May 4, 2011 | Commentary on Terrorism
Tens of millions tuned in to watch President Obama announce Osama Bin Laden’s death on Sunday night, and thousands celebrated the news on the streets of Washington and New York.
There is no doubt that the President’s supporters have been milking the moment for all its worth, repeatedly emphasising his personal involvement in the extraordinary operation by U.S. special forces.
And he is certainly riding high as a result of Bin Laden’s downfall.
But the question is whether it will guarantee him victory at the polls in next year’s presidential election.
The strike against Bin Laden could not have come at a better moment for the beleaguered President. April was by far the worst month for Obama since the November mid-terms which saw his party emphatically drubbed in congressional elections across the country.
He hit an all-time low with a Gallup poll giving him just 41 per cent approval.
This was followed by two devastating surveys published by The Washington Post/ ABC News and The New York Times/ CBS News, which reflected a national gloom descending over Obama’s America.
Both polls showed a fundamental lack of voter confidence in the President’s handling of economic issues.
According to one of them, just 28 per cent of Americans now say they will ‘definitely vote’ for his re-election in 2012, compared with 45 per cent who say they ‘definitely will not’.
The run-up to the presidential election in November next year is likely to be dominated heavily by economic issues, including the massive federal budget deficit, job creation, unemployment, taxes, fuel prices, and the housing market.
In the aftermath of the worst recession since the Great Depression, the U.S. electorate remains deeply sceptical of the President’s leadership in these areas.
Seventy per cent of Americans now believe the country is moving down the ‘wrong track’ – hardly a vote of confidence in the ‘hope and change’ presidency.
On the budget deficit, which more than eight in ten Americans see as an extremely or very important issue, President Obama looks like a deer stuck in the headlights.
In contrast to David Cameron, who has made dealing with Britain’s deficit his top priority, the U.S. President has been in a state of denial with regard to the scale of America’s towering debts, which have now reached their highest level since World War Two.
The President’s recent flagship speech on the deficit came across as half-hearted and unconvincing, and was heavily panned by U.S. commentators.
According to the polls, most Americans no longer have confidence in Obama’s handling of the deficit.
Nor does the credit agency Standard and Poor’s, which last month issued a strong warning about America’s failure to tackle its budget deficit and cut the rating on the U.S.’s long-term outlook from ‘stable’ to ‘negative’ for the first time since the attack on Pearl Harbor 70 years ago.
In contrast to Bill Clinton, who moved to the centre after a spectacular Republican takeover of the House of Representatives during his presidency in 1994, Mr Obama has chosen to shift even further to the Left following his party’s electoral setback.
In doing so, he defied conservatives on government spending and healthcare reform, despite overwhelming public opposition to his positions on both issues.
Unlike Clinton, Obama is no pragmatist. He is perhaps the most ideologically driven liberal president in U.S. history.
And the floating voters who secured Obama victory in 2008 have been deserting him in droves.
Yet if his leadership has been lacking at home, President Obama’s role on the world stage has also been criticised. His handling of Libya, with what a White House aide describes as a ‘leading from behind’ approach, has come under heavy fire on Capitol Hill.
And the Obama administration’s Middle East strategy has been both inconsistent and marked by U-turns. On Egypt, for example, he initially sided with the deposed President Hosni Mubarak.
Then, when he saw which way the wind was blowing, he dumped him.
The killing of Osama Bin Laden is of course a huge cause for celebration. But it does not alter the fact that Barack Obama presides over a U.S. presidency in deep trouble.
On too many issues, the President has failed to exert decisive leadership, while clinging to policies that have weakened the world’s superpower both at home and abroad.
Mr Obama benefits for now from a divided opposition, with no clear front runner leading the charge against him.
But the race for the Republican nomination is heating up, and some national polls show the President and a ‘generic’ Republican candidate in a dead heat.
The American people are growing more and more disillusioned with the direction President Obama is taking his country. And the Bin Laden bounce will not last as long as he would wish.
Nile Gardiner is a director at the Heritage Foundation think-tank in Washington, DC.
First appeared in The New York Post