This morning on “The View” Barbara Walters said, “I would hate now to be a Republican candidate thinking of running,” and Joy Behar said “Skip the next election.” But taking down Osama bin Laden will not guarantee Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012. In fact it would be surprising if Mr. Obama received any long-term political benefit from this victory in the war on terrorism.
Mr. Obama may enjoy a momentary bump in public approval based on the general wave of good feeling now that recent history’s greatest criminal is dead. But reality will set back in hard, and soon. Mr. Obama’s crushing national debt has not vanished. Despite a momentary contraction in crude oil prices, gasoline and food prices will continue to soar. All of the critical domestic political problems that Mr. Obama faced before the Navy Seals showed up in Abbottabad are still there. And these are the issues that determine how people vote.
Bin Laden’s death will paradoxically put Mr. Obama in a national security quandary, because it will be harder to continue to make the case for “overseas contingency operations” now that the number one contingency is gone. The “war of necessity” in Afghanistan will seem a lot less necessary, whether it is or not. The struggle with terrorists will continue, as will TSA groping and the other indignities Americans put up with in the post 9/11 world; but with bin Laden dead the White House will be put in a position of continually having to explain why the war — that they have refused to call a war until last night — is not over.
Bin Laden’s demise will be a rousing applause point for Obama supporters in the 2012 campaign, but the election is a long way off. George H.W. Bush enjoyed 91% approval ratings 20 years ago after Operation Desert Storm but still lost reelection due to a weak economy. President Obama went into this week with an approval slump that more accurately reflects his prospects for the coming race. Parading bin Laden’s head on a pike, metaphorically speaking, will not change any of that.