Bin Laden’s death no guarantee of Obama second term

President Obama announces the death of Osama bin Laden. AAP

History will record that Osama bin Laden was killed by American forces during Barack Obama’s presidency only days after he was forced to release his birth certificate to prove his eligibility in office.

Fellow Americans are literally dancing in the streets as they celebrate the demise of the man who masterminded the death of over 3000 of their citizens on September 11 2001.

What remains to be seen is whether Obama will accumulate long-lasting political capital from overseeing the assassination of America’s most wanted enemy and more importantly, whether the demise of bin Laden will guide voter intentions in the presidential elections November 2012.

History suggests that events closer to home, rather than derring-do in Pakistan, will decide whether President Obama wins a second term in office.

What does this mean for Obama in the short term? Does it remove the notion that he is weak on national security?

Although we have this stereotyped notion that Obama was considered weak on foreign policy and in particular national security policy, when you look at how the 2008 election unfolded it was amazing that national security really was no issue at all.

What became central was the economy. In some ways I don’t think Obama has ever been challenged on his national security credentials. It is because he bought into the consensus on the war on terror.

We know he has been cool on that as a label for the current war, but it hasn’t stopped him fighting it. I was struck when I was listening to his comments announcing bin Laden’s death that he referred to it as “our war”; he embraced the war that George Bush began.

His only contention has been, and he’s been fairly consistent on this, that he would fight it better: “I will get bin Laden when Bush didn’t”.

This notion that Obama was somehow a pacifist as some on the left-wing of his base would rather like to see him is entirely delusional.

He has co-opted the Bush national security strategy and for that reason, despite having two Arab names and coming from a far more complicated national security tradition from that wing of the Democratic party, he subverted all that, he got around it because he is clever and canny and he bought into the consensus on US national security.

He has said recurrently [that] the war on terror is America’s number one national security priority. It is not the deficit, its not unemployment, the number one issue facing the United States is the nexus of technology and terror. Bush was not wrong in sharing this analysis, he was wrong in how he went about it.

Does this slay the wider Democratic national security weakness dragon for good?

It is a matter of historical record that it is Democrats who start or join wars, not Republicans: the First World War, the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, the Balkans, Libya.

Republican war-making is the exception which is why they paid such a high price for their botched invasion of Iraq, it is Democrats that usually start the wars.

In some ways this confirms this particular understanding of the dynamic between the two parties. Democrats will be able to claim that they are better on national security. They will say “We are waging far more appropriate wars, multilaterally, with legality on our side and we capture and kill the bad guys.” Bush could never do that.

George Bush Snr won a resounding victory in the first Gulf War but 18 months later lost the 1992 election largely on domestic issues. To steal a line from Bill Clinton, is it still the economy stupid?

Yes it is. Obama will delicately and cleverly try and exploit that bin Laden was killed under his watch. But I think he knows that at the end of the day it is the jobless total that will determine whether he gets back into office.

George Bush Snr, the guy who he regards as a role model, won a very important war in 1991 but wasn’t elected 18 months later. Winston Churchill faced a similar scenario. It does come back to the domestic economy.

The media is alight with the news of Bin Laden’s death but I don’t think it changes the dynamic of the next election which comes down to two things: the state of the American economy and whether the Republicans are capable of picking a candidate who is capable of exploiting Obama’s weakness on the economy.

I think bin Laden’s death will quickly fade and recede in political memory.

The images of Americans celebrating in the streets at the news of bin Laden’s death could prove counter-productive. Will Obama be able to manage the risk of triumphalism and heightened expectations about what this means in the struggle against terrorism?

The danger he has got here is that the capital he can get from ordering the death of bin Laden is not as great as the problem that will be posed for him should Al-Qaeda manage to launch another assault like 9/11.

National security as an issue has been declining in salience since the middle 2000s, after the original occupation of Iraq. There’s not much political capital to be had from it. But there is potentially a great hit should 9/11 be repeated.

I don’t always agree with Obama in terms of where he wants to go but I think to date he has shown great skill and strategy in advancing his agenda and he won’t be triumphalist about this because he knows killing bin Laden does not mean the end of the terrorist threat.

In the short term one would suppose it will re-ignite Islamists in the search for a doomsday weapon and that is Obama’s number one priority, precluding access to WMD by terrorists.

What does this mean for George W Bush’s legacy?

Wouldn’t you argue that Bush could talk the talk but not walk the walk if you were a Democrat? I don’t think Obama needs to make this pointedly, but Bush failed to get the bad guy.

He cast the scenario in very black and white terms, going after the evil folk and yet couldn’t deliver. It has been Obama, the guy who called Iraq a dumb war who has actually found the leader behind the 9/11 plot. He will make great political capital out of this, I would be less sure that it will be of lasting credit to him.

The risks of another strike and the ongoing problems with the American economy will decide his fate.

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