forces who actually took part in the operation that put the bullet in bin Laden’s head.
But just as Jimmy Carter wasn’t flying the helicopters which crashed in a failed attempt to rescue the U.S. hostages in Iran decades ago — yet received plenty of blame anyway when things went wrong — Obama, conversely, deserves credit for Sunday’s mission gone right.
Republicans just can’t seem to stand to just give Obama the unqualified due he deserves.