Partisans, hold your fire — for once

The stunning news of the death of Osama bin Laden on Sunday night was quickly followed by spontaneous celebrations in front of the White House, Times Square and, most moving of all, at Ground Zero. 

I sat with my 13-year-old son and my wife, watching President Obama’s moving announcement and telling my son, Josh, “This is a moment you will remember — just like I remember exactly when my dad and I watched together the night that Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon.” 

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The young man and then-candidate to be U.S. senator from Illinois who proclaimed at the 2004 Democratic Convention that we are not a Red States of America or a Blue States of America but a United States of America had made that statement truer than ever. And now, just seven years later, we watched Barack Obama on TV making the announcement Sunday night and knew, more than ever, that we were watching the president of the United States. 

Now we know that President Obama picked the riskiest of all the options — to take out the evil murderer bin Laden with a Navy SEAL commando strike, and not a massive bombing attack on his mansion, thus ensuring that innocent civilian deaths would be minimized and proof of his death could be 100 percent confirmed.

But Obama, with steady hand, doing exactly what so many have criticized him for doing regarding many of his foreign-policy decisions — taking his time, weighing all the alternatives, thinking things through, listening carefully to people who know more than he does and then, finally, making a judgment — made The Decision. I don’t think he’ll be criticized again by Sarah Palin for being “the Professor.” 

But even now, even this one moment when Red and Blue America felt pride and unity, the strident voices on the left and the right — the usual suspects — couldn’t resist, just couldn’t resist, taking partisan cheap shots and shamefully trying to play politics.

Some evening TV commentators could not resist the temptation to refer snidely to comments made by former President George W. Bush, including running TV clips of Bush apparently diminishing the importance of killing bin Laden, saying his death should not be the measurement of America’s success or failure in its war against terror.

But this ignores the fact that his comment reflected a general-consensus strategy recommended by both the intelligence community and the Defense Department, i.e., that al Qaeda should not be allowed to declare victory because bin Laden had not yet been caught and/or killed. It also ignores that the successful operation completed courageously by President Obama was begun during the Bush years, such as determining the location of the courier that led to finding the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad.

Moreover, a fair reading of Bush’s record should grant him some credit for the Terrorist Surveillance Program and “enhanced interrogation techniques.” I was one of many liberal Democratic critics who questioned the legal and constitutional bases of these programs. At the very least, we critics of these programs should now give Bush some credit, since according to reports from the senior administration officials, these controversial tactics contributed significantly to catching bin Laden. 

Bush was quick to congratulate President Obama publicly on his leadership in this operation, as did most Republican leaders. His decision not to go to Ground Zero with President Obama is classic George Bush — he has taken himself out of the limelight since his presidency, and he doesn’t want to detract from this great moment of success for President Obama. 

Now, even within a few days, the nitpicking has already begun about inconsistent accounts of what actually happened the night Osama was killed, such as whether he was armed or not. Is it surprising that these accounts will be confused, given the circumstances? 

Just this once, can’t the strident voices on the left and right — from those taking cheap shots at George Bush to those still questioning President Obama’s birthplace — take a breath and allow Americans to feel proud of our president, proud of the brave Navy SEALs who pulled off this operation, and proud of our country — Red, Blue, and now, truly, Purple?  

If not now, when?

Davis, the principal in the Washington law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which also specializes in legal crisis management, served as President Clinton’s special counsel from 1996-98 and as a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.  He is the author of the book Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America.


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