On Sunday night, President Barack Obama made good on that promise, announcing that a team of elite Navy SEALs had taken out Osama bin Laden for good with two bullets, one to the chest and one to the head. The surprise attack on Public Enemy No. 1 took place shortly before 2 a.m. in Pakistan, ending one of the longest and most frustrating worldwide manhunts in history.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, a subdued President Obama said, “Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”
Jubilant, flag-waving Americans gathered in front of the White House and at Ground Zero in New York to celebrate. The New York Daily News carried a photo of bin Laden the next day with the headline, “Rot in Hell.”
For some families, the death of Osama bin Laden, nearly 10 years after the murder of their loved ones, may put them on the road to closure. For others, however, it merely re-opened old wounds, wounds that may never fully heal.
It was George W. Bush who boldly declared shortly after a plane crashed in Pennsylvania and the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon went up in flames, “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West. I recall, that said, ‘Wanted Dead or Alive.'”
In 2003, Bush stood on the flight deck of the USS Lincoln and declared, ” … Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.” Mounted on the ship was a huge banner that proclaimed, “Mission Accomplished.”
Of course, the mission in Iraq was not accomplished – and still isn’t – and bin Laden was never found dead or alive on Bush’s watch.
It was a patient, skilled and underrated Barack Obama who proved to be the real “decider” in the White House. By all accounts, he was directly engaged in all aspects of the carefully planned operation that ended bin Laden’s life without suffering any U.S. casualties.
Obama was apprised that bin Laden’s hideaway inside of Pakistan had been pinpointed by CIA operatives last September. Over the next few months, additional intelligence information was developed and on March 13, President Obama held the first of five National Security Council meetings.
When presented with the option of bombing the compound, Obama rejected it and instead favored a riskier plan to airlift Navy SEALS by helicopter, having them storm the compound and conduct a room-by-room search for the terrorist mastermind. Before leaving to inspect tornado damage in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the president gave the green light to launch the attack. On Sunday, the operation was carried out in secrecy as Obama and his close circle of security advisers watched on a secure hookup.
Amazingly, there were no leaks to the media in the nation’s gossip-crazed capital.
Instead of being boastful, Obama struck a somber tone, praising those who had carried out the mission, both Democrats and Republicans and declaring, “Justice has been done.” In order to minimize the inevitable pushback from some Muslims in Arab countries, the administration noted that they had observed the Muslim practice of washing bin Laden’s body and wrapping it in a white garb before dumping it in the Arabian Sea within 24 hours of his death.
On Monday, at a previously scheduled White House dinner of political leaders and their mates, President Obama tried to rekindle the national unity that was on display immediately following the Sept. 11 attack.
“I know that the unity that we felt on 9/11 has frayed a little bit over the years, and I have no illusions about the difficulties of the debates that we’ll have to be engaged in, in the weeks ahead and months to come,” he said. “But I also know there have been several moments like this during the course of this year that have brought us together as an American family, whether it was the tragedy in Tucson or, most recently, our unified response to the terrible storms that have taken place in the South. Last night was one of those moments. And so tonight, it is my fervent hope that we can harness some of that unity and some of that pride to confront the many challenges that we still face.”
If Obama had entertained any illusions about duplicating the short-lived post 9/11 unity, they would have quickly dissolved. Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times carried the headline, “Bin Laden’s sea burial fuels conspiracy theories.”
The story observed, “Conspiracy theorists on both the left and the right were quick to insist that Laden was either still alive or had been dead for years, pouncing on the government’s decision to slide the body of the world’s most wanted man off a board into the Arabian Sea.”
The new conspiracy theories about bin Laden emerged before the old ones about where Obama was born were put to rest.
Although former President Bush applauded the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, other conservatives are belittling Obama’s accomplishment. Brett Decker, editorial page editor of the conservative Washington Times, wrote in a column that Obama made too many references to himself when he made the announcement about bin Laden’s death. “Not only is this consistent with his view that everything is about him, it also reflected the reality that this president is weak and perceived by the world to be a lackluster leader who has undermined American power,” Decker wrote. “He needs to grab any opportunity he can to make himself believable as a commander in chief. Crowds flocked to the White House gates to celebrate bin Laden’s demise, giving this unpopular president a rare glimpse of public support that won’t last long.”
Judging by his critics, Obama won’t have support even when he accomplished something George W. Bush couldn’t. They have already resumed their attacks on Obama’s handling of the economy. Laura Ingraham, spoofing Obama’s comment that Americans can do whatever we set our mind to, tweeted, “Like spending according to my budget and raise the debt ceiling!”