Commander in Chief

By Romano, Andrew; Klaidman, Daniel | Newsweek, May 16, 2011 | Go to article overview

Commander in Chief

Romano, Andrew, Klaidman, Daniel, Newsweek

Byline: Andrew Romano and Daniel Klaidman

The daring bin Laden raid is being billed as the new Obama. The truth is, he's been itching to pull this trigger all along.

The echoes were unmistakable. On April 24, 1980, President Jimmy Carter sent eight helicopters to rescue the 52 Americans held captive at the U.S. Embassy in Iran. One crashed en route; one turned back; one malfunctioned. Spooked, Carter decided to cut his losses and abort the mission--but not before one of the remaining choppers sliced into a transport plane, igniting a blaze that killed eight servicemen. Carter's presidency never recovered.

For a brief, anxious moment, President Obama's national-security team, gathered in the West Wing on May 1, suffered a sickening sense of deja vu. As the helicopter carrying a team of Navy SEALs dipped behind the high concrete walls of Osama bin Laden's headquarters in Abbottabad, Pakistan, it sputtered, then stalled. The moment was "indescribably tense," a White House official tells NEWSWEEK--not only for the soldiers, who were about to enter enemy territory without a clear exit strategy, but for President Obama himself, who had ordered up the risky mission, forgoing safer options. The entire Situation Room was thinking the same thing: is this Iran all over again?

By now, the whole world knows it wasn't; the commandos landed and got their man. It was a stunning success that will likely end the comparisons to the Georgia Democrat that conservatives have been leveling at Obama since 2008, when they first started calling him a "Carteresque rerun" (The Washington Times) who is "tough on America's allies and soft on its enemies" (National Review). The question now, however, is whether "one of the--gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory," as U.S. counterterrorism chief John Brennan characterized the mission, will help Obama avoid Carter's larger fate as well: a one-term presidency that petered out when a tough-talking Republican insurgent convinced voters that their commander in chief was too weak to lead.

The early evidence suggests that bin Laden's death is improving public opinion of Obama. A NEWSWEEK/DAILY BEAST survey found no immediate bump, but other polls have him on the upswing. And the president's numbers were likely to rise further after his scheduled May 5 speech at Ground Zero--a reprise of the bullhorn address that united the country behind George W. Bush in the days after the towers fell. But ultimately, Abbottabad alone cannot create a renewed sense of purpose among Americans or ensure Obama's reelection. In a week or two, voters will go back to fretting about unemployment and the national debt. For that reason, bin Laden's demise is best understood as an opportunity for Obama--an opportunity to regain control of the national conversation, strengthen his hand in preparation for 2012, and bring the country together. If he seizes it, and if a new terrorist attack doesn't change the game yet again, bin Laden's death could become the defining moment of his presidency. "Throughout history there have been pivot points for presidents, from Truman's Berlin Airlift in 1948 to Bush after 9/11," says historian Douglas Brinkley. "Americans have always liked Obama, but they never knew whether he was a real commander in chief. Now they do."

In order to understand Obama's new opportunity, it's important to trace his national-security mindset back to its origins. Despite his idealistic rhetoric, Obama had evolved into a hardheaded realist by the time he ran for president in 2008. In the years before and after 9/11, he forged a coherent set of views about the roots of Islamic rage and the economic and social conditions that breed violent extremism. But as he said in his famous 2002 speech opposing the war in Iraq, he was not against war in general--only "dumb" wars that did not advance clear American interests.

Richard Clarke, who was George W. Bush's counterterrorism chief on 9/11 and who'd been advising Obama since mid-2007, knew that his new boss's intellectual rigor was an enormous asset. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Commander in Chief


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.