Bin Laden's Death: How It Rewrites the 2012 Script for Obama, GOP

Monday, May 02, 2011

President Obama announces the death of Osama Bin Laden late Sunday night May 1, from the White House. (Brendan Smialowski-Pool/Getty)

Editor's note: Join reporter Anna Sale, IAFC Editor Caitlin Thompson and our political bloggers on Thursday night for a live chat of the debate!

It was just five days ago that Obama was admonishing the media for its breathless obsession with “sideshows and carnival barkers" in the face of America’s overwhelming challenges. Now, the death of Osama bin Laden has made that frenetic bouncing between birth certificates and zingers at black-tie parties all feel remarkably tone deaf.

The unexpected news of the death of the al Qaeda leader has brought catharsis and some closure, while serving as a painful reminder of the trauma America experienced together nine and half years ago. It also forces difficult questions about what this symbolic victory means for actual security.

It will also likely shift the 2012 debate’s substance, and add a new gravitas to its style. Domestic spending, the federal debt, and taxes will still be major points of contention, but there's a new debate now — what Osama bin Laden's death means for the future of America's foreign policy, and more immediately, the American people's opinion of the Obama presidency.

On Monday morning, there was one striking remnant of the shift in the political moment: Donald Trump’s most recent tweet, from the previous Friday, pointed to the “preview of this Sunday’s The Celebrity Apprentice.” (He later tweeted out a statement on bin Laden’s death, but that came 30 minutes after one advertising “Donald J. Trump’s Fabulous World of Golf” on the Golf Channel.)

What It Means for Obama's Case for Reelection

By authorizing the mission that killed bin Laden, President Obama has unquestionably burnished his Commander in Chief image, which needed polishing. After muddy progress in Afghanistan, tentative reactions to the protests in Egypt, and confusion over the aim of military strikes in Libya, 36 percent of Americans described his leadership as “indecisive and dithering” in a March poll.

Obama’s early campaign speeches to supporters have referenced the end of combat operations in Iraq, legalistic as that distinction may sound with American troops still there through the end of the year. This military and intelligence achievement adds quite a flourish, as does his comforting and unwavering delivery of his address to the nation on Sunday night.

“Over the years, I've repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we've done,” President Obama said.

The killing of bin Laden is also reminder that debates on the campaign trail matter. In 2007, then-Senator Obama said that “if we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will” — a statement Hillary Clinton later called naïve for improperly risking the U.S. relationship with Pakistan. 

Obama will have to answer ever-more urgent questions about his vision for American foreign policy. What, for example, is the future of the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, with revelations about bin Laden's Pakistani hideout adding to existing strains from drone attacks and the January shooting involving CIA contractor Raymond Davis.

Similarly, with this symbolic justice in hand, the American people may lose their stomach for ongoing operations in Afghanistan. Will the president remake the case, or take advantage of the opening to begin a drawdown?

What It Means for Republican Challengers

In first hours after the announcement of bin Laden's death, the still-fuzzy Republican field was tentative on all these questions, including how much credit to grant Obama for this operation.

In statements, some of the possible Republican contenders congratulated President Obama by name. Tim Pawlenty called this “terrific news for freedom and justice” and offered his congratulations to the president. "I applaud the president's handling of the mission," Jon Huntsman, Obama's former ambassador to China, added. Even Donald Trump offered his personal congratulations to Obama “for a job well done.”

Newt Gingrich split the difference, crediting George W. Bush and Obama, and added, “without the courage and professionalism of our men and women in uniform and in the intelligence services, this victory would not have been achieved.”

Others directed their praise more broadly to the military, without mentioning the president by name. Sarah Palin said Americans are “united in celebration and gratitude,” while Mitt Romney called this “a great victory for lovers of freedom and justice everywhere.”  Rick Santorum shared credit all around when he offered, “I commend all those involved for this historic triumph.”

Michelle Bachmann was the most ambivalent. She offered her “deepest gratitude,” but noted, “The news does not bring back the lives of the thousands of innocent people who were killed that day by bin Laden’s horrific plan, and it does not end the threat posed by terrorists.”

Mike Huckabee focused on the former al Qaeda leader. “Welcome to hell, bin Laden,” he said. 

Look for at least a handful of these potential candidates to expound more on how bin Laden’s death changes the talking points about Obama. Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Buddy Roemer are set to meet in the GOP primary’s first debate in South Carolina on Thursday.

Out of the crowded field of maybe-candidates, Rudy Giuliani may be the big political winner of the moment. He’s been making stops in New Hampshire and is scheduled to be there again next week. Before stopping by Ground Zero on Monday, he told Politico he admires “the courage of the president to make a decision like this,” recalled to NBC that he’d asked George W. Bush to personally execute bin Laden if he were caught, and when CNBC asked whether bin Laden’s secures Obama’s reelection, he quipped, “Nothing guarantees you a second term!”

On that, history agrees with Giuliani. And most likely, so does George H. W. Bush.

In February of 1991, his approval rating surged to 89 percent during the Persian Gulf War. 17 months later, when the shine of that military victory wore off, it dropped 60 points, before he went on to lose his campaign for reelection.


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Comments [6]

Simon Missionary from Accra-Ghana

Dear Sir,

Thank you in the name of Jesus Christ,
I was sent to Accra-Ghana to look for work by Elder Clinger American Government that was 2005,I did not know that they have set me up.
The people I Knew are few, the truth is that ,Now talking about my passport and welfare this is something personal ,it does not concern the Bishop and the Stake president of my ward or the Prophet, If the American are United in Religion and I am the one to represent Americans at this day I hope this problems of passport and welfare and work will be over, usually if someone was not born in United States and read from Book as I read the Book of Mormon, The person will have two Nationalities where is was born and the Religion which he belong to ,I was born in Nigeria and I read from the Book of Mormon ,that means that I have two nationalities but the Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo and the United Nation Has challenge the Kingdom of God in 2007 at Ghana @ 50 fifty independent celebration that there is no miracle in Development, as a result ,I was banned in Nigeria following the Nigerians President Olusegun Obasanjos Religion and freedom of speech
At (v.o.a news) that the Nigerians are Moslems and Christians that means as I am a Mormon they can not do passport for me.
If you find Elder Clinger for me he can change U.S Constitution within 48 hours.

I want to serve a mission with the fellow Americans also let all the people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unite in their ward as a country ,for we are not in the same religion.
For example I read from the Book of Mormon and came to my right; my religion is Mormonism but that does not mean that other religion can not support me when I am right.
God the creator will Judge every country according to their religion in order to finalized Ghana @fifty Religion cases.
I hope the Americans are winner following the test the American Helps did In 2008 as a result Formal president Bush told the Prophet there is a Miracle, those who will also support me, as every country will get proof of their religion ,are the winner also in this religious challenges.

I hope to be hearing from you about my welfare which is very important because this people who are the church including formal Bishop, They says that the are Elijah the great prophet that hunger will kill me. Finally I want you to see that the stake is divided that every one will magnify his calling according to his country or claims in order to get the proof that displays the winner.
I hope to be hearing from you about helping me to find Elder Clinger and Getting my welfare.
May our heavenly Father bless you more


Yours Faithfully,

Simon Missionary.

May. 10 2011 07:51 AM
Franck Lazare from NYC

It will be harder for some extreme right wing GOPs to equate Obama with Muslim terrorism as they have hinted in the past. (Obama/Osama, Obama is a Muslim, Obama not born in US, etc...) Hopefully theses fabrications will not stick in the GOP discourse any longer...

May. 04 2011 08:38 AM
mormovies from New York City

I applaud the President's action and the method of execution. I don't agree with the honor and respect of religion with regard to the care taken the bastard's burial. Religion is the root of all the insanity that drives terrorism is not worthy of any respect in 2011! All religion is insane- extreme religion is extremely insane!

May. 03 2011 05:03 PM
Rob Seitz from New York, NY

The following statement is issued by the National Minority Business Council:

Since the killing of Osama bin Laden, the National Minority Business Council (www.nmbc) has been following closely the subsequent media coverage of this historic moment in America’s history.
As a non-partisan organization, we generally do not take a political position on issues of national concern. Yet we applaud President Obama for delivering the news of bin Laden’s death in a somber and respectful tone and for not boasting “Mission Accomplished!” prematurely. As the President himself noted at a bipartisan White House dinner Monday night, the war on global terrorism is far from over.
Hopefully Washington will now be able to focus more resources on fighting domestic “economic terrorism”, from the soaring national debt to the un-abating unemployment that has pummeled the American economy at least since 2008 and the start of Wall Street’s roller coaster ride. As United States has fought for both justice and democracy in countries whose cultures and languages were foreign to the vast majority of Americans -- and then began the overhaul and rebuilding for which we are so well-known – our own infrastructure crumbled. As did our financial institutions, automobile and other made-in-America manufacturing, education, housing, healthcare and ironically, our good reputation as we tried to right wrongs worldwide.

NMBC urges the President and Congress to mark this major turning point in global terrorism with the start of a new “war” against the problems that have plagued the global economy since the beginning of the 21st century. The United States now needs to focus more of its resources, human and financial, on fighting the economic downturn that has cost Americans their jobs, life-savings, retirement funds, shelter, and, in some cases, the resilience and emotional fortitude needed to go on living.

To quote President Obama’s pronouncement on this historic occasion, “We are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.”

Mr. President, NMBC applauds your leadership on this significant milestone towards closure of this decade-long nightmare for millions of Americans and, indeed, for people around the world. Now, please show this same fortitude and leadership in solving the country’s economic crisis. Lead the charge of a much-needed rebuilding and strengthening of America’s backbone, the small business owners headquartered on Main St. U.S.A who have never given up on the American dream. This is a position that we feel all political parties can and need to embrace.

May. 03 2011 03:13 PM
Patricia from FH

Anna Sale says that the order of Trumps comments are striking to her. It's striking to me is that this would be striking to Anna Sale. Donald Trump only cares about gaining attention for his show. He doesn't care about this country, much less leading it. All his nonsense about the Obama's birth certificate was just to garner attention for his show. Is the media just really that stupid?

May. 03 2011 10:48 AM

Thanks very much to Anna Sale for a very well-written story on this topic.

--David Orr

May. 02 2011 05:55 PM

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