Of the Bin Laden Assassination, Obama, Democrats, Republicans, the 2012 Presidential Election & Beyond
The killing this week of Osama Bin Laden, the al-Qaeda terrorist leader and 9/11 mastermind in a heavily fortified mansion on the outskirts of Abbottabad, a town some 60 miles from Islamabad, Pakistan’s largest city, is already widely heralded as possibly being the most pivotal moment of the Obama presidency.
Granted that there is so much about this Hollywood-esque, high stakes, nail-biting operation, which we still do not and may never know, with the continuing drip-drip of information from elements within the decision circle, pundits are wasting no time filling-in the blanks with all kinds of fascinating tales; from the frighteningly incongruous to the alluringly insightful.
As far as news cycles go, there is no questioning that this story is incomparably momentous; it’s like Christmas in May for communication media interests.
Try as Obama did to soften the obvious discomfiture that awaited Pakistani officials in the wake of the operation late Sunday night as he addressed the nation by so transparently paying lip-service to the supposed partnership between the United States and Pakistan in the war against terror, the sting was simply inexorable.
Not only was the entire event conducted without the foreknowledge and participation of security forces in Pakistan, it seemed implausible that Bin Laden could live practically a few hundred yards from several army regiments and most-notably the prestigious Kakul Military Academy, Pakistan's equivalent of the West Point.
So, understandably, amid suspicions that the Pakistani government was all along possibly playing a dangerous “double game” with Washington, questions are rife about what the country’s army and intelligence establishment knew of Osama Bin Laden's whereabouts, when, and, most importantly, why this was concealed?
Regardless of how the inquiry unravels in the end, this appears unalterably embarrassing for Pakistan; having foreign forces, American Navy Seals Special Ops units, operate so clandestinely at the heart of a budding, self-acclaimed nuclear power, gravely diminishes its prestige as a serious regional player.
What seems to have clearly gotten insufficient airplay, though, is what the demise of Bin Laden means for presidential politics going forward in this country.
Much as efforts are continuing to be made by some in the media to furtively suggest otherwise or make believe that it isn’t so, it certainly ought not be lost on anyone that this was pulled off by Barack Obama, the current Democratic occupier of the White House.
Some opinion molders and other GOP ideologues, like Vice-President Dick Cheney, have even shamelessly capitalized on the success of the operation to resurrect lame arguments in support of universally discredited torture practices (so-called enhanced interrogation tactics like water-boarding) that were the bane of the Bush administration---desperately taking solace or seeking redemption in the unprovable thought that the event’s success is traceable to information extracted using such questionable methods.
Others like Karl Rove, Andrew Card and Eric Cantor are deep in the throes of what clearly amounts to historical revisionism; extending undeserved credit to the Bush administration for the capture of Bin Laden forgetting that Bush starting in 2002, repeatedly publicly stated that finding and bringing Bin Laden to justice was not of priority interest to him; in fact, he practically changed course in 2005 when he dismantled the special unit he had previously assembled to hunt Bin Laden down.
Though equally confounding, once the news broke Sunday night about the assassination, it was particularly funny to see some in the crowd that had quickly assembled by White House gates as the nation awaited Obama’s speech actually waving signs thanking Bush for it! Yet, again, perpetuating the all too familiar dispensation under which Obama gets modicum to zilch acknowledgment for indisputable accomplishments and all the blame for things that either pre-dated him or are not in his purview.
All that said, I am certainly not denying that this was the culmination of efforts spanning several administrations; from Clinton to Obama.
For President Obama, it would not be a stretch to posit that this will long be remembered as his administration’s most cherished foreign policy legacy.
But it should also be recognized as an inestimable testament to Obama’s prescience, tenacity and dogged determination; a vindication of sorts for an unpopular position he took back in 2007 in the lead up to the Democratic primaries that immediately drew the ire of some of his adversaries, from Joe Biden (whom Obama chose as his running mate) to Chris Dodd, who publicly derided him for being inexperienced and irresponsible.
Then, almost fore-shadowing what transpired in Abbottabad on Sunday with eerie precision, candidate Barrack Obama declared his willingness to conduct US military strikes in Pakistan, even if Pakistani authorities did not approve, if “actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets” were available.
To his credit, upon taking office, Obama consistently maintained that killing or capturing Osama Bin Laden was his top counter-terrorism priority.
The Bin Laden assassination could also profoundly prove a game-changer for the larger ideological divide in the foreign policy debates of presidential contests. Democrats have hitherto, been perceived as weak on defense and/or national security. But how could that image persist behind the backdrop of knowledge that what is arguably the most stupendous foreign policy victory since the end of the Cold War was shepherded by a Democratic president?
Coming on the heels of the kick-off of the 2012 presidential election season, I like to think that the capture/killing of Bin Laden shores-up and strengthens Obama’s hands in a way that most GOP strategists may find dreadfully stupefying and nightmarish.