The assassination of Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has transformed U.S. President Barack Obama from a loser to an American hero overnight. In the zero-sum game between him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that's being played on the Israeli-Palestinian-American arena, this is bad news for Bibi.
Netanyahu has been counting on giving his speech in Washington in three weeks to a strong U.S. Congress, contrasted with a president who was consistently losing ground in public opinion polls, in the media and even within the Democratic Party.
On Sunday, Netanyahu rushed to be associated with Obama the winner; in the aquarium of the war on terror, Netanyahu swims like a fish. Until he gets to Washington, the prime minister will presumably not miss an opportunity to remind the Americans that many years ago he wrote a book in which he suggested declaring an uncompromising war on terror.
The assassination of the arch-terrorist who forced Americans to take off their shoes every time they want to get on a plane will help Netanyahu convey his simplistic message that Muslims cannot be relied upon. From now on, Netanyahu will use the events of September 2001 as part of his fight against the declaration of a Palestinian state in September 2011.
Nonetheless, Netanyahu still has his work cut out for him. Just one mass-casualty revenge attack by Al-Qaida will be enough of a reason for the Americans who celebrated a victory over Osama yesterday to bring Obama down. The heroic assassination has not killed off the problems the United States is facing in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Obama's exit from the battlefield is several times more complicated than George W. Bush's entry. The commando raid that resulted in bin Laden's death will doubtless be turned into a Hollywood movie, even as the troubles plaguing Obama will continue to be broadcast on the nightly news.
The president's biggest problem continues to be the U.S. economy. Polls show that 60 percent of Americans are not satisfied with what Obama has done for the economy, and the cover story of this week's Economist is about the record-breaking unemployment and astronomical federal budget deficit in the United States. The financial crisis, combined with the surreal situation in the Middle East - which, together, have presented the United States with strategic dilemmas that few presidents have had to deal with - have turned Obama into a punching bag.
Bin Laden's death has granted Obama but a brief moment of grace. Ahead of his meeting with Netanyahu later this month, Obama will need to decide whether to ride the temporary wave of support and drag Netanyahu into serious negotiations with the Palestinians and a settlement construction freeze, or to make do with having assassinated a terrorist and carve out time for synagogue campaign speeches and dinners with Netanyahu's American Jewish friends.
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