WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Barack Obama has had many defining moments as U.S. president. The death of Osama bin Laden may become the most significant for him politically.
Obama, a Democrat, announced late on Sunday that U.S. forces had killed the al Qaeda leader and recovered his body. The death handed Obama a major national security victory just as he begins campaigning for re-election in 2012.
Here is a look at the benefits Obama reaps from the successful operation.
Obama has been weakened politically by concerns over rising gasoline prices and his handling of the economy. His dramatic announcement about bin Laden’s death will switch the U.S. public’s attention to his success as commander-in-chief, creating an image of strength. Prospects that geopolitical risk will decline also may take some of the hefty premium out of oil prices.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama promised to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq while boosting the war effort in Afghanistan and U.S. efforts to pursue bin Laden. With bin Laden’s body in U.S. custody, the president can say he has fulfilled another pledge, giving him credibility as he tries to hold on to the White House.
Republicans have a long-held reputation in U.S. politics for being stronger than Democrats on national security issues. With this successful operation taking place under his watch, Obama can grab that mantel from his opponents and claim it for himself and his party — a potentially game-changing instrument in his political toolbox. Bin Laden had eluded captured during the presidency of Obama’s Republican predecessor George W. Bush.
Just as the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were a defining part of Bush’s presidency, the death of bin Laden will be a defining part of Obama’s presidency. Feelings of patriotism among Americans swelled after the 2001 attacks, and that helped Bush stay in office.
Obama, who called on Sunday for Americans to come together like they did in 2001, may benefit from a new wave of patriotic sentiment. Though the images of an oil spill and economic malaise will remain, bin Laden’s death will almost certainly trump them — at least in the short term — giving his presidency a historic success that both Democrats and Republicans can celebrate.