Obama Faces Critical Dilemmas In Aftermath Of Osama Bin Laden Killing (The Note)

May 3, 2011 9:02am


After a day when we learned more edge-of-your-seat details about how U.S. military and intelligence officials took down terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, the White House is faced with another pivotal decision: whether to show the world proof.

Will the Obama administration release a photo of the corpse of the Al Qaeda mastermind or will that only serve to inflame passions of radicals seeking retaliation against the United States?

A top source tells ABC News’ Jake Tapper that President Obama and White House officials are actively discussing the possibility of releasing that photograph. According to sources who have seen it, it is bloody and gruesome, with a bullet wound to his head of bin Laden above his left eye.

Despite concerns about a backlash, officials also say it's important to put to rest any skepticism about the death of this nation's public enemy number one.

We’re also getting the clearest picture yet of how Sunday’s operation at bin Laden’s compound outside Islamabad went down, both on the ground in Pakistan and at the White House.

“It’s a go,” the president told his team last Friday after a meeting with his national security staff in the Diplomatic Room (a decision that not everyone on his team supported, Tapper notes.)

On Sunday, May 1, the team huddled in the Situation Room to watch the operation. In the field, Navy SEALs shot bin Laden once in the head and once in the chest. Word came in from the field: “Geronimo-E- KIA.” This was good news: ”Geronimo” — the code name for OBL being killed or captured. ”E” meaning “enemy.” “KIA” meaning “Killed in Action” Bin Laden was dead. http://abcn.ws/m9j9r1

ABC News shot exclusive footage of the compound where the Navy SEALs conducted their mission: http://abcn.ws/jiMtyc

Now, in the aftermath of Sunday's success, new debates have already started in earnest in Washington, including how the U.S. should handle Pakistan.

“I think this tells us once again that, unfortunately, Pakistan is playing a double game, and that is very troubling to me,” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee, said at a press conference on Capitol Hill yesterday.

And political questions remain, namely how much the killing of bin Laden boosts President Obama’s domestic priorities as well as his re-election prospects in 2012.  


WHAT OSAMA’S KILLING MEANS FOR OBAMA’S HILL AGENDA. “For President Obama, the death of Osama bin Laden could mean renewed power on Capitol Hill at a critical time — just as both parties prepare to tangle over the 2012 budget and debate whether to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling,” the Washington Examiner’s Susan Ferrechio reports. “An increase in Obama's popularity could make it harder for the GOP in Congress to win the big spending cuts they seek as a condition for raising the debt ceiling this summer. ‘The president's popularity in one area does help in others,’ Democratic strategist Peter Fenn told The Washington Examiner. ‘On something like this, where he's been intimately involved in the whole thing, boy, you do have to give the president credit on it and I think most folks, the public, get that.’ At the very least, said Doug Schoen, another Democratic strategist, bin Laden's elimination at the hands of the Obama administration ‘should provoke and promote a short-term jolt of bipartisanship’ where there has been nothing but a gaping political divide in recent months."

BIN LADEN BOUNCE? While the immediate impact on the president's job approval rating is yet to be known, experts say, the killing of bin Laden — one of candidate Obama's top campaign promises in 2008 — will likely lead to a boost in his poll numbers and added credibility for Obama's foreign policy message on the campaign trail. But will there be lasting benefits?

Republican pollster GLENN BOLGER used data from Gallup polls to show that after major events like this “on average, the president’s approval rating increases 13 points and a bump lasts an average of 22 weeks. That does not include the 105 week bump that President George W. Bush received after 9/11." Bolger says that Obama’s bump “is unlikely to run through next year unless the economy improves dramatically as well.” CHART: http://bit.ly/lr5bap

STEPHEN HESS: "It gives him a firewall on Afghanistan," said Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a veteran of several presidential administrations. To some extent, it "pulls the rug right out from under" the potential Republican presidential candidates who have criticized the president's strategy, Hess said, adding that many in the likely GOP field "are certainly not coming from a very strong position as foreign policy experts themselves."

CARL FORTI: "It provides a momentary lift to the president and his numbers," the GOP strategist said. "But next month, we'll be back debating the debt ceiling. And in a year, this moment will have zero impact on people's decision-making on who should be president."

DONNA BRAZILE: The Democratic strategist told ABC News, "Overall, this should help the president with independents and others who continue to express disapproval at the political environment in Washington, D.C. But it might never change the views of those who have opposed President Obama from the jumpstart. Bottom line: It's still the economy and while bringing bin Laden to justice is a cause everyone approves, most Americans are also anxious about their economic futures as well."

More on the short- and long-term political fallout from ABC’s Devin Dwyer and Michael Falcone: http://abcn.ws/l0sHJF


OBAMA HEADING TO GROUND ZERO ON THURSDAY. President Obama will go to New York City on Thursday to visit the site of the World Trade Center. According to the White House, while there, the president will meet with the families of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and mark the death of bin Laden.

“I know that unity that we felt on 9/11 has frayed a little bit over the years, and I have no illusions about the difficulty of the debates that we’ll have to be engaged in in the weeks and months to come,” Obama said at a bipartisan dinner in the East Room of the White House last night. “But I also know there have been several moments like this during the course of this year that have brought us together as an American family.” — ABC’s Sunlen Miller http://abcn.ws/isCRcs

ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Jonathan Karl welcome Republican Congressman Joe Heck, a member of the House Intelligence Committee to talk through the implications of the killing of bin Laden and the questions that remain. Also on the program, a clip from Karl’s exclusive interview with former Vice President Dick Cheney (preview below). Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine


TIM PAWLENTY: HIGH RISK/HIGH REWARD IN FIRST DEBATE. This Thursday’s debate in South Carolina is still on but the only major player planning to attend is former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The risk for Pawlenty is that his stature gets diminished by sharing a stage with lesser-known candidates eager to try and score points off an establishment figure. Even so, Pawlenty can't simply wait on the sidelines for the Romney campaign to engage them. If they are going to control their own destiny they have to start owning it. Moreover, it's clear that the fringe is going to be part of the equation for some time now — best for Pawlenty to learn how to deal with it. As former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele told “Top Line” yesterday, the GOP establishment needs to stop whining about folks like Trump and start getting out there and establishing their own brand and message. 



COSTLY WAR ON TERROR GOES ON. “Osama bin Laden's death puts an end to a chapter that has cost the United States thousands of lives, billions of dollars and countless resources. But it's unlikely to end the U.S. war against terrorism or reduce the resources spent on such missions, though how they are allocated will likely change,” ABC’s Huma Khan writes. “It's the hunt leading up to the raid that experts believe was more costly. … While the costs of hunting down bin Laden over the years are virtually impossible to calculate, his pursuit has cost the United States trillions of dollars, two wars and thousands of lives. Domestically, the defense budget has ballooned at an average rate of 9 percent per year since 2000. Overseas, Congress has appropriated more than $1 trillion for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere since the 9/11 attacks, according to the Congressional Research Service. … Bin Laden's death, though huge for the United States, is unlikely to ease the financial burden, observers say. ‘The only way you're going to ease the burden — you're going to make a real impact financially — is if troops are brought back out of Afghanistan,’ said Kenneth Katzman, a specialist in Middle East affairs at the Congressional Research Service. ‘That's where the money is. … Everything else is just going to be small potatoes.’” http://abcn.ws/jxPJ1Y

CHENEY WARNS AGAINST ‘PATTING OURSELVES ON THE BACK.’ Former Vice President Dick Cheney praised President Obama for the success of the mission against Osama bin Laden, but in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Jonathan Karl warned that it would be "a tragedy" to spend so much time "patting ourselves on the back" that we miss the next attack. "The administration clearly deserves credit for the success of the operation," Cheney told ABC News, adding that getting bin Laden has long been "the ultimate goal, the ultimate objective" of the U.S. counterterrorism program. Cheney praised President Obama for the judgment he exercised in making the call to go forward with the raid. "We all owe him the same sense of satisfaction that I'm sure they feel," Cheney said. … Asked if he thinks Bin Laden's demise makes America safer, Cheney said, "I think so," but he added a grim warning. "It would be a big mistake for us now to assume, 'There. That's taken care of. It's all over with.' Al Qaeda is a big organization and they're very active now in the Arabian Peninsula down in Yemen," Cheney said. "There's every reason to believe there will be further attacks attempted against the United States," he said. "For us to spend so much time patting ourselves on the back because we got bin Laden that we miss the next attack would be a terrible tragedy." http://abcn.ws/l8SNze

PALIN AVOIDS MENTIONING OBAMA. A dispatch from ABC News’ Clayton Sandell, who was in Lakewood, Colo., last night to hear former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s speech at Colorado Christian University: Sarah Palin gave passing praise to President Obama's "decisive leadership" in the operation to kill Osama bin Laden, though in a speech here Monday night the former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate did not once use Obama's name. "We want to thank our president," Palin said, but then she quickly shifted focus to the previous administration for having laid the groundwork.  "We thank President Bush for having made the right calls to set up this victory," Palin told a cheering crowd. Later, Palin seemed to give President Obama credit for what she called a "tactical victory." "The decision to insert American units in areas to hunt down and to kill bin Laden is an example of the needed decisive leadership that our troops deserve," Palin said, calling it a "proper use of force to protect America." Palin's words were a departure from last year, when she called President Obama's approach to terrorism "fatally flawed" after the arrest of a Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas day 2009. http://abcn.ws/li2QqZ

HOW REPUBLICANS APPROACH OBAMA POST-BIN LADEN. “Indiana Republican Rep. Mike Pence once rhetorically asked President Barack Obama, ‘Whose side are you on?’ in a speech on the House floor regarding U.S. policies in the Middle East,” Politico’s Alex Isenstadt and David Catanese note. “But on Monday morning, even Pence, a darling of the tea party who has emerged as one of the House’s most outspoken White House critics, praised Obama for his role in finding and killing Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Pence delayed his expected Monday morning announcement that he is running for governor because of what his campaign-in-waiting called the ‘momentous news concerning Osama bin Laden.’ Pence is among a group of Republicans who have spent the past year arguing that Obama was mismanaging the war but who found themselves praising the White House for orchestrating the assault that took bin Laden’s life. Others left Obama out of their statements entirely — a glaring omission. The contrast exposed a subtle, yet significant, rift in how vulnerable congressional Republicans plan to address a seminal White House success in the months leading up to the next election season.” http://politi.co/jtes0g

NOTED: DENNIS KUCINICH: SWITCHING STATES? “Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich may be considering a move. The eight-term Cleveland congressman is rumored to be interested in moving out of Ohio to seek re-election to Congress from Washington State’s new 10th district,” the Daily Caller’s Steven Nelson reports. “According to Kucinich’s communications director Nathan White, ‘After people found out that Congressman Kucinich’s district could be eliminated or substantially altered in congressional redistricting by the Ohio Legislature’s Republican majority, Congressman Kucinich received requests from people in twenty states, including Washington State, encouraging him to move and run in their area.’ White said that Kucinich plans to return to Congress, but hasn’t decided which district to run in. “Congressman Kucinich appreciates the interest expressed in his public service,” White wrote in an email to The Daily Caller. ‘As he has repeatedly said, he fully intends to remain in Congress; he just doesn’t know in what district he will run. In the meantime, he is devoted to serving Ohio’s 10th district as it currently stands.’” http://bit.ly/mx1IJZ  

WHITE HOUSE WATCH: After receiving his regular rounds of morning briefings, President Obama will honor the 2011 National Teacher of the Year and State Teachers of the Year in the Rose Garden. Afterwards, the President will hold a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room and address press briefly at the start of the meeting. In the afternoon, the President will meet with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in the State Dining Room, another meeting on immigration reform the president has been having recently. Later in the afternoon, the President and the Vice President will meet privately with Secretary of Defense Gates in the Oval Office. –ABC’s Sunlen Miller


@jeffzeleny: If there's one story you read today, make it this one: "Behind the Hunt for Bin Laden," in today's NYT. Gripping.http://nyti.ms/mk85z9

@kendramarr: Mr. Obama looked “stone faced,” one aide said. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. fingered his rosary beads. http://nyti.ms/mk85z9

@russellberman: Obama team never tipped its hand on #OBL: Petraeus in March: 'for all we know he could be in Las Vegas w Elvis' http://bit.ly/lah7Sn

@LukeRussert: RT @GOP12: Mitch Daniels has talked with Bush about possible prez run http://bit.ly/m37UfW #GOP

@LaurenNECN: @MittRomney, fmr gov of #MA jokes to crowd of southern #NH biz leaders, "I hear there's a border security problem here." Good laugh#FITN



* Mitt Romney is in to New Hampshire today for a roundtable discussion with businesspeople in Nashua just days after delivering a speech in Manchester to the conservative group, Americans For Prosperity.

* Tim Pawlenty will have breakfast with Ames activists in Ames, Iowa. Tonight, he will deliver remarks at Dallas County Town Hall in Adel, Iowa.

The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV 


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