Ron Radosh

President Obama's Great Victory in the War Against Terror: Let us Praise Him, and Put it in Perspective

First, I think one has to acknowledge that the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden is a major victory for both President Obama and our country as a whole. As President George W. Bush acknowledged in his statement:

This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.

Other Republicans, including those who have been critical of President Obama’s policies, made the right call.  Tim Pawlenty, one of the Republican hopefuls for his party’s nomination, said:

I want to congratulate America’s armed forces and President Obama for a job well done. Let history show that the perseverance of the U.S. military and the American people never wavered.

And Rep. Peter King, whom Democrats and liberals have criticized for his congressional hearings on the threat of Islamic radicalism, said:

In 2001, President Bush said, “We will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail.” President Bush deserves great credit for putting action behind those words. President Obama deserves equal credit for his resolve in this long war against Al Qaeda.

One might argue that President Obama’s policies on fighting terror have more in common with President George W. Bush than with those of Bush’s leftist and liberal critics. He has not closed down Guantanamo contrary to his campaign promises; he has continued to engage in the kind of tactics in fighting terror condemned regularly by the ACLU and the leftist Center for Constitutional Rights; and he has finally decided to try imprisoned suspected terrorists by military commissions, rather than civilian trials.

Nevertheless, the success of this mission now gives the president the credentials he was previously missing as a commander-in-chief who put into action a covert plan whose details were kept from Pakistani intelligence and other officials and that took eight months to finalize before the president gave the word to move ahead and take Osama down at his secret mansion in Pakistan.

At NBC’s website, White House correspondent Chuck Todd and his colleagues made some wise observations. They first correctly noted that the 2004 election was fought over national security, and the Democrats’ choice of John Kerry and New York City as their convention site dramatized their weakness on national security and helped lead to Bush’s re-election:

While it’s doubtful that Osama bin Laden’s death will have as long of a political impact — especially in this fast-changing, short-term memory media landscape — it will surely shape the contours of next year’s presidential race. For starters, it will hover over the first Republican debate set for this Thursday, even if it’s not a direct question. It also will highlight the GOP field’s foreign-policy and national-security credentials, or their lack thereof. And it amounts to Barack Obama’s top achievement as president.

I would go so far as to argue that were the election to be held this week, the death of Osama bin Laden would guarantee President Obama’s election victory. Fortunately, however, the campaign will most likely not be over national security issues, but rather on the overall outlook of President Obama and his team on how to carry out foreign policy, and on the domestic economy and the nature of the president’s domestic proposals, including ObamaCare and the growing debt from unsustainable entitlements, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

As for the significance of Osama’s defeat, no one has characterized it better than Paul Berman. Militarily, the war against Islamic terrorism and radicalism is far from over. But as Berman points out:

Those concluding phrases in Obama’s speech, the ones that invoked the Pledge, were a moment of eloquent truth. The phrases made clear that our military and intelligence agents have hunted down bin Laden not just because he was a bandit, but because we uphold our own doctrine, which is the doctrine of democracy. Bin Laden and most Americans have always been in agreement on one point, after all, which is the question of what has the war been about. The war has been a struggle over principle. It has been a struggle between the Islamist fantasy of founding a theocracy versus the democratic principle of promoting and defending a reality of democratic freedom.

Berman praises Obama’s speech as eloquent, which it certainly was, but alone among commentators, he chastises the president for a partisanship others have not noted.  Berman writes:

He said not one word about the war in Iraq. He may believe, and many people believe, that our war in Iraq has been nothing but a diversion from the central struggle, which is the manhunt for bin Laden. But these two things, the struggle in Iraq and the struggle in Af-Pak, have not, in fact, been separate and distinct. The war in Iraq, once we had overthrown Saddam, became a war directed largely against Al Qaeda. Ayman Al Zawahiri made clear that Iraq had become, for a while, the central front in the larger war between Al Qaeda’s version of Islamism and America’s version of liberal democracy. And, in Iraq, we managed to grind down the forces of Al Qaeda. The Islamic State of Iraq never did become a state. Iraq was Al Qaeda’s second chance, after Afghanistan, and the second chance, like the first chance, was defeated. I wish that Obama had said something about America’s victory over Al Qaeda in Iraq.

The reason the president did not do that, of course, is that he opposed the war in Iraq as Bush’s war, and his supporters continued to spread the myth that “Bush lied us into war.” Instead, Obama characterized the Af-Pak war as different, or as the Council on Foreign Relations’ president Richard Haas has called it, a “war of choice.”

The big question that remains is: what will the American public now demand regarding the Afghanistan war? Will we commence with a phased withdrawal, or realize that this is now more than impossible, given that al-Qaeda or what remains of it has made that nation, as the president said last year,  “the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al-Qaeda.” And what will we do about Pakistan?  It is quite clear that Osama’s mansion where he hid, a few yards from Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, was something that one must note must have been quite hard for Pakistan’s intelligence services to miss or not be rather suspicious about. Indeed, the reason the new mansion was overlooked is most probably because Pakistan’s intelligence community itself was in al-Qaeda’s pocket and helped Osama gain refuge there. It was not out of neglect that the United States kept them in the dark about U.S. plans to raid the safe house.

So, to conclude, President Obama has taken away the charge that he is not tough on terrorism or on Islamic radicals. As Todd and his NBC colleagues write:

Bin Laden’s death is a tacit rebuke of all those who questioned Obama’s toughness on foreign policy and bats down the criticism from the right that Obama’s rhetoric is too soft (he doesn’t say “Global War on Terror!”). Obama supporters will say it proves it’s not tough talk that matters — but rather action.

From now on, criticism of Obama has to be on his view of how to handle foreign policy, not on his unwillingness to take tough action against our enemies when the opportunity exists to do so.

The election, however, is still far, far away. A lot can happen in that time, and as we have just seen, in a few days.