Because I was en route from Texas to Washington last night, I ended up only being able to watch the debate in snippets and follow along with some live blogs. The consensus is that this was again Obama’s night, while Romney did manage to appear as a viable option for the job of commander-in-chief. In a few days we will see how the polls sort themselves out, but without a big win last night, I still say that Romney’s chances of being elected trail the President’s.
No grades or in-depth analysis today, except to comment briefly on the issue of Osama bin Laden. Ever since the terrorist leader and driving force behind the September 11 attacks was killed by American forces, the President has lifted up the action as a real sign of his success in foreign affairs. As expected, bin Laden appeared again in last night’s debate.
While the issue of whether or not President Obama’s foreign policy has been a success is a good question upon which Americans ought to reflect, I’m not certain that pointing to bin Laden helps us that much. To be sure, the man is dead…but by the time we killed him how important was he to the proliferation of terrorist activity? Was he really able to do anything anymore? Did we, in other words, take him out at the moment his power to hurt us was the weakest? If so, why is it so important that we did it? And, for that matter, does anyone really believe that any American president would NOT want to get bin Laden, if only for the political points?
If one believes in such actions, the time for killing bin Laden was not 2011, but before the planning and implementation of the 2001 attacks. Then it would have made a difference. Now? It is simply a notch in our belts and a bloody moment of self-congratulation.
President Obama indicated that the symbolic power of the actions taken against bin Laden project an image of American strength and determination around the globe, and what happened was positive because of it. I understand this. Even so, our nation had by that point taken about 10 years of “symbolic actions” around the globe…and I don’t think the world felt that the United States was a pushover. Killing bin Laden has always seemed to me to be a strange feather in our caps, especially since there are, at present, other worse threats out there. Ones that actually matter.
Imagine if Hitler went into hiding after the Second World War and Americans finally found him in Brazil and brought him to trial in 1955. A moment for justice, surely…but our real enemy at that point in history was the Soviet Union, not some washed-up old fascist. What real good would it do for us to have killed him then?
Last night Romney’s performance was certainly less than perfect, but one thing he said makes me think: “We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” referring ostensibly to Obama’s waving of the bloody flag vis-a-vis bin Laden. A corollary to this is the notion that there are many more dangerous threats to our nation than represented by this momentary “victory.” Foreign policy is about a lot of things all at once, and ideally an articulated and effective philosophy that holds them together. Romney and Obama ought to be judged on this (the former is behind in this count, it seems, even though the job is admittedly easier for a sitting president who has spent four years working it all out) rather than debate zingers or who wanted to kill who when. If you vote based on foreign policy, think about all of this, not just who killed Osama bin Laden.