The bin-Laden raid: big political risks for Obama, limited gains?

 I just published a story on the aftermath of the successful raid in Pakistan that gave Osama bin-Laden the martyrdom he apparently craved. But it’s a fire sale kind of martyrdom; he died the leader of a diminished al Qaeda and the non-leader of what is potentially the biggest transformation in the Arab world in generations.

One aspect struck me as I talked to various experts: politically, this raid was an exceptionally risky venture. But, having succeeded, the political benefits, while real, may be modest in an election that’s still more than 18 months away – an eternity in this political climate.

If it had failed – if bin-Laden hadn’t been in the compound in Abbottabad, if the helicopters had been shot down, if there had been a firefight that wiped out the U.S. force, if bin-Laden had escaped – it would have been “Carter II,” as one interviewee put it, referring to the botched 1980 Iran hostage rescue mission that contributed to President Jimmy Carter’s defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan.

It didn’t fail, and Obama gets some great ammunition to counter a GOP campaign that was all set to portray him as a wuss who is incapable of standing up to America’s enemies. He did stand up, and did it with what looks like great skill, efficiency and calm determiniation..

But ironically, it’s far from clear how much of a benefit that will actually be in next year’s election.

Politically, , it undercuts one of the big Republican digs against him. But everybody I talked to – left, right and center – believes this election will be all about domestic matters, starting with the economy and including the big battle over federal spending and entitlements, and hardly at all about foreign policy.

If the economy sputters or – worse – heads back into recession territory, the boost Obama got from a skillfully planned and executed bin-Laden raid isn’t going to help much. If the economy perks up, the raid will be one more plus for a President entering a reelection fight in a very strong position.

Today’s New York Times shows a big jump in Obama’s approval ratings. But as one political expert I talked to this week said, “in six months, all people will really be paying attention to is the condition of their checking account and their mortgage payments.”

And they’ll be watching Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security; if the Republicans nominate someone seen as threatening those programs, Obama and the Democrats will get a much bigger boost than this week’s bin-Laden raid could possibly provide.

All of this goes for Jewish voters, as well, although there is a widespread assumption among the political pros that the Jewish electorate is a little more focused on national security issues than voters in general. Several people I talked to this week posited that this week’s success in Pakistan will go a long way toward halting erosion around the edges of the Democrats’ traditional lock on the Jewish vote.

That could work to Obama’s advantage with the 10 percent or so of the Jewish electorate that is most subject to partisan swings in presidential elections.


About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.