Will the killing of Osama bin Laden boost President Obama’s chances of reelection? That’s unknowable at this point. But what is clear as a result of the terrorist leader’s death is that things will get easier for Obama’s foreign policy over the next few months.
For instance, the president’s plan to pull a meaningful number of troops out of Afghanistan this summer will be less controversial. He won’t satisfy liberal Democrats who want an immediate end of the war. But with Osama gone, bipartisan supporters of the American intervention will have a harder time persuading the public that, absent bin Laden, Afghanistan is as grave a national security threat as ever.
Another benefit for Obama is that the mistakes he’s made in Libya now seem smaller and less important. As a menace to America and the world, Muammar Qaddafi is a runt compared to bin Laden. Why worry about whether he holds power in Libya or not?
And then there’s military spending. In his budget speech last month, Obama said he wants to cut another $400 billion in defense spending over a ten year period. That would come on top of the $40 billion in cuts he proposed in the 2012 budget he released two months earlier.
The rationale will simply be that America is safer, so a smaller military will do just fine. Obama won’t have to say this explicitly, but others in his political camp are bound to.
Those decisions – troop withdrawals, going light on Libya, defense cuts – may come back to haunt the president later. In fact, I think they will. But in the short term, he’ll have an easier time.
One more thing. In one sense, the new alliance between the Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, may help Obama. It makes an agreement with Israel impossible. Thus there’s little expectation that Obama might be able to produce an agreement. He’s off the hook for now.
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