When he made the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death, President Barack Obama stood alone. He wasn’t flanked by military personnel, or dressed in a flight suit on an aircraft carrier with a “Mission Accomplished” banner hanging above his head. There was no “Ladies and gentleman: we go ‘em” type euphoric revelation. At close to midnight (ET) on a Sunday evening, from a lone podium in the White House, it was stated simply and directly: the United States had killed Osama bin Laden.
The president delivered the news in his trademark calm and collected manner, a stark contrast to the way the news was received by the American people. Word came in well before the president’s announcement and the debate was already raging before he made it official. The reactions were varied. From the conspiracy theorists to the humorists to the super patriotic, everyone weighed in on this monumental news. The head of the world’s most despised rogue terrorist organization had been killed, and for some this was cause for celebration. People took to the streets, a large crowd formed outside of the White House and chanted an exuberant “U-S-A, U-S-A!” in unison. For still others, this was a time to reflect on the thousands of lives that were lost in the attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
From the moment the news broke, there has been great interest in the details of the operation that was ultimately responsible for the killing, including much speculation on whether or not the White House would release pictures of the deceased bin Laden. It was reported yesterday (May 4) that President Obama had decided, in the interest of national security, not to make the photos public.
WATCH ‘MORNING JOE’ COVERAGE OF THE BIN LADEN STORY:
Former half-term governor of Alaska Sarah Palin took to Twitter shortly after to say, “Show photo as warning to others seeking America’s destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama;it’s part of the mission.” Palin, and others like her, seemed to be longing for the days of the Bush presidency (who, somehow, has managed to be given credit for this operation in some circles), when the pictures of Saddam Hussein’s deceased sons, Uday and Qusay, were released after they were killed as the result of a U.S. airstrike in Iraq.
In an interview with 60 Minutes to air this Sunday, President Obama explained his decision by saying “We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies….We don’t need to spike the football. And I think that, given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk.” Undoubtedly this will further fuel the conspiracy theorists who doubt the government’s claims they were able to kill bin Laden, but it is ultimately the right move. Not just because of their graphic nature, but it goes back to the original tone that President Obama struck when he announced bin Laden’s death. In the aftermath of bloodshed, what he is attempting is a reshaping of America’s identity.
As he makes his way to Ground Zero, President Obama is presented with an opportunity, much like the moment after the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson earlier this year, to bring the country together and confront the ugliest parts ourselves while simultaneously charting a path for reconstruction and healing. In 2008, then candidate Obama ran on a platform of promising to kill bin Laden and changing the way American politics operates. He has delivered on the former, satisfying the bloodlust and desire for justice of many, and has a chance to do the latter right now.
Standing on the site of the most deadly attack enacted on U.S. soil, President Obama will be poised to address the survivors of and loved ones of those lost on 9/11, the first responders, the veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and the rest of the nation and say that we are now entering a new era, one in which America recognizes its own checkered and violent past, while noting that we must move forward toward peace and reconciliation.
WATCH MORE ‘MORNING JOE’ COVERAGE OF OBAMA AND BIN LADEN’S DEATH:
In the immediate wake of the announcement, a nationalist fervor took over parts of the country, giving way to a college-sports type atmosphere of celebration that, quite frankly, is a bit scary. The last time this feeling swept the nation, it provided the foundation for a new sense of Islamophobia, erosion of civil liberties, and popular support for an illegal war.
President Obama’s responsibility, in leadership, is to capture that energy and assure that it not become misguided and that particular history doesn’t repeat itself. So much of politics is symbolism, and standing atop Ground Zero, presenting himself looking presidential while explaining the complexities of our current political landscape to the American people and the world, is a picture that can send a message that the United States is ready to face these brand new challenges.
Osama bin Laden is dead. No matter what this makes any of us feel, this is the fact on the ground. This is the world in which we now live and the world that we are charged with addressing. What we do next defines the soul and character of this nation.