President Obama: What a week!
Submitted 3 May 2011 11:08am
OBama, ‘one ‘helluva’ of a lucky and smart President’ writes Ekow Nelson.
The former UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson once observed that “a week is a long time in politics”. And what a week it has been for President Obama.
From hitting a new low in his approval ratings at the beginning of last week, he regained the upper-hand by pulling the rug from underneath Donald Trump’s ‘dog-whistle’ campaign and fantasy presidential bid. Having removed residual doubts about his place of birth (among reasonable people at any rate), he rounded off the week with the announcement that American forces had captured and killed Osama Bin Laden who orchestrated the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001 that remains seared in the collective memory of Americans and the world at large.
It is now clear what President Obama meant by “I’ve got better stuff to do,” in his repudiation of the fringe elements in the Birther movement and parts of the complicit media last week. While Trump was ruminating over whether, as the conservative writer David Frum put it, “a pregnant Stanley Ann Dunham in the summer of 1961 boarded a propeller plane from Honolulu to Los Angeles, then from Los Angeles to New York City, then from New York City to Gander, then from Gander to London, then from London to Nairobi – and then repeated the trip backward a few weeks later – all so that her baby could acquire Kenyan nationality”, Obama was busy concluding plans with the CIA and the US military to take-out the mastermind of the single worst terrorist atrocity of the 21st century. The contrast between Obama and Trump could not have been starker. No doubt nutters like Trump will demand to see Osama Bin Laden’s body before they believe the President’s word.
While the death of Osama bin Laden does not in itself represent an end to his brand of Islamic terrorism, it is symbolically significant. It will not eliminate or reduce the incidence of future acts of terrorism, but the world is a better place without him.
Politically, it represents huge opportunities for Obama’s re-election. Even after pulling the US financial system from the brink of collapse; saving the US automobile industry against (unsolicited) advice from financial experts on Wall Street and the commentariat in their house Journal; having enacted the most wide-reaching social legislation since the 1960s with the prospect of near-universal health care for all Americans closer than ever before, Americans have been stubbornly unwilling to give this most transformational of Presidents much credit for his efforts and achievements thus far. Indeed in the mid-term elections of November 2010, they gave his party a mighty drubbing which lost control of the House of Representatives, many governorships and seats in several state legislatures.
Within weeks, however, he bounced back with a raft of legislation on the Bush tax cuts, extension of unemployment benefit, a health bill for 9/11 first responders, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and secured congressional ratification of the most far-reaching nuclear-arms reduction agreement with Russia in what is commonly acknowledged to have been the most productive lame duck session of any Congress in recent history.
With the killing of Osama bin Laden, not only has President Obama delivered on his campaign promise but his hand has been strengthened to authorise the draw-down of US military troops in Afghanistan as he promised during his speech at West Point in December 2009. Then, Obama was bounced by more hawkish elements in his government and military, from Hillary Clinton to General Stanley McChrystal and Robert Gates, into ordering a surge in troops. Determined not to be portrayed as weak on national security, he went along reluctantly with the demand for 30,000 additional troops after several reviews of the new counterinsurgency strategy. Ever the smart guy, he left himself some wiggle room and promised to “begin the transfer of [US] forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011” which many thought ill-advised at the time and no more than a sop to his Democratic base.
To be sure many of his supporters in the Democratic Party were disappointed with the troop surge and the assumption has since been that their disillusionment with the ratcheting-up of the war in Afghanistan and President Obama’s apparent willingness to compromise with conservatives would lead to a low and unenthusiastic turnout among his base in the 2012 presidential elections.
The killing of Osama Bin Laden, however, has the potential to change all that. President Obama can now stand-up to the hawkish elements in his administration and order the commencement of the military draw-down he promised at West Point as soon as July 2011. He will be credited by moderates and neutrals for the demise of America’s most wanted criminal even though his has been part of a collective effort that was years in the making. While it is not quite mission accomplished, the wiggle room he left himself appears to have paid off.
With the current backlash against the Republicans and Paul Ryan’s hard-line budget that seeks to penalize seniors and the middle-class in the short-term, while making the Bush tax cuts for the rich permanent, without reducing the US deficit and long-term debt, Obama has every opportunity to re-energize his base for the 2012 campaign.
Of course events over the next several weeks and months could change all of that again. But for now, the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden has transformed President Obama’s electoral fortunes and he is poised to be re-elected President of the United States in 2012. No wonder he was brimming with so much confidence at the White House Correspondents Dinner just the other day. What a ‘helluva’ of smart – and lucky – guy!
Ekow Nelson lives and works in London and has an interest in world affairs and politics
Picture: President Barack Obama delivers a statement.