Killing of Bin Laden Boosts Obama's Political Standing, Cuts Risk of Budget Impasse

by: Research Recap

The killing of Osama Bin Laden is a major domestic political victory for US President Barack Obama, with lasting implications beyond an immediate surge in public support for the president, in Oxford Analytica’s view. It even reduces the likelihood of a prolonged standoff over the US debt limit.

It is likely to change the politics of US policy in Afghanistan, making it easier for the president to stick to his ambitious withdrawal timetable, and yet create huge challenges in managing Washington’s fraught relationship with Islamabad. However, the impact on violent extremist movements globally may be muted, given the decreasing relevance of bin Laden’s ‘Al-Qaida central’ group, the rise of regional movements, and the increasing threat of ’self-starter’ terrorists.

  • The political impact of Bin Laden’s death facilitates Obama’s 2011-14 Afghanistan withdrawal timetable, with major regional implications.
  • The effect on terrorist networks affiliated with the ‘al-Qaida’ brand is minimal, and there is a considerable risk of reprisal attacks.
  • Obama is the main political beneficiary, and will enjoy a lasting boost to his personal prestige and foreign policy credentials.

There will be knock-on effects on US domestic policy: the chance of a prolonged partisan standoff over fiscal consolidation is much reduced.

Bin Laden’s surviving deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, does not have the same charisma. Therefore, bin Laden’s demise will demoralise the al-Qaida network, at a time when its violent ideology is being seriously challenged by the largely peaceful and non-religious agenda of the ‘Arab spring’. The biggest impact, apart from a possible short-term spike in attacks, will therefore be symbolic.

CONCLUSION: The surge in domestic public support for the president will fade, but the boost his national security credentials have received will endure and strengthen his political standing as the 2012 election year approaches — although the risk of reprisal attacks at home or abroad is significant. The regional impact in Afghanistan and Pakistan will also be momentous — not because the operation changes tactical conditions on the ground, but because it underpins the political-strategic timetable for US withdrawal.