The notion that President Barack Obama sealed his re-election next year by nabbing Osama bin Laden is premature and overblown. Too much can and will happen during the next 18 months. And, barring further dramatic events overseas, I still think the economy will be the single biggest factor in the 2012 race.
That said, this episode very clearly strengthens Obama’s political hand, and I disagree with those who say the issue has no staying power. Overseeing the completion of the 13-year manhunt for bin Laden, and doing so by acting with a decisiveness that many commentators on the right said Obama couldn’t muster, burnishes Obama’s antiterror credentials and will raise his stature in a lot of people’s eyes.
Of course, what the president does next will be crucial. Imagine, for instance, if we follow this up by using the intelligence gathered in Abbottabad to kill or capture other al Qaida leaders, including new top dog Ayman al-Zawahiri. On the other hand, it could be that nothing much — or nothing good — happens on the terror front between now and November 2012, or that Iran or Syria or Hamas refocuses our attention, or that Libya develops into a stalemate. History offers examples of wartime success begetting political success — but it also, as Ed Driscoll reminds us over at Hot Air, offers other examples of political leaders who followed victory in war with defeat at the ballot box.
Like I said, a lot can and will happen during the next 18 months.
I do think, however, that one certainty in all of this is the need for Republican contenders to get very serious about foreign policy, very quickly. (Speaking of “serious,” let’s hope this event puts to rest the idea that Donald Trump is a real contender.) For the first time in years, the Democratic nominee may have the upper hand over the Republican on defense and national security. That will depend on which Republican wins the nomination, but The Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn surveys the field today and wonders whether anyone in the GOP has an answer:
Apart from Sen. John McCain and Sarah Palin, few Republicans even talk about foreign policy. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty probably comes closest to offering a coherent vision, having come out for a robust foreign policy that backs up our friends and takes on our enemies without apology.
Within the GOP, however, there remains a strain that is deeply suspicious of U.S. involvement overseas, especially since the end of the Cold War. The irrepressible Ron Paul, of course, has been most explicit. Before announcing he wouldn’t run in the GOP presidential primaries, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour sounded a similar note when he complained about trying to turn Afghanistan into Ireland and suggested we start shrinking our troop presence there.
As for the rest, the former governors from last time around (Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee) seem to be hedging their bets. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels served under President Bush, but he would hardly be confused for an advocate of any freedom agenda. For the most part, the Republican hope appears to be that eight-plus-percent unemployment along with six-dollar-a-gallon gasoline will be enough to defeat Barack Obama.
Unemployment, gas prices and other inflation, the debt and deficit — these things will still matter greatly in 2012. But the political upshot of bin Laden’s death is that they might not have the outsized influence they stood to wield just three days ago.
– By Kyle Wingfield