Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Poking the Corpse of Osama bin Laden

Today marks the first anniversary of the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, and the Obama campaign is making sure that both the voters and the Republicans know it.

The point of the argument is not just that the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks was killed by the SEAL team under the orders of President Obama, and that it didn’t happen under President Bush, but it’s also to provoke the Republicans into saying something that would backfire on them. So far, they’re doing exactly that.

First, there’s been the denial that this was a big deal and that the plans were in the works to kill bin Laden under the previous administration; President Obama just lucked into it. Aside from the fact that it’s not true on either counts — it is a big deal and President Bush had basically moved on to other things, like Iraq — it makes the operation sound like a cakewalk. I’m not sure the SEALs would agree, and the Republicans are notorious for underestimating how easy military operations — covert or otherwise — are: Iraq and Afghanistan come to mind, and now they’re hot to invade Syria and Iran.

Second, Mitt Romney’s response that killing Osama bin Laden was such an easy call that “even Jimmy Carter would have given that order” is based on the assumption that the voters have forgotten that President Carter did make such a call in April of 1980 with the attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran. The mission failed, and a number of servicemen died, not as a result of the Iranians finding out about the mission but because of mechanical problems at the launch point. The failure of the mission was a key factor in Mr. Carter’s defeat in November 1980. President Carter knew the risks then, and President Obama knew them last year. It really doesn’t speak well of Mitt Romney to be so cavalier about a tough call.

As the title of this post implies, I’m not wild about the idea of using the killing of someone for political exploitation. Osama bin Laden was a really bad guy, right up there with some of the worst examples of humankind we’ve seen in our history and I’m not about to call a Meeting for Worship in Thanksgiving for the Grace of God for him. But I think there are better ways to prove that a candidate or a president is capable of protecting the country and our way of life without poking the corpse. It’s not quite the level of the soldiers in Afghanistan pissing on the bodies of the Taliban, but it’s in the same vein.

We knew it would happen; the first thought I had a year ago was that this would be a huge plus in the re-election campaign of Barack Obama. I also knew that the Republicans would denigrate it, oblivious to the surety that if it had happened when George W. Bush was in office, we’d never hear the end of it, and they’d exploit it on a scale that would make P.T. Barnum quit the business. It doesn’t make it right, and it lets us forget that the point of the mission was to put an end to a terrorist, not to win a battleground state in the 2012 election.