Americans are united this morning by a sense that justice has finally been served. The killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan is not the end of America’s conflict with Islamist terrorism. But it proves that those who thought they could murder Americans with impunity they were wrong. Dead wrong. This was not the first time in our history that evildoers have made that mistake, but this long-awaited retribution illustrates that American resolve is alive and well. It is not just the idea that the man who plotted the 9/11 atrocities was hunted down yesterday that Americans are cheering. The chants of “USA! USA!” that are resounded at the White House and elsewhere—and repeated in homes throughout the country as the news spread—is a reaffirmation of our collective will to survive as a free nation. Those who hate that freedom did their worst and Americans not only survived, they triumphed.
Politics is the last thing on most people’s minds this morning and that is as it should be. Republicans who have blasted most everything President Obama has done in his time in office are cheering along with everyone else today. But, inevitably, the arguments over the budget and a host of other issues will resume and political life as we know it will return. Bin Laden’s death does not guarantee Obama a second term anymore than victory in the first Gulf War ensured the first George Bush’s reelection. The news cycle flows even more quickly today than it did 20 years ago, and the state of the economy will likely be more determinative of the results in November 2012 than any foreign policy victory or defeat.
But one thing that must be acknowledged on this day is the fact that bin Laden’s death changes Obama’s presidency. He and his team will have many opportunities to blunder in the next year and a half and likely will. Yet the fulfillment of his campaign vow to kill bin Laden adds to his stature as a leader in a way that few other events could have done. It is ironic that the man who rose to the presidency in large measure on the strength of his critique of George W. Bush’s war on terrorism will now be remembered as the one who presided over a great victory of that war. Some may begrudge him that honor—as he begruded President Bush any credit in his official statement last night—but it is belongs to him nonetheless. It was Barack Obama who gave the order to launch the assault on bin Laden’s compound, and the credit and glory that belongs to the brave Americans who carried out that command will always be attached to their commander-in-chief as well. As they should.
Even on a day when politics is suspended, it must be noted that the job of those working to stop Obama’s reelection just got a lot harder.