Massive boost to Obama's chances of re-election

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The Independent US

It's not October and it's not a presidential election year, but call it Barack Obama's "May Surprise", the moment that he and his supporters hope will transform his political fortunes just as he launches his re-election bid. In an instant, he restored unity to a country that recently has derived all its political energy from division and strife.

How profound that boost will be and how long it will last remains to be seen. For sure, the killing of Osama bin Laden on Sunday will help inoculate Mr Obama from Republican criticism of his performance on the foreign policy stage. Many of his familiar conservative foes – even Donald Trump – are congratulating him.

"I admire the courage of the president," offered Rudy Giuliani, who tried to parlay the worship he won as mayor of New York City in its 9/11 agony to run for the White House three years ago.

George W Bush, the president who did not get Bin Laden, gave his thanks to Mr Obama, as did Dick Cheney and House Speaker John Boehner. "If something had gone wrong," Mr Giuliani said further, "everyone would be blaming him."

Nothing went wrong, and over the next few days, the White House will put flesh on the story of how the intelligence unfolded as long ago as last August on the whereabouts of Bin Laden and the role – as they will surely describe it – played by the commander-in-chief pursuing that lead all the way through to Sunday's stunning conclusion.

"The domestic political implications are considerable," Ross Baker, political affairs professor at Rutgers University, told the Politico website. "For generations the Republicans have painted the Democrats as soft on national security and hostile toward the military. This will ... allow Obama to be more closely identified with the military in the eyes of the public. Whatever consequences it may have in the war on terrorism, it is a coup for Obama and Democrats politically going into 2012."

Foreign policy, of course, may very well not be the driving force of next year's elections, but rather the escalating price of petrol and the sense that the economic recovery is simply not strong enough to repair the trauma of the recession.

Still, foreign policy is no sideshow of the Oval Office. One of its most pressing challenges is how to deliver on Mr Obama's promise to begin to wind down troop levels in Afghanistan this summer. The death of Bin Laden may give the White House the cover of victory already achieved – even though, of course, it hasn't been – to start that withdrawal on schedule.

But for now, Mr Obama and his team will be sensing a palpable mood change. For ten years America has been in a funk, unsure if it is any more the indisputable leader of the free world. The street scenes in the early hours of yesterday showed a sudden resurgence of the old spirit.

At Ground Zero, the signs held by revellers were mostly about the President. "Obama 1; Osama 0" was the message that Mike McCready was holding up, typed in bold capitals on his iPad. "If the election were today, Obama would be re-elected for certain," he said. Mr Obama has created some electoral magic. Holding on to it until November next year may be difficult, however.

President's poker face

* Barack Obama was forced to keep one of history's most impeccable poker faces in the hours leading up to the top-secret raid on Osama bin Laden's suspected compound.

At Saturday night's White House Correspondents' dinner, the comedian Seth Meyers jollified a routine about America's little-watched public television network C-Span with an unwittingly topical joke about the elusive terrorist. "People think Bin Laden is hiding in the Hindu Kush," it went. "But did you know that every day from four till five he actually hosts a show on C-Span?"

Cameras panned around the room full of guffawing guests, before settling on President Obama. Cool as a cucumber, he laughed and clapped, as if it were just another politically themed gag.

Praise for Obama

Rudy Giuliani: President Obama, our military and intelligence service deserve our admiration for their courage, dedication and professionalism.

Donald Rumsfeld: This was an intelligence problem from the beginning... We have the ability to kill or capture: we needed the intelligence.

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