Last night, as President Barack Obama finished sharing the details of how Osama bin Laden was killed, I had (and overshared) a gut reaction: Who wants to run against this guy?
to say that the killing of Osama bin Laden makes Obama a 2012 shoe-in. Not at all. If you believe that, you're nuts. George H.W. Bush beat the Vietnam Syndrome in Iraq, and then got 38 percent of the vote. Winston Churchill's Conservatives lost a historic landslide just as Britain was winning World War II. There's no perfect parallel to what just happened -- the man behind the worst massacre in American history being killed and dumped in the ocean -- in terms of its psychological effect. But there's no evidence to suggest it will re-elect Obama, all by itself.
What this does do is short-circuit a couple of criticisms of the president -- for a little while. There were plenty of critics of Obama's 2007/2008 campaign pledge to kill bin Laden even if it meant violating Pakistani sovereignty for a mission. Video and statements from Obama, talking about this, have been circulating like mad. He's vindicated.
So for now Republican presidential candidates are holding their powder. There is no criticism of how Obama managed this or how the Navy Seals performed. (I don't even know where you'd start on that latter point.) This won't last, because they have strong arguments to make about why the administration is still wrong.
Argument one: Bush's interrogation policy worked. Expect to hear more about this report that the information that led to the tailing of bin Laden's courier, and eventually to his death, was acquired in interrogations that Obama ended once he took office. It may not be Republican candidates pointing this out. They don't need to. George W. Bush has a considerable amen chorus in the press, with former staffers like Marc Thiessen, Michael Gerson, and John Yoo writing regular columns about how the 43rd president was right.
rgument two: Bin Laden was a symbol, not an end.
After Saddam Hussein was captured, then-Democratic presidential frontrunner Howard Dean made a "gaffe." He said "the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made us safer." For this, Dean was derided as a peacenik, a fool, and a churl who couldn't stomach a victory for George W. Bush. Eight years later, who disagrees with his basic point? Months from now, when people are still taking off shoes and junking LifeWater bottles in order to get on planes, and when terrorist attacks are still taking victims in Iraq and Afghanistan, the killing of bin Laden is going to be viewed very differently. And there will be an opening again for a critique of Obama's GWOT strategy.