Political Vindication in Obama’s Bin Laden Speech

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This is an exciting day–I can’t remember ever feeling jubilant about someone’s death before–and it’s probably lame to start dissecting the politics.  Especially since the basic politics are no-duh obvious: This is a really great day for President Obama. But since this is supposed to be a blog about politics, and the dissections have already begun, there were two subtle political points worth noting in the President’s speech.

First, Obama made a point of noting that killing or capturing Osama bin Laden has been his top counter-terrorism priority since he took office.  He was trying to emphasize that this wasn’t some kind of fluke. But he wouldn’t mind if Americans remembered that President Bush took a different approach immediately after his election in 2000.  When top Clinton administration officials warned Bush’s incoming national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, that bin Laden would be her biggest problem, she was dismissive. When Bush received a CIA briefing that bin Laden was poised to strike in the U.S., he was dismissive. And while Bush got serious about bin Laden after 9/11, he did shift his focus pretty quickly from Afghanistan to Iraq, which in the view of some experts may have contributed to bin Laden’s escape at Tora Bora.

Second, Obama noted that he first heard about bin Laden’s possible location last August. In other words, he had a chance to try to make a political splash by taking a shot at bin Laden before the congressional midterms, but he waited until he felt more comfortable with the intelligence. Here the implicit contrast is with President Clinton, who famously took his Wag the Dog cruise-missile potshots at some Afghan tents–and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan–at the height of his impeachment controversy.

We’ll learn a lot more details in the coming weeks and months, and maybe some of them will be less advantageous for the administration.  But for now, this is just a really great day for President Obama, and for the rest of us.

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