- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2011

When news of Osama bin Laden’s death broke late Sunday, thousands of people thronged Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate near the White House, while just 16 blocks away the streets near the Capitol were deserted  a stark reminder of how the responsibility for the daring assassination raid rested squarely on the shoulders of one man in Washington.

By the time the 40 momentous minutes U.S. forces were on the ground in Pakistan concluded, Mr. Obama had fulfilled President George W. Bush’s goal of getting bin Laden “dead or alive,” and made good on his own 2008 campaign promise to elevate the world’s top terrorist to be the intelligence community’s top-priority target.

His gutsy call to send in special operations forces so bin Laden or his body could be positively identified, rather than bomb beyond recognition his compound in Abbottabad, earned praise from across the political spectrum.

“There are so many other places that we might be able to find to disagree with the president. Today should be not one of them,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “This was a well-planned, well-executed [mission]. The Bush administration deserves credit for where they got the investigation, the Obama administration deserves credit for pulling it along and actually giving the order to go ahead and do it. It wasn’t without risk.”

For many Americans, Sunday was a unifying event. Outside the White House, thousands chanted “U-S-A,” sang patriotic songs and waved American flags.

Those who supported Mr. Obama in the 2008 election were particularly vocal, with his blue campaign signs carried through the streets of Washington. In contrast, a lone Bush-Cheney campaign sign was visible for just a brief time on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Democrats said the killing of al Qaeda’s leader vindicated Mr. Obama’s decision to boost war efforts in Afghanistan and follow through on a planned withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

“This was a direct result of President Obama’s efforts to refocus on Afghanistan and Pakistan as a central battleground in our fight against terror,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “Over the past 2 years, the Obama administration has significantly escalated our military, diplomatic intelligence and economic efforts to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda.”

Republicans were more reserved, though they said the president earned the plaudits.

“The president made the right call, and we thank him for it,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Republicans, though, were also quick to credit Mr. Bush and said the string of intelligence that led to bin Laden’s compound stretched back four years ago, as a direct result of the emphasis his administration placed on interrogations.

Mr. Obama stressed his command decisions throughout, including his early directive to the CIA “to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda” and his decision to give the go-ahead late last week.

Both sides praised the risk Mr. Obama took: It was not a certainty that the target inside the compound was bin Laden, though intelligence officials had built a case that made it increasingly likely.

The killing makes good on Mr. Obama’s campaign promises to bring down bin Laden and to take action wherever he was found, even if it meant transgressing foreign soil - something for which he was roundly criticized at the time.

“This is an approach that he always felt that he would take when he was president,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said Mr. Obama will see a bump in the polls, and it might even be a major one, but it will likely be temporary.

He said next year’s presidential election will still probably turn on the shape of the U.S. economy, but that the killing does help shore up the president’s national security credentials, and that will last.

“Any charge about defense of national security is likely to elicit a one-name answer: bin Laden. And that is likely going to be enough to neutralize any attack on defense and national security grounds,” Mr. Sabato said.

Instant Internet polls showed widespread support for Mr. Obama’s decision.
Bin Laden’s name wasn’t on the radar last week when the Republican presidential field gathered in New Hampshire for a forum, but it is likely to be a major topic Thursday when many of the candidates attend what is being billed as the first campaign debate in South Carolina.

Already, many of those candidates and potential candidates weighed in with statements offering pointed praise for both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama.

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