Normally in American politics, when a major foreign policy event occurs – the launch of a war, a terrorist attack, or the killing or capture of a significant enemy – the president receives a bump in the polls. When Saddam Hussein was captured in Iraq, for example, President Bush’s approval rating jumped from 54 percent to 63 percent, according to CNN. When Osama Bin Laden was killed this week, by contrast, President Obama received virtually no bounce: according to CNN, 52 percent of people approved of Obama, up from 51 percent. That lack of bounce was mirrored in several other polls, including the Rasmussen poll, and the Newsweek/Daily Beast poll.
Assuming these polls are accurate, where did Obama’s bounce go? Some pundits speculate that Obama’s foreign policy bump has been offset by his polling on the handling of the economy, which remains at record lows. Others believe that the public is simply too polarized to hand Obama credit for the Bin Laden operation.
In reality, Obama’s lack of bounce is a credit to the American people. Essentially, after watching Obama greenlight the Bin Laden kill mission, the American people had to decide who Obama was. Was he a new, tough Obama willing to go after terrorists with alacrity and zeal? Or was he the old, timorous Obama, frightened of his own international shadow after breaking out of his post-American model?
For the most part, we bet on the latter option. And we were right.
Since taking as much credit as possible for presiding over the Bin Laden kill, Obama has backed off the political ramifications of that kill as fast as humanly possible. It began with the Administration’s odd insistence that Bin Laden resisted and was therefore shot – as though any American cares whether the SEALs double-tapped Bin Laden in cold blood or because he pulled out a weapon like Billy at the end of The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Realistically speaking, Bin Laden armed against a trained team of SEALs is about as fair a fight as Bin Laden unarmed against a trained team of SEALs. But Obama doesn’t like the excrescence of a kill-terrorists-on-sight policy, so his Administration created a false narrative in order to avoid it.
And so we were treated to the odd and awkward spectacle of Jay Carney, White House press secretary, telling us that “resistance does not require a firearm,” as though Bin Laden pulled out a pair of shuriken and required two rounds to the head to prevent a kung fu showdown. Beyond the absurdity of Carney’s bird walking, there is an obvious contradiction here: the rules of engagement for our troops in Afghanistan require that they not fire on anyone not holding a weapon. “If they use rockets to hit the [forward operating base], we can’t shoot back because they were within 500 meters of the village,” Spc. Charles Brooks of the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment in Zabul province told the Washington Examiner. “If they shoot at us and drop their weapon in the process we can’t shoot back.” If Obama is fine with taking out an unarmed Bin Laden, he should be fine with our troops taking out unarmed terrorists around the globe. He isn’t, so he forces the press secretary to spin wildly.
In fact, the White House has gone further – they’ve maintained that Obama didn’t issue a kill order, but a kill or capture order. Except that Bin Laden was, by revised accounts, unarmed. Except that he wasn’t shot to wound, but to kill. Except that his body was immediately transformed into chum so that we had no chance to forensically investigate the situation.
Again, why the insistence that no kill order was given? Most Americans would – and did – openly celebrate the killing of the 21st century’s most wanted man. Obama is retrospectively fighting the notion of a kill order because of the implication: that it would have been a mistake to capture Bin Laden. Why would it have been a mistake to capture him? Because we would have had to read him his Miranda rights under current Obama Administration rules, ship him to New York for trial, assign him an ACLU lawyer, and wait for him to claim ill treatment at the hands of US troops, who would then have to be dragged into court. Conservatives have said for years that Obama’s law enforcement approach to terrorism incentivizes our soldiers to kill enemies on the battlefield rather than subjecting Americans to years of criminal justice idiocy. By issuing a kill order, Obama effectively legitimated the entire conservative case – hence his attempts to rewrite his kill order.
Finally, the Obama Administration’s treatment of the Bin Laden death photographs demonstrates that this president has already disassociated himself from the John Wayne routine he embraced at the beginning of the week. Rather than allowing the world to see hard evidence of Bin Laden’s death, Obama announced that he didn’t want to “spike the football” by releasing the death pictures (even though other pictures were quickly leaked to the media). He actually insulted the American people in the process, questioning how Americans would react if Al Qaeda terrorists murdered a U.S. soldier and published pictures of the body.
This Obama, not the John Waynebama of a few days ago, is the real Obama. The real Obama is the fellow who believes that Americans and radical Muslims react the same way to death photos of their heroes, even though Americans have not rioted a single time during the entire war on terror – not when Al Qaeda murdered 3,000 of our citizens; not when Al Qaeda released a taped beheading of Daniel Pearl; not when they released a taped beheading of Nick Berg; not when they killed four civilian contractors in Iraq, burned their bodies, and hung them from a bridge.
Obama has frightened himself with his Charles Bronson routine. Now he is running from it. And the American people recognize that Obama is no tough guy, no hard-ass, no leader in the war on terror. That is what caused the tepid response in the polls.
Ben Shapiro is an attorney and writer and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, and author of the upcoming book “Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How The Left Took Over Your TV” from Broadside Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.