Elliott Abrams, a national security staffer in the George W. Bush and Reagan administrations now at the Council on Foreign Relations, has some criticism of how President Obama handled the announcement of the finding and killing of Osama Bin Laden:
It is entirely appropriate that Mr. Obama and the Administration get and take a fair amount of credit.
It is therefore unfortunate that Mr. Obama seems to want more than that fair share the American people will naturally and rightly give him. His remarks last night were far too much laced with words like "I met repeatedly," "at my direction," and "I determined," trying to take personal credit for the years of painstaking work by our intelligence community. Mr. Obama might have noted that this work began under President Bush, but as usual he did not. It was also a mistake for him to use this occasion to deliver unrelated comments about "the pursuit of prosperity for our people" and "the struggle for equality for all our citizens." A shorter and more straightforward announcement would have been more appropriate for this occasion.
Once again here the White House appeared unable to get the messaging quite right, a failure magnified by the amateurish delay of more than an hour in Mr. Obama's remarks. The White House told the nation at roughly 10 p.m. that the President would speak at 10.30. Had the President done so, he would have delivered fabulous and shocking news. By the time he actually spoke nearer to midnight his words were an anticlimax, for all the news had leaked. Whatever the cause of this delay—Mr. Obama editing the remarks for too long, or a belatedly discovered need to brief Congressional and world leaders—it suggested that the calm professionalism in the face of crisis shown here by our military and intelligence professionals has yet to be achieved in the White House.
I actually thought Mr. Obama's remarks were pretty good. I was particularly intrigued that he mentioned "God" four times in the nine-minute address, including a concluding passage from the Pledge of Allegiance — "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all" — that was an issue in George H.W. Bush's 1988 campaign against Michael Dukakis. Mr. Obama did note that the anti-al Qaeda effort began under President Bush, in the following passage:
Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we've made great strides in that effort. We've disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense. In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government, which had given bin Laden and al Qaeda safe haven and support. And around the globe, we worked with our friends and allies to capture or kill scores of al Qaeda terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot.
He also acknowledged President Bush by name in this sentence: "I've made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam."
Mr. Obama also reportedly called President Bush before going on television last night.
But Mr. Abrams' comments highlight an awkward tension that I think will be felt by many on the center-right on both national security issues and economic or domestic issues in the months between now and the November 2012 presidential election. For those who find Mr. Obama personally grating or who disagree vehemently with his policies, there are moments in which what seems like good news for America — Bin Laden is dead! The unemployment rate is down! The stock market is up! — is also good news for President Obama and for the Obama campaign. And if one thinks that President Obama getting re-elected is bad news for America, then one is caught in a trap in which good news for America is actually bad news for America (because it helps Mr. Obama's re-election chances).
This trap is by no means unique to Republicans. Democrats were in a similar bind in 2004, when good economic news or good news about the war in Iraq helped President Bush's re-election chances and hurt the Democrats' chances of unseating him.
As a general political matter, it's a stronger position to be in if good news for the country helps your campaign than if your campaign's success depends on bad news for the country.