Monday, May 2, 2011

Might We Owe Obama Osama?

Driving home in the rain from Bible study last night with a friend, his buzzing cell phone suddenly interrupted our conversation. His roommate had breaking news regarding President Obama, and for the briefest moment, as I listened in on the one-sided conversation, I thought Obama was going to be holding a late-night press conference announcing his resignation!

I've never really considered myself that hard-core of a Republican, but I have to admit, it struck me as a tantalizing idea.  Obama realizing he'd gotten himself in way over his head, and deciding to throw in the towel before our nation's economic malaise finally got nailed irrevocably to his hide.  Or maybe he'd made one too many diplomatic blunders. Or maybe some enormous, secret scandal was getting ready to blow up his administration.

Imagine my disappointment when my friend got off the phone and informed me that the media was saying bin Laden was dead.

Big News for a Beleaguered President

Osama, that is.  The fiend who ordered the attacks on America that fateful September day in 2001.  The braggadocious coward who'd been eluding capture ever since.  The goofy fear monger whose predictably juvenile threats became fodder for ridicule by late-night TV comedians. Dead. After all this time.

As we've now learned, detainees in the reviled Guantanamo Bay prison gave US intelligence officials a clue as to the identity of bin Laden's most trusted courier.  Eventually, our spies identified a large compound in Abbottabad with suspicious residents.  And after months of top-secret briefings, commandos got the orders yesterday to "git 'er done," as they say in west Texas.  Military officials report the whole operation took about 40 minutes, one of the multiple Mrs. Bin Ladens personally identified her husband, special ops ran DNA tests just to make sure, and he was buried at sea after a traditional Islamic corpse-washing ritual.  Kinda sounds like taking a bath before going swimming to me, but at least you've gotta give the special ops folks kudos for trying to accommodate religious custom even for this mass-murderer.

Of course, I'm still suspicious about a few things.  First, I'm not convinced anybody was able to run a scientifically-valid DNA test within Islam's 24-hour window before bin Laden's burial at sea.  Second, reports are beginning to surface that Obama and his advisers had no proof that bin Laden was actually in this compound in Abbottabad, but they went ahead with what some are calling a "gutsy" decision to move in anyway.  Why the urgency, after months of planning and waiting?

Third, did the Navy plant any sort of GPS device on bin Laden's body before his burial at sea so they could monitor its whereabouts? You know what conspiracy theorists are like. And when are Arab skeptics going to get to see photographs of the capture and death of bin Laden for proof of his demise?  Why hasn't bin Laden's remaining family members held a press conference confirming or denying Obama's claims?

At first, I didn't want to jump into the boisterous mix of digital chatter regarding Bin Laden's death, since it's consumed social media all day.  But I can't ignore the importance of this event.  I'm sure right now, somebody's tallying up the entire cost in dollars and lives of the 10-year manhunt the US has spearheaded for this guy. How much more effort has been expended to search for anybody else?  And to have him killed in a spectacular 40-minute raid would seem almost anticlimactic, if it weren't for the fact that at least for today, the world arguably is a relatively safer place - however marginally. One of terrorism's most evil masterminds no longer exists.

Not that I am rejoicing in the death of bin Laden, but neither am I ashamed that our government was able to find him and kill him.  Actually, I've even prayed that his remaining family would somehow come to faith in Christ through what could still be considered their personal tragedy.

Doesn't this Prove Obama's Some Sort of Patriot?

However, watching Obama's address to the nation on TV late last night, and then reading accounts online this morning of the planning and execution of the raid and assassination, I actually became a bit embarrassed. How calloused I've been regarding - or rather, disregarding - the responsibilities that the President has maintained during these months in which he's been juggling family duties, public debates over policy, and clandestine security meetings! We Americans complain about our presidents a lot, but we really have no idea what they're doing in service to our country behind the scenes.

I pray for Obama, but not that often.  And when I do pray, it's more out of exasperation over perceived deficiencies in his policies than a genuine desire for God to be merciful to him by guiding his decisions. And a lot of evangelicals blatantly castigate his every move, mock his credentials, and hold him in complete derision while claiming to concede he's a duly elected leader.

I'll admit: I'm still not convinced of his competence. But then, I wasn't convinced of George W.'s, either. It doesn't seem as though the best people for office are putting themselves up for election as much as it is people who know how to sell themselves to the most special interests.  And it's hard to deny that the American electorate gets the politicians we deserve. Can we lay the blame for all of America's problems at the feet of the people we've elected?

And speaking of elections, Obama has already served notice that he's in the 2012 Presidential race to win. Some political wonks have started musing about how powerful bin Laden's death will remain as a voting issue in 2012. I can hear it now: "Bush had almost 8 years to find Osama, and Obama only 3!" Not an accurate comparison, of course; but then, Bush's "Mission Accomplished" banner could legitimately be brought out of storage for one of Obama's campaign appearances.

Ahh, yes: George Bush. To his credit, he's been probably the most gracious conservative in his deference to the current administration.  Last evening, Obama had the decency of phoning his predecessor here in Texas with the news of bin Laden's death before addressing the country. In this vile political climate these days, it's refreshing to hear that good old-fashioned manners can still be found.

Honor is a Two-Way Street

Manners which those of us who may not always agree with him need to extend to our president. After all, didn't last night provide significant proof that Obama really is the freedom-loving, justice-seeking, honor-bound Commander in Chief we like to think all of our presidents have been? Plenty of vitriol has been launched Obama's way during these past three years, and none has been more undeserved than the embarrassing spite from the likes of Sarah Palin and, recently, Donald Trump. Even yesterday in church, an elder was berating Obama for simply showing up and showing concern to the tornado victims in Alabama on Friday. The same day he gave the final go-ahead for the mission to get bin Laden.  Musn't this rhetoric against opposing political parties stop?

I've preached before on this blog about how Americans need to figure out where they can become more centrist in their public policy debates, since a democracy only works in an environment of compromise. Perhaps now, conservatives can see that Obama isn't the enemy he's sometimes been portrayed as being.  And even liberals can recognize that sometimes, Obama can carry a legacy he didn't start but willingly assumed when he became president. I supported President Bush when he invaded Afghanistan, on the hunt for bin Laden. It would be interesting - and probably sobering - to learn from bin Laden's family the extent to which America's shift into Iraq enabled Osama to elude capture for years.  But you don't hear many conservatives second-guessing Bush like we've done with Obama.

Let's face it: pointing out ways things could be done better is one thing. Insulting the president with disloyal language and malevolent attitudes doesn't help any of us. Getting our primary diet of political news from radio talk shows - which thrive on acrimony - only makes things worse.  And then draping it all in a cloak of religiosity, like some conservative church-goers do, is extraordinarily malicious.

Democrats and Republicans aren't going to agree on a lot of things, since the very nature of politics calls for people to take sides.  But our country risks grinding to a halt if we let partisanship obscure some fundamental areas where we mostly share the same ideals and principles. Principles which were on display last night, as Obama discussed the raid on bin Laden's compound.  Principles of democracy, liberty, freedom, protection, and justice.

Let's hope we didn't just kill the one guy who actually represented the last link of unity among us Americans.

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