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On Obama and Osama

May 2, 2011

So, after the better part of a decade the deed is done and the greatest manhunt in history is over. Finally, questions pertaining to whether bin Laden is dead or alive can cease and more substantive questions can be addressed.

How did the operation proceed? How could bin Laden have survived so long under the nose of Pakistani intelligence? What role did the Pakistani authorities play in the operation? What condition was bin Laden in when he was apprehended? Could he have been taken alive? Why the burial at sea? Expect answers to these questions in Bob Woodward’s next exposé.

No doubt the conspiracy theories will continue and be ramped up in the coming months. No doubt Donald Trump will be seeking publication Osama’s Death Certificate as he once sought Obama’s Birth Certificate.

This is a time for contemplation as to what this means on many fronts. It would be fantastic high upon which Defence Secretary Bob Gates could stand down. It does much to bolster the reputation of the US military and its Special Forces.

Domestically the timing is remarkable for President Obama. With numerous Republicans putting their toes in the water to test for a potential campaign in 2012, the timing could not have been better. This incident appears to have inoculated Obama against charges from the right that he is soft on Terrorism. How can they complain now that he has delivered what W. was unable to produce? With few Republicans focusing on domestic issues (except to overturn health care, something local courts will no doubt manage without them) there appears to be little incentive to run. As such the stage is set for a repeat of 1992, with potential opponents choosing to sit out the race in anticipation of an unbeatable incumbent. Clearly Bill Clinton proved that not to be the case, so it will be fascinating to see who chooses to enter the fray and who decides that Obama is a shoe-in.

Obama’s re-election odds are greatly helped by the news for another reason; it further removes any chance of a challenge from within his own party. The simple, salient fact is that incumbents who avoid a challenge from their own party go on to win re-election. Those who have to fight a rearguard action for their own party’s nomination, lose. What democrat could possibly challenge Obama now, having delivered Health Care and the head of Osama bin Laden? To do so would be to redefine the word ‘churlish.’

Let us be clear, however, this is not the end of the struggle against political violence. Bin Laden was the poster boy for international bad behaviour, but a bigger fish remains to be fried; Ayman al-Zawahiri. Incorrectly identified as bin Laden’s second in command amongst headline writers, al-Zawahiri’s capture would be far more detrimental to the operational capability of those who perpetuate political violence in the name of Jihad. For more on him and his place in the history of political violence, head straight to the work of Jason Burke. A potential down side to this is that with the death of bin Laden, interest in defeating proponents of political violence will wane until the next wake up call. Perhaps we should all heed the warning of history, that ‘Eternal Vigilance is the price of freedom.’

One death does not a victory make, but today’s news is a vital, symbolic step towards a goal that was established in the aftermath of the attacks of September 2001. Somewhere, George W. Bush can smile a little wider and sleep a little easier, as his legacy becomes easier to spin.

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