By Ria Novosti
By Alexei Pilko
Al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden is dead. The world’s number-one terrorist, whom U.S. secret services suspect of organizing the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, was assassinated in Pakistan yesterday. It’s difficult to predict whether his death will reduce or fuel terrorist activities, but one thing is clear – this event is a major component in the election struggle between U.S. President Barack Obama and his opponents in the United States. And the struggle didn’t start yesterday.
The need for a pause
It was clear from the start of Obama’s presidential career that he is a compromise figure and his presidential term is a much-needed pause for the United States given its socioeconomic troubles and tough global position. The U.S. political establishment planned to use this period to elaborate a new long-term policy based on a Republican-Democratic consensus. To prevent the young president from making many blunders primarily in foreign and military policy, Robert Gates, a seasoned Reagan-era professional, retained his key position as defense secretary.
However, Obama didn’t wish to be a bit player. His policy both at home and abroad wasn’t quite consistent, and he managed to make moves that displeased a considerable part of the U.S. political elite and compelled them to start a campaign against the president. Obama’s opponents took a series of steps to discredit him, for instance, by alleging that he was born outside the United States and had no right to be elected president. Obama repelled these attacks with varying success.
Last December, he scored a major victory – the ratification of the START-3 Treaty by Congress – and saved the “reset” policy with Russia, which is his biggest and so far only foreign policy success.
However, by spring, he found himself in a predicament. Washington had to help its militarily unskillful European allies who were thirsting to go into action against Muammar Gaddafi, thereby getting involved in a third war without finishing the two previous conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pastor Terry Jones
Obama’s opponents descended to overtly dirty tricks, for example, by playing the Muslim card. The burning of the Quran by Pastor Terry Jones is one such example. Judging from everything, this move pursued a triple goal. The first was to provoke the growth of tensions in the Muslim world – first of all Afghanistan – with the aim of preventing Obama from pulling U.S. troops out of the country before the elections and enhancing his ratings. The second was to initiate acts by Islamists in the United States and to accuse Obama of not being able to ensure domestic security. And the third was to mobilize society around a new nominee on an anti-Islamic basis.
It would be no exaggeration to say that Jones launched an election campaign in the United States. Obama had to switch to open maneuvering by announcing his own election campaign well in advance of the January primaries and the Republican and Democratic conventions scheduled for August and September 2012. Parrying the attacks of his opponents, which have gone far beyond the U.S. domestic political game’s traditional rigid rules, Obama decided to risk it all.
At the same time, the president took a number of predictable, but politically necessary moves. First of all, he announced that the U.S. involvement in the Libyan war would be minimal. Next, he dealt a blow to the bipartisan package deal owing to which he became the head of the White House.
Gates, whose role was to monitor Obama’s actions, had to retire. The Pentagon’s new chief, Leon Panetta, who had headed the Bill Clinton administration, is a Democrat to the core. Most probably, in financial and economic terms, this would mean that Democrats, Obama’s supporters, will control the U.S. state defense order that accounts for about half the world’s defense spending. Hence, funding for the president’s election campaign won’t be an issue. Obama will have enough money to continue the struggle despite his obvious failure in the fight for the budget.
Bin Laden’s assassination has become Obama’s biggest success in the election campaign unfolding before our eyes. The president can draw many advantages from this important and positive event in the world arena. He can raise his personal rating – at least in the short term. Moreover, he will have good reason for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and finishing the unpopular Afghan war, which will also make him more popular with voters. He will also have strong reasons for gradual curtailing his predecessor’s anti-terrorist campaign that involved the United States in two wasteful wars.
To sum up, bin Laden’s liquidation may become a decisive argument that will prompt voters to back Obama.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
* Alexei Pilko is an assistant professor of Moscow State University’s World Politics Department.