Watching the coverage of President Obama’s speech about the killing of Osama bin Laden, I find myself in agreement with various friends (on Facebook and elsewhere) who have expressed uneasiness with the crowing over this development. I’m uneasy with the celebration of an assassination, leery of reprisals, and put off by the tackiness of citizens singing “We Are the Champions” in response to a bloody shootout.
I thought Obama’s speech framed the killing with great care and sobriety. I think what we saw in Obama’s speech was the President taking personal responsibility—and, yes, credit—for bin Laden’s death. It was the statement of a President who understood what he had done and why.
Some have pointed out that yesterday was the anniversary of George W. Bush’s infamous speech on the aircraft carrier in front of the unfortunately premature “Mission Accomplished” banner.
I think an even more interesting contrast, however, is with this clip of Bush talking about bin Laden just six months after 9/11:
Bush’s casual swagger and smirking seem so painfully inadequate, so utterly different from Obama’s gravitas and moral understanding.
Bush mocks the idea of “focusing on one person” and proudly notes that he doesn’t spend that much time thinking about bin Laden. He asserts that those who worry about bin Laden don’t understand the “scope of the mission”—and that terror is so much bigger than one person.
From this vantage point, this clip seems to crystallize the tragedy of the Bush years: the President’s blithe expansion of “the mission” beyond al-Qaeda and bin Laden; the loss of focus that led us into two wars in which we are still enmeshed.
And though I’m uncomfortable with the triumphalist “flash mobs” chanting U-S-A and waving flags in celebration of America’s killing someone, I’m made hopeful by the intelligence and subtlety of Obama’s announcement and by the fact that he not only understood from the beginning of his Presidency how important it really was (to the American public, if nothing else) to bring down Osama bin Laden, but also was focused enough to make it happen.