The killing of Osama bin Laden in a commando raid in Pakistan has shown that America has not lost its initiative and fighting spirit in the war against radical Islam. President Barack Obama has proved he is no latter-day Neville Chamberlain, the leader who tried to appease the forces of evil.
Obama continued the mission he inherited from his predecessor, George W. Bush, to catch and kill the man responsible for the murder of thousands of Americans - and he completed the task without compromising and without bowing to the terrorists. That action shows that human society has advanced little since antiquity. The empire pursues its enemies to the last, until its soldiers grab hold of the rebel's severed head.
This is how it was done in the Bible, this is how the Romans did it, and this is how the United States works in the 21st century. Obama is no different than the Caesars of Rome: He didn't send a lawyer to present Pakistan with an extradition claim for the Al-Qaida leader. He sent soldiers to kill the enemy without a trial, showing that he is not a blind follower of human rights, the soft leftist that his opponents claim him to be, but a realist leader who doesn't hesitate to use force to advance his national objectives.
In his victory speech, in which Obama took the credit for the successful operation, Obama made clear that killing bin Laden was a higher priority than capturing him. This attitude is quite accepted in Israel, which has routinely killed senior members of the organizations that fight against it, and receives plenty of criticism for allegedly acting as a rogue state.
The European Union, for example, used to attack Israeli assassination operations in the territories as "extrajudicial killings." It's unlikely the Europeans will issue a similar condemnation of Obama. It's not hypocrisy, or anti-Semitism, but a simple case of hierarchy: What's allowed to a superpower is out of bounds for a small state.
The operation will spike Obama's ratings and quell, for a while, the criticism of his weakness as a leader and statesmen and the dirges about America's decline. Obama undoubtedly had some luck: A botched operation could have destroyed his chances of reelection, while the success stands him in good stead to begin his reelection campaign.
Obama has suffered from the start from a lack of experience in foreign policy, and his Middle East policy has been characterized by failures or passivity. Now he will get another chance, which he must use wisely. First, bin Laden's killing will allow Obama to live up to his promise and start taking troops out of Afghanistan within two months. He will be able to say that the mission was accomplished, partially at least, and that it's time to move on.
Second, Obama must prepare for the possibility that Pakistan will implode because of the assassination, or that its relationship with the United States will badly deteriorate because of suspicions Pakistan's army and intelligence covered up bin Laden's presence in an Islamabad suburb near a military base. The question of who controls Pakistan's nuclear weapons now moves to the top of Obama's list of concerns.
Third, the White House has tried to use the killing to announce that the freedom-loving good guys are winning the day in the Middle East, while the bad guys are being taken off the stage. This is all very nice for propaganda purposes, but it doesn't really address local issues. Muammar Gadhafi, who has survived an airborne assassination attempt, still reigns over half of Libya. Egypt is signaling a new foreign policy; it will be interesting to see if it will now slow its rapprochement with Iran and distancing from the United States. Bashar Assad continues to violently suppress the protests against his regime, with the quiet support of Obama, who makes do with lip service (and meaningless sanctions ).
Fourth, Obama will have to find the right way to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. The Republicans' cheers for the killing of mass-murderer bin Laden don't give Obama a blank check for pressuring Israel to withdraw from the territories, certainly not in an election year. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will try to wrap the two dramatic events of recent days - the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement and the killing of bin Laden - in a single narrative. He will probably claim that someone who commanded the assassination of the Al-Qaida leader cannot ask Israel to talk with a government that includes Hamas, which has bemoaned the death of "hero" bin Laden.
Netanyahu's outpouring of praise for Obama was not meant solely to express appreciation, but also to deter the president from pressuring Israel's right-wing government. Netanyahu also wanted to remind us that nothing is better for Israel's security and regional stability than a strong United States.
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