Feature:Opinion

Will Osama bin Laden’s death make 2012 like 1992?

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Matt Mackowiak
Founder, Potomac Strategy Group
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      Matt Mackowiak

      Matt Mackowiak is a Washington, DC and Austin, TX based political and communications professional and founder of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC, providing political consulting, public and media relations and crisis communications assistance to campaigns, companies, organizations and individuals. In nearly a decade in Washington, DC, he has served in high-level Senate, executive branch, campaign, and private sector environments and has developed a wide range of deep relationships with national, state and local media.

      In addition to offering counsel to political figures and corporations, Matt provides political analysis for the Fox News Channel, ABC News, MSNBC, radio stations throughout the country. Matt’s political analysis has appeared in Politico, the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg News, The Hill, Congressional Quarterly, the Washington Examiner, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, Texas Weekly, and on ABCNews.com and he has had columns published in the Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Politico, Roll Call, Austin American-Statesman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Des Moines Register, National Review online, Congressional Quarterly and The Daily Beast. Matt has guest lectured at the University of Illinois, the University of Denver, and American University. He has addressed student organizations at Georgetown University, Catholic University, the University of Illinois, Texas Christian University, and American University.

      From 2005-2009 Matt served as Press Secretary to U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and former U.S. Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT). From 2003-2005 he worked in press at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under Secretary Tom Ridge and Under Secretary Asa Hutchinson, managed the second largest county in Iowa for the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, counseled corporate clients at the international PR firm Burson-Marsteller, and performed White House Presidential and Vice Presidential advance representation all over the country.

      Matt is from Austin, Texas and graduated in 2003 with a B.S. in Communications Studies (Political Communication track) from the University of Texas (UT). Aside from his professional work, he owns and manages the popular blog site www.potomacflacks.com, recently cited by the Washingtonian as one of the best political blogs. In his free time, Matt enjoys sports, live music, UT Athletics and reading biographies.

In Washington, it’s never too soon to consider the political impact of world events.

Now that we are barely 24 hours past when President Barack Obama announced the killing of al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, at a hastily arranged, highly unusual Sunday night presidential address from the East Room of the White House, we can begin to assess the political impact of this development.

National security issues are unlike other policy issues. Most Americans view them in non-partisan ways, and simply want a presidential candidate to appear serious, thoughtful and tough on terrorism. Ultimately, it’s a threshold question.

But the 2012 election would not be the first that Osama bin Laden has impacted.

Democratic officials still believe that a video tape released by bin Laden on October 29, 2004, only days before Election Day, focused the public’s attention on terrorism and national security and helped provide President Bush with his narrow reelection victory.

There are likely short-term and long-term impacts from President Obama’s announcement.

First, President Obama will surely see a spike in his approval rating, which as of late last week was 46-46 in the Gallup poll. According to Republican pollster Glen Bolger, the average bump in approval rating for presidents in response to major national security events is 13 points for an average of 22 weeks. My gut tells me he is likely to be in the high 50s or low 60s two weeks from now. His approval rating for personal qualities (“strong leader”) is likely to rise, as is the public view of him as “commander-in-chief.”

On national security specifically, President Obama’s success with this mission will likely buy him additional time to pursue his surge strategy in Afghanistan before this summer’s arbitrary timeline to begin withdrawal.

However, the existence of the $1 million fortified mansion 50 kilometers from Islamabad in a city of 90,000 people will raise very serious questions about Pakistan’s knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts, as Obama’s top terrorism advisor, John Brennan, admitted Monday. The fact that the president approved a high-risk, unilateral, covert military operation inside Pakistan, without that country’s knowledge and consent, will only further strain our complicated bilateral relationship with Pakistan, especially with its intelligence service, the ISI.

Second, national security issues will be seen in less partisan terms and be used in less partisan ways in the intermediate future. President Obama and his national security team have now unquestionably earned the right for Congress to trust his judgment on terrorism matters — at least in the short term.

Third, we are 19 months away from the 2012 election. It is unlikely that an event occurring on May 1, 2011 will provide the difference in whether the president wins reelection or not. Most independent voters do not begin to pay attention to the two major party candidates until Labor Day in the election year.

Fourth, this development will require that Republican candidates meet a national security threshold to be seriously considered. While governors and members of the House and Senate do not control militaries, they do play a role in national security policy and visit with foreign leaders. Any Republican who wants to run for president in the new post-bin Laden political environment will have to demonstrate their seriousness and preparedness for the job. Those who trip up will disqualify themselves.

  • shepmoors

    I shudder to think where we would be if Obama had been in power on 9/11. None of these programs and procedures would be in place that allowed the killing of Osama to happen. The headlines would read Osama gets Obama instead. Please. This president was not ready for prime time and without the previous administrations’ groundwork, Newsweek would be running a magazine with the cover “we are all Muslims now.”