It goes without saying that it’s a very good thing. It isn’t VE-Day or VJ-Day, and Americans have enough sense not to treat it as such, but it’s worth one night’s jubilation. This day resolution was a long time coming, and Americans have the right to blow off a little steam. This is, after all, what closure looks like.
Although Obama didn’t plan or execute the operation, he did have to give the Go order, and failure of the operation could have been catastrophic. He had to burn some of the few remaining bridges we have with our nominal “ally” Pakistan, which seems to be drifting into China’s orbit, further heightening the risk.
But then, we’re faced with the Left’s desire to turn this into a partisan victory, almost even before the President made his remarks.
Is it really? Maybe not.
While Obama called former President Bush to tell him the news, he failed to even recognize his efforts in all but the most oblique terms. It continues a pattern of smallness and narcissism that have characterized this President. My friends on the right, who made fun of the birthers by demanding Osama’s Long-Form Death Certificate, showed more class than Obama.
One moment of clarity and gutsiness doesn’t in itself reverse over 2 years of fecklessness, and both our allies and our enemies know it. This should be a moment to seize the initiative in various theaters of operation, but it does not appear that Obama will do so. Instead, it now looks as though last week’s national security personnel moves are designed to retreat from the battlefield and press others to do so. (If not, we’ll soon see some serious pressure on Assad & Syria. If so, look for talk of “rapidly-closing windows of opportunity” for Israel to make concessions.)
The temptation to use bin Laden’s execution as an excuse to leave Afghanistan now, a leaning echoed in some isolationist quarters last night, must be great. But to jump to that conclusion would be to trivialize a major civilizational conflict into a south Asian version of the Hatfields and McCoys.
There was little if any indication in his speech of the context of the broader struggle, as one against radical or political Islam (as opposed to Islam as a personal religion); rather it was solely about alQaeda. The threat of jihad from the Muslim Brotherhood, and from Iran and its various catspaws went unmentioned or even unhinted-at. Does anyone believe that Obama better understands or is now more willing to confront those threats or the murderous ideology behind them?
Indeed, our treatment of bin Laden’s body more than suggests not. While we all had a good time thinking of the uses to which it could be put, most of us (I hope) were joking about torch relays, carnival dunk tanks, and heads-on-a-pike. As solutions go, burial at sea wasn’t a bad one. It was sufficiently but not overly disdainful, and deprives followers of a shrine. (It reminds me of Churchill’s legendary telegraphic response when told that his mother-in-law had died: “Autopsy, Cremate, Bury at Sea. Leave Nothing to Chance.”)
But the need to announce that we were following Islamic law in disposing of the body is of a piece with having our soldiers in Guantanamo handle the Koran only with clean white gloves. It’s one thing to be respectful of the religious sensibilities of our friends, or even neutrals; quite another to give our enemies reason to believe that we acquiesce to their place for us in their murderous ideology.
You can only do that if you’re not really convinced that you’re up against a murderous ideology. Iran only wants regional hegemony, and Ahmedinejad isn’t suicidal. The Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda never got along, so the MB isn’t a threat. (See the reaction of their spawn, Hamas, to bin Laden’s execution.) It recycles all the comfortable complacencies of the Cold War, and it’s as wrong now as it was then.
It would be foolish to say that nothing’s changed, but it would be equally mistaken to think that too much has. Today’s markets are a fine example. They opened higher on the news, and quickly reverted to form on actual fundamentals. The fundamentals of the enemy we face haven’t changed. The fundamentals of the economy haven’t changed.
The 2012 elections are still worth holding. The poll numbers of George HW Bush right after Gulf War I, and George W Bush after capturing Saddam, were both quite high before subsequent events brought them back down to earth. As Crash Davis said, “The moment’s over.”
This week, many Americans, most of them not college students, will fill their cars with $4 gasoline and drive 10 miles out of their way to a Sam’s Club in a struggle to stay within budget. The risk of stagflation is quite real, and the President seems no more serious about dealing with the long-term fiscal threats to the country than he is about dealing with our external enemies.
If bin Laden’s execution is the beginning of a new seriousness, more than an opportunity to pose, well then good. If it’s merely an opportunity to withdraw from the field while looking good, to claim a victory when our enemy doesn’t feel beaten, then it’s no good at all.
With a President who still seems intellectually and emotionally committed to American decline, I’m not optimistic.