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Some Random Thoughts on the President and Bin Laden

In ascending order of significance: 

--The breathtaking operation that took down Osama bin Laden represents a victory not only for the country at-large and for President Obama but for proponents of American unilateralism.  The president didn't wait for U.N. approval, nor did he consult the Pakistanis before taking down the twenty-first century's greatest mass murderer.  That alone is gratifying. 

--Predictably, the president now hopes to capitalize on a resurgent "national unity."  He said as much in his Sunday speech and again the next day.  To this the loyal opposition might respond with something like the following: "Mr. President, when you make a decision that rids the world of a monster, covers your administration and your country in glory, and secures your personal fame for all time, we will support you.  When you and your allies in Congress attempt to force upon us unconstitutional legislation, however, we will resist you.  This will never change." 

--Meanwhile, President Obama is entitled to some well-earned basking in what promises to be an extended afterglow.  Whether that glow extends all the way to November 2012 remains to be seen and, in any case, is beside the point.  As I recently told my undergraduates, fifty years from today their grandchildren will not read a single speech from President William Jefferson Clinton, nor will they devote any serious study to any aspect of that lurid and inconsequential administration.  The same cannot be said of President Obama, whose tenure, prior to Sunday's bombshell, already ranked among the most significant in recent U.S. history. 

--Finally, there is the remarkable photo from the White House situation room.  How interesting it would have been to be able to access the president's thoughts as that elite group of Navy SEALs, with exquisite execution, carried out one of the most dangerous missions imaginable.  If President Obama allowed himself even a moment of reflection, then he must have marveled at the fact that men such as these, capable of such astonishing feats of heroism, actually exist in the world.  It's humbling, to be sure.  Of all the feelings conjured and expressed over the past few days, one hopes that this awe-inspired sense of humility will endure the longest. 


Categories > Foreign Affairs

Discussions - 7 Comments

A over-appreciation of Obama and an unwarranted marginalization of Clinton.

Clinton is already a two term president. You are the prof, so you might have a feel for and a hand in reading material. But I certainly would have pushed back. Obama's speeches might be slightly better. But once again you sucessfully undermine the idea that deficits matter.

So you assume something about political science. Clinton lowered the deficit, and if you believe the CBO going out to 2080, that would be a fairly big accomplishment. Now I happen to know what Japan's deficit is as a percentage of GDP, and I know a thing about M2. So I am not sure deficits matter. But I am not sure deficits don't matter either. I am certainly uncertain enough to call bull shit on the 50 year window. It seems to me that the deficit will be pretty large by then.

Potentially it seems to me that the deficit should impact the type of political science done. A political science that focuses upon speeches seems perhaps marked by a time when folks considered speeches more informative. In terms of Bin Laden, I knew he was dead from a google alert, then you have the twitter feeds and facebook, so what Obama actually says seems less important and in some ways a rather inadequate way to do political science. What does the 50 year trend do to the relevancy of presidential speeches, and to what extent does ghostwritting and supercrunching popular rhetoric, more or less diminish that?

I generally think you are right in terms of volume of research on Obama, and maybe even "Greatness", but there is a "Greatness" to Osama Bin Laden as well, and you can predict some research done on him. Hillary Clinton isn't a nobody, and Bill was a two term president, who didn't lack influence, You have Chelsea Clinton out there, and she is fairly serious and likeable. The Clinton's are still the most sucessful familly in American politics, plus if there is any certainty going out 50 years, it is that sex still sells, and marital infidelity isn't going away, so folks might study the Clinton's to see how they held it together.

That is Clinton's stock rises as the deficit becomes more of an issue, and falls as it becomes less of an issue. Bush and Obama(so far) are positioned to trade in the opposite direction.

I could easily see a sort of respect for the inconsequential, and a challenge to the status of inconsequentialness in terms of the deficit going out 50 years. After all it seems to me that Mitch Daniels is poised to run the inconsequential, anti-rhetoric, anti-deficit meme against the "Greatness" of Obama. I am not sure that is ripe (but Pete thinks so). But in 50 years it gets ripe. The entire bet is a sort of cycle.


Thank you for the comment. I'll be the first to admit that I have no special insight into the future, or the present for that matter, which is why I prefer to make my living by talking about the past!

You could be right about the deficit if things continue along the current trajectory, but I wonder if that would elevate Clinton in any meaningful way. In the grand sweep of history, the era over which he presided will appear comparatively inconsequential--the years between 1989 and 2001 will read like a holiday from history, an Age of Frivolity, if you will, when nothing really important happened and no crisis foreign or domestic demanded extraordinary expenditure of resources--so I doubt his budgetary legacy will leave future generations breathless.

You're right, of course, that he was a two-term president. So were James Monroe and Ulysses S. Grant, yet historians haven't exactly felled trees in a rush to chronicle their presidencies, despite the fact that Monroe at least presided over an era of extraordinary historical significance. Of course Clinton will have his biographers, but I don't know that anyone will ever find a way to rescue his administration from comparative obscurity, lurid details or otherwise.

Finally, to me at least, there's always been something repellent about Clinton's character as a president. Sex scandals aside, he always seemed to love being president a little too much for my tastes. His entire administration, in fact, strikes me as an extended display of self-indulgence without purpose. Maybe my eighteenth-century sensibilities get the better of me sometimes, but I still believe the true statesman wields power with reluctance and humility.

Maybe this is too inside-the-Beltway-ish and average voters won't care, but I have a sense that the Obama Administration has managed to get in its own way a little bit and step on some of the glory of this bold stroke owing to the stumbling and fumbling of some of the people around the president--Brennan, Biden, and Carney spring immediately to mind.

It would have been better to underplay things and say less rather than let those three yammer away as they have.

That is a very gracious reply. I certainly agree with you about the white house situation room. Which if I read ascending order correctly is a considerable point of agreement.

Obama will go down in history as one of he great presidents. He has what it takes to bring this nation to the position of a great world leader we are and will be.. With humility an pride in this nation he stand up to those who are doubters and haters. This is the kind of leadership we have needed. One who has the courage to stand up to those who would paper the walls with ghoulish pictures of a slain enemy. He will not dignify any lounger those who prefer propaganda to truth and for one relieved that he has taken this stance. Torture did not kill Ossama. We may never know the intelligence that made it happen but then we never should.Our troops and people in foreign service will be safer.

"He has what it takes to bring this nation to the position of a great world leader we are and will be."

Have you been following the milquetoast Libyan expedition?

"We may never know the intelligence that made it happen but then we never should."

We already do. We learned of the existence of the courier and his alias, "al-Kuwaiti", after using enhanced interrogation techniques on KSM and the so-called 20th Hijacker.

You do realize that humility and pride are antagonistic, yes?

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