Taking the long view

Obama's secret. Plus, Bill Taylor, RIP.
By EDITORIAL  |  May 9, 2011


The surprising and dramatic death in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden at the hands of American Special Forces operating under shoot-to-kill orders from President Barack Obama was a triumph of singular rarity in the annals of international conflict.

Memory must scroll back nearly 35 years — to July 4, 1976, to be precise — to find an example of equivalent daring and success. On that day, Israeli commandos stormed Entebbe Airport, freeing more than 100 hostages who had been flown to Uganda by Palestinian terrorists.

Pushing historical analogies too far in the real world can be dangerous. However, it is safe to say that, while Entebbe — for all its courageous brilliance — is remembered as just one of many markers in the interminable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, bin Laden's killing has the potential to be transformative.

Obama must act quickly and decisively to further dismantle the poorly conceived and ineptly executed series of interlocking initiatives that the Bush-Cheney regime called the war on terror.

First, the president must ensure that the drawdown of forces stationed in Iraq continues apace.

Second, Obama must invest his newly refurbished prestige in accelerating US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. And this must be done in the face of opposition from his military commanders.

Third, the White House, Central Intelligence Agency, and the departments of state and defense should present a united front and engage in talks with the Taliban about cooling the war, which long ago spilled over from Afghanistan to Pakistan. A successful outcome here would be a long shot — but so was nailing bin Laden.

Showing our European allies that we are willing to talk — as well as act — is more than symbolism. If NATO is to enjoy even limited success acting as a mediating military and diplomatic presence among the Arab nations roiled by revolution, the European public must remain convinced that the bully-boy, go-it-alone, ham-fisted ways of the Bush years are indeed ancient history.

As the architect of bin Laden's death, Obama is now uniquely positioned among world leaders to work across this broad front. Obama's style and substance are now seen in a new light: as being inextricably interwoven, a double helix of cunning and courage.

Almost three years into his presidency, the real Obama is finally coming into focus as a leader most at home with a long game.

As a rookie US senator, Obama was considered a promising talent best known for an eloquence often classed with Mario Cuomo, John Kennedy, and Franklin Roosevelt.

But many overlooked the intensity of Obama's ambition and the acuity of his strategic sense. Internalizing his strengths, Obama beat the odds, winning the White House and making history.

As president, Obama's handling of the health-care debate was subject to constant second-guessing and nonstop sniping from friends as well as foes. But when the day was done, Obama emerged with a health-care-reform plan (admittedly imperfect) more comprehensive than anything achieved in the past 50 or so years. Obama made history for a second time.

When, in the heat of the 2008 campaign, Obama said that he would kill bin Laden — by pursuing the terrorist into neighboring Pakistan if need be — the candidate was dismissed as an over-reaching naïf, an inexperienced young man whose ambition had gotten the better of his brains.

Well, as the still-unfolding account of events is demonstrating, Obama never took his eye off his target, marshalling a plan to kill the man responsible for the New York and Washington 9/11 terror attacks that claimed almost 3000 lives and triggered a still-stalemated war in Afghanistan.

Obama achieved through brains what President Bush failed to accomplish through bluster and intimidation. Now Obama must show that bin Laden's death is more than symbolic, that it is an example of an American resolve to continue the fight against terror despite an exit from Iraq and Afghanistan, and to help bring peaceful conclusions, in whatever ways are welcome, to the revolutions now in progress in the Arab world.

READ: "Obama's secret. Plus, Bill Taylor, RIP." (Editorial)

READ: "Obama's rebirth" by David Bernstein

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