Osama and Obama

    Our moment of national unity will be brief, but how sweet it is. This morning, the usual suspects have been silenced. Nobody is demanding to see Osama bin Laden’s long-form death certificate. Nobody is claiming that the president wanted to read Osama his Miranda rights. Nobody in the Republican camp is painting the president as a wussy apologist for America, or assailing him for some nonexistent “pre-9/11 mindset.” On the contrary, neoconservatives like Bill Kristol and Dick Cheney have congratulated the president. Heck, even the sewage pipe that’s lodged between Donald Trump’s lips has blessedly run dry.Before inevitably speculating about the domestic political ramifications, let’s put the prime emphasis where it belongs. Three thousand Americans were slaughtered on 9/11, and all of us, regardless of ideological or religious persuasion, can take satisfaction in the fact that Osama finally got lit up. And that we were the ones who did it. For those who lost their loved ones on that perversely balmy day, there can never be closure. But the raid yesterday – Osama reportedly received a double tap to the head – surely qualifies as rough justice.In a background briefing late last night, a U.S. official, seeking to buttress our moment of unity, hailed Osama’s death as “the single greatest victory” in the war against al Qaeda, “a major and essential step in bringing about al Qaeda’s eventual destruction….Although al Qaeda may not fragment immediately, the loss of bin Laden puts the group on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse.”Well, hopefully. But at best the official was describing a long-term trajectory. In the foreseeable interim, little will change. We’ll remain on perpetual high alert, removing our shoes prior to boarding, because the terrorist organization inspired by Osama is resourceful and decentralized. The threat has metastasized. I’m somehow reminded of the classic episode in Walt Disney’s Fantasia, where Mickey Mouse, in the role of the ill-trained sorcerer’s apprentice, splits a troublesome broom with an axe, only to soon discover that the broom has splintered into hundreds of brooms. Which means that President Obama’s national security team will need to remain vigilant (as the president himself acknowledged last night) – while perhaps assessing whether we can now afford to accelerate the long-scheduled troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, because surely that issue will now be raised, particularly on the left. On the domestic political front, Obama will probably enjoy some short-term reward. It’s hard to imagine how a president could more effectively buttress his commander-in-chief credentials than to closely track America’s worst enemy in eight months of intelligence briefings, and issue the attack command. The thunderous silence today from ’12 Republican presidential hopefuls is proof of that effectiveness. Of course, any president would’ve made the same call. But it’s Obama who fulfilled the vow to get Osama. He’s the president who gave the order; it was his predecessor who famously said of Osama, in 2002, “I don’t know where he is. I have no idea and I really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority.”But President Obama’s short-term reward can probably be measured in weeks (with the exception of a spike on the impending Sept. 11, which will mark the 10-year anniversary). Memories are short, and news cycles spin with ever-increasing speed – which means that, in all likelihood, the slaying of Osama will be a footnote during the ’12 presidential campaign.Right now, his death has great psychological, emotional, and symbolic resonance. But once the mood fades, disunity will reign again and most voters will return to their main concerns: jobs, the economy, gas prices. Keeping us safe is crucially important, but it’s generally tough for the average voter to assess how well that task is being handled. It’s way easier to measure the household budget and track the digits on the gas pump. If those numbers remain problematical in 2012, nobody is going to be talking about Osama bin Laden.

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