The killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces is first and foremost a victory for America, as well as for justice. The response of most political leaders in Washington has been appropriately bipartisan. For a few days, the death of this terrorist may even restore the unity of purpose Americans felt in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
Yet there are undeniably political implications to this news. I don’t think it guarantees President Obama a second term as it would have done for George W. Bush from 2001-04, but it has certainly strengthened his hand. It will complicate the arguments over his national security policies. Some will point out that Obama has maintained many of his predecessor’s policies that he once condemned and argue that this vindicates Bush. Others will contend that this success doesn’t necessarily validate Obama’s broader approach to the war on terror, an argument that will be true but — given the importance most Americans rightly attached to getting bin Laden — a lot harder to make now.
Bin Laden’s death will also make it harder to maintain support for remaining in Afghanistan indefinitely. Many Americans viewed the hunt for bin Laden as a major reason for the U.S. Afghan mission. Already war-weary, they may look at Karzai’s lack of any apparent role in this moment and conclude it’s time for our troops to come home. It will be interesting to see how this develops.