- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Obama administration’s daring nighttime attack by commandos who killed Osama bin Laden and four of his aides has dealt al Qaeda terrorists a severe but far from fatal blow.

Bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. special operations forces delivered the message that we sent to al Qaeda terrorist leaders nearly 10 years ago: If you attack our country and kill our citizens, we will hunt you down and kill you.

But al Qaeda has long since turned into a global franchise whose cells have perpetrated countless deadly terrorist attacks in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa - and have attempted similar acts here at home since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Al Qaeda will be seeking to avenge bin Laden’s death and it is no doubt plotting even now to attack Americans here and in our military installations around the world. We are now on higher alert, and for good reason.

“Al Qaeda remains a dangerous enemy. Though bin Laden is dead, the war goes on. We must remain vigilant, especially now,” former Vice President Dick Cheney warned this week.

But for now, President Obama, his national security team and U.S. military forces have delivered on President George W. Bush’s promise to bring bin Laden to justice “dead or alive.”

The most successful manhunt in U.S. history was the painstaking result of a decade of intelligence work by the CIA, which had to rebuild its almost-nonexistent ground intelligence in the Middle East. And it did. Bin Laden’s most trusted courier, who was spotted in a white Suzuki by Pakistani agents working for the CIA, eventually led them to bin Laden’s compound, just 35 miles from Pakistan’s capital.

The well-trained military special operations forces that carried out Sunday’s raid were born out of the Bush administration’s defense reforms championed by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

While many post-Sept. 11 factors contributed to the administration’s mission, it will always be seen as one of the singular successes of Mr. Obama’s presidency. No one can, nor should, take that away from him.

But will it, in and of itself, improve his sagging job approval polls and help him win a second term?

That is unclear right now. The weak economy continues to remain the dominant issue of this decade and Mr. Obama’s mishandling of the economy is getting poor marks from a majority of Americans.

Last month’s Gallup poll found “More than half of Americans [55 percent] describe the U.S. economy as being in a recession or depression. … Another 16 percent of Americans say the economy is ‘slowing down,’ and 27 percent believe it is growing.”

Last week, the Commerce Department said the economy’s growth had slowed significantly in the first three months of this year, falling from 3.1 percent in last year’s fourth quarter to 1.8 percent through January, February and March.

At the same time, the number of workers filing for jobless benefits has been rising in recent weeks, inching up to 429,000 last week.

Once-bullish economists were lowering their growth forecasts for the coming year as well.

“We’ve taken our forecast down just a bit, taking into account factors like weaker construction and possibly just a bit less momentum in the economy,” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said last week.

Even some of Mr. Obama’s liberal economic cheerleaders were becoming downright gloomy.

“In normal times, that’d be disappointing. In a recovery, it’s downright terrible,” said Ezra Klein, the Washington Post’s economic analyst said in reference to the 1.8 percent GDP growth.

“We’re 7 million jobs below where we were when the recession began,” Mr. Klein writes. “The dictionary defines recovery as a ‘restoration to a former or better condition.’ Our economy isn’t anywhere near its former condition, and 1.8 percent GDP growth isn’t enough to get us there.”

But other major fiscal and economic headwinds continue to batter the Obama economy. Global oil prices are rising to more than $114 a barrel, pushing gasoline prices to more than $4 a gallon. The housing industry remains in a depression with many more foreclosures still to come.

Clearly, Mr. Obama’s $1 trillion economic stimulus has proven to be an abject failure, ballooning government spending and record debt levels as well. Mr. Obama’s budget deficit this year is expected to hit $1.6 trillion. And for the first time in modern U.S. history, Treasury bonds may no longer receive a AAA rating.

These and other bleak fiscal and economic forecasts are not going to change anytime soon, sending Mr. Obama and his party into the 2012 elections with a set of issues that has turned a majority of the electorate against them.

How much will bin Laden’s death count politically 18 months from now? With severe inflationary pressures, a debt-ridden government, $4 a gallon gas, near 9 percent unemployment and weak economic growth on the horizon, probably not much.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.

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