Some of us vividly remember the first murmurs of agitation, one year ago, that rippled across the Internet faster than we were used to – this was no mere announcement of a music festival lineup or a paltry celebrity’s passing. No, this was an announcement of an announcement, an enigma in itself before we were even told it would involve national security. The President was to address the nation in an hour, a terrifically arbitrary window of time during which the pundits could guess at the commotion.
I remember Anderson Cooper’s glib predictions of an economic disaster in after-hours trading; there was Fox’s blog post speculating currency devaluation; and there was even talk, a whole hour of genuine commentary, about earth’s impending doom at the hands of an asteroid, aliens or some combination of the two.
But the news was short and uplifting: the Navy Seals, informed with fresh intelligence supplied by the CIA — don’t ask me how — acted on President Obama’s order to fly to a mansion in Pakistan and kill Osama bin Laden.
Much fanfare has been made lately of what to make of this administration’s accomplishment in a campaign setting. The President’s re-election campaign seems to shy away from outright gloating, but aggressive “mentioning” of the mission seems the new standard. Certainly none can deny the bin Laden mission is one of the White House’s most bolded bullet points going into this election. And where was the President last Tuesday, the precise date of the mission’s anniversary? Making a furtive and unannounced trip to Afghanistan to meet with President Karzai about the daunting task of handing over his nation’s security.
Some have raised the question of whether the hype could stand to harm Obama’s image as the general election begins to heat up. Though the administration has made countless public gestures of moral support and credit sharing among all the military branches and personalities which could fathom a claim on the bullet that killed the terrorist kingpin, I hear the overtones of truth in Time’s Michael Crowley’s metaphorical criticism of Obama’s bin Laden strategy: It’s like “when LeBron James lowers his head and stampedes to the hoop, determined to score or get fouled trying.”
Perhaps the victory in Obama’s portfolio really is as Crowley says; he need only hammer it home and survive the fallout of such a blatant appeal to patriotism.
And if we choose to see it Crowley’s way, a great deal of risk remains in Obama’s strategy. What if, Darwin forbid, al-Qaeda shows signs of reorganizing or attacks again? The true origin of this draft of political momentum which now blows in Obama’s favor trades on the notion of America’s crushing victory over the terrorist leader and his immediate network. But realists will tell you this is not tantamount to al-Qaeda’s defeat; the organization is blunted, sure, but remains dangerous as ever. There is probably some validity to that line of attack, but I nevertheless feel that Obama is wary as ever of the dangers of the precocious “Mission Accomplished” statement that marked his predecessor’s fall from grace.
The moral inquisitors who comprise the closest cousin of al-Qaeda here in America, the social conservative wing of the Republican party, have already launched a campaign to paint the centrality of the bin Laden mission within Obama’s campaign in a coat of egocentrism.
Their tactic is laughably absurd — absurd because most rational Americans outside of their teabag-bedazzled clubhouses can detect the rhetorical pestilence in associating a great many people’s achievement with the iniquity of a single man. And it is laughable because it so reeks of 1950s bobbysoxer finger-pointing that I hardly worry about these types of Republican ever again rising to power. Let the Santorums and Gingriches of the future rot in their own misapplied vitriol.
Whether or not Obama’s waving of the Bin Laden banner is an ethically permissible mode of rhetoric, I think it will help his chances in November. The truth is that the Obama administration has not in any way let up in the war against al-Qaeda, with escalations of drone attacks punctuating the CNN ticker for some time now. And even more fundamentally, it shows Obama’s aptness to exercise the scariest powers of the commander-in-chief with both restraint and success — a combination that has tended to elude presidents since the Vietnam War.