Osama's death: Good for you, President Obama
If Obama needs to sell Osama’s killing as an enormous victory, in my opinion, he should go ahead and do so.
Common sense dictates that we in Pakistan should feel an enormous sense of relief following Osama’s death.
The mood however, has been sombre due to a number of reasons:
- The fact that he was found in a secured compound not far from a military academy in Abbotabad
- The fact that Pakistan is slowly being torn to pieces by the American media
- The fact that we cannot turn to our military and security establishment for honest answers
- A very real fear of what the future may hold
Everyone is bracing themselves for a spike in bombings and attacks. Too much blood has already been shed for a war that will not end with Osama’s death. As Mohsin Hamid very aptly puts it, the current atmosphere in Pakistan “is like the dread that lingers over the city in the days after it has suffered a massive terrorist attack.”
For this reason, most Pakistanis are disconcerted by the jubilant crowds outside the White House and Ground Zero. In the United States, while a number of commentators are urging Americans to not celebrate just yet, for Obama’s administration, this is huge. In the words of one of my colleagues,
“Obama can now win against a resurrected Lincoln.”
His approval ratings have already jumped up to 56 per cent compared to 47 per cent just a few days ago. While the leadership vacuum in the Republican Party is definitely a contributing factor, wrapping up the world’s largest manhunt history is no small feat. Aside from symbolic value, Osama’s death will be a setback for al Qaeda.
As Steve Coll from The New Yorker puts it,
“Al Qaeda has never had a leadership succession test. Now it faces one.”
Yes, we all know that this will not end the war on terror. And yes, the current administration’s repeated assertions about what a huge strategic and moral victory this is ring hollow in Pakistan.
But I’m just going to come out and say it - I am happy for Obama.
He has had a rough, rough two years - the biggest financial collapse in the country’s history since the Great Depression, an expensive and frustrating war in Afghanistan and a hostile Congress. The guy needed a break and Osama’s death provided him with one.
I have thought long and hard about why I like the man. Why am I on his side? Many of my friends in Pakistan have dismissed him as another American tool because of the persistence of drone attacks, the troop surge in Afghanistan and the continued support for Israel. In the US, friends have been disappointed with his handling of the financial crisis, of how billions of taxpayers’ dollars were used to bail out institutions which are currently logging record profits and still not being held accountable for their arrogant, costly, and reckless ways.
That said I still want Obama to win the 2012 presidential elections. The fact that he is America’s first black president holds meaning for me. The fact that he grew up in a (fairly) middle class family and worked as a community organiser for three years is important. Imperfect as the health bill may be, he should still be given credit for bringing Americans universal healthcare and fighting against social spending cuts. He is also responsible for putting the brakes on the war in Iraq. And his reassertion that the “United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam” is critical.
Obama is good for America. Whether he’s good for Pakistan is a much more difficult question to answer.
As mentioned earlier, we are disappointed by continued drone strikes or by Raymond Davis’ acting without impunity on our soil, but we forget too often that politicians are bound not only by their constituencies and the legislature, but also by heavily funded, well-entrenched security establishments (we in Pakistan should know that all too well).
The United States (US) policy towards Pakistan will not change drastically from one president to the next. Something however, has to be said for the fact that Obama, following the raid, has not pointed fingers at Pakistan despite cries from the American media and public. Something also needs to be said for the fact that the operation launched was discreet and targeted - a far cry from Bush and Cheney’s bomb ‘em approach.
By ascribing messianic status to elected leaders both here and abroad, we only end up disappointed. Sometimes the best thing we can hope for is intelligence, competence and a measure of sincerity. And for me, Obama’s passes these three tests. If he and his administration need to sell Osama’s killing as an enormous victory to the American public to silence the GOP and secure the election in 2012, then in my opinion, they should go ahead and do so.