Seeing it Through

Osama Bin Laden's death gives credence to the Bush administration and American conservatives who fought against al-Qaeda

Can this make the world more stable? That’s the inevitable question that comes following the news regarding Navy Seals’ capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. A few observers go beyond that international question to ask what his death might mean for the presidential elections in 2012. They comment that opinion polls suggest President Obama’s order to slay the al-Qaeda leader did not seem to help him much in the opinion polls.

But while the resolute order may not have done as much as his party hoped for the president, it did something for the presidency.  The action by President Obama demonstrated that the gap between the parties or between their main politicians is far narrower than most pretend. It was the US presidency, after all, as much as a man called George Walker Bush, that targeted the terrorist. It is the presidency, as much as Obama, that finished the difficult job of removing bin Laden from the world. Many US citizens these days are questioning their government, and wondering whether its shape and its manner of operation actually make sense any more. Instead of a thoughtful government, we often seem to have a merely reactive one, vastly inconsistent, all reflexes and no brain. That the US presidency is consistent enough to follow through on an assignment it gave itself a full nine years and eight months ago is evidence of the coherence of the United States as a construct.

The minor victory here is for conservatives, who in the past decade have endured unrelenting hostility of an intensity not seen since the end of the Vietnam War. In the nation’s schools, on television, in the papers, and at work, the message that President Bush and the Iraq intervention were stupid was transmitted millions of times. The basis of the Bush haters’ argument was that Bush was unusual, exceptional, unserious. The support for this view emanating from Britain and Europe fortified the arrogance of this conviction. In New York, in Washington, in northern California, it was impossible for the past decade to suggest there might be other sources for the hostility, though everyone knew they were there, fear of antagonising fundamentalist Islam being the strongest. The denial was so strong that it carried over into all areas of discussion. The stellar example was the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, in which foreigners, superimposing their own hostility to Bush on to their ignorance of the American governmental structure, made Bush’s failure out to be far larger than it in fact was.

Now the Bush critics’ bluff is called. By placing an order similar to those of Bush, undeniably Obama is doing something Bush would have done. The Bush haters are suddenly silent. That is because in taking out Osama and prosecuting the Libyan leader, Obama is demonstrating that he is a neocon. The neocon label will still be used by unthinking writers. But the reality is that we are all neocons now.

Why has Bush been unwilling to claim more credit, and hesitant to share a dais with Obama? Some have alleged this is due to hostility, but that is not so. Bush himself respects the presidency enormously. He wants the world to understand that he understands this is Obama’s victory as well. What else can come of it? The Obama-Osama victory can even enrich domestic policy. The greatest weakness of current federal financial policy, greater even than the size of the debt, is its incoherence, the inability of one government to continue or strengthen the policy of its predecessors. The successful demonstration of resolve towards bin Laden may conceivably even carry over to the tax-and-budget writing that will preoccupy lawmakers in the next few years. That will be especially true if the US alters its statute so that the president is permitted a stronger role in the fiscal process. Right now,  when it comes to the budget, or hurricanes for that matter, our governance structure ensures that the president is anything but commander-in-chief. There’s something about the Osama bin Laden news in any case that is heartening: worn out by their own divisions, Americans are now relieved to be telling themselves that the United States may be one country after all.

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