It seems likely that conservatives will soon begin criticizing President Obama over the fact that he has begun referring to the death of Osama bin Laden in his stump speeches:
“And because of the extraordinary bravery of the men and women who wear this nation’s uniform and the outstanding work of our intelligence agencies, Osama Bin Laden will never again threaten the United States of America,” Mr. Obama said, provoking cheers and more applause. “We couldn’t be prouder of them.”
This is exactly how Obama should refer to the operation — give the lion’s share of the credit to the tireless work of American servicemembers and intelligence agencies. The president refocused time and resources on finding Bin Laden, and he deserves credit for doing so. Presidents run on the accomplishments achieved during their term, and by all rights, the killing of Bin Laden is one of his. One poll released today shows that nearly three quarters of Americans now believe Obama can “effectively handle terrorist threats.”
Obama may come under fire from Republicans for mentioning Bin Laden in his speeches, but it’s unwarranted. The president’s actions following the announcement — from his sober speech to his relatively low-key appearance at Ground Zero — stand in stark contrast to the kind of triumphalism that the last administration engaged in. Bush’s landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln in a flight suit in 2003 and then giving a speech standing in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner typefied the kind of tasteless war pageantry that Republicans have deployed endlessly over the past ten years, particularly when it comes to 9/11. We’ve come a long way fromthe days when Bush argued that the “terrorists win” when Democrats get elected.
The annual observance of the day of the 9/11 attacks had itself become an opportunity for Republicans to remind everyone that only Republican politicians and a belligerent foreign policy can keep Americans safe. This always seemed strange, given that Bush was president when 9/11 happened, but Republicans nevertheless managed to persuade a non-negligible number of Americans that Bill Clinton bore the lion’s share of the blame for not stopping bin Laden earlier. Now they’re seeking to appropriate the killing of bin Laden by arguing, rather implausibly, that torturous interrogations were the real reason he was finally found. It seems Bush is responsible for none of the bad things that happen when he is president, and the good things that happen when he isn’t.
All of this points to the possibility that Republicans’ effectiveness in politicizing 9/11 may be waning. Last year, Republicans used the event as an opportunity to protest the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” and attack Obama for not using torture. This year, the biggest story associated with the upcoming 9/11anniversarymay be the fact that the terrorist who facilitated the deaths of thousands of Americans is finally gone, on the orders of a president Republicans said was too weak to get the job done.
If Obama continues to mention Bin Laden’s death, he may face his own accusations from Republicans that he’s politicizing 9/11. But as long as Obama refrains from spiking the football, so to speak, they won’t have anything to complain about.