Week In Politics: Bin Laden's Death

Melissa Block speaks with regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne, of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. They discuss the latest politics regarding the death of Osama bin Laden.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

President Obama flew to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, today, where he met with members of Navy SEAL Team 6. That's the team that killed Osama bin Laden. It has been a momentous week for the president, the country and the world - and it gives us a lot to talk about with our regular Friday political commentators E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, and David Brooks of the New York Times. Welcome back to you both.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, The Washington Post): Good to be with you.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, The New York Times): Good to see you.

BLOCK: Does this action, do you think, change the public perception of President Obama, E.J.?

Mr. DIONNE: I think it changes it forever. It doesn't necessarily change everything in politics, but I don't think people will be able to see the president in the same way again. He showed this side of him - the inside of him that is very cool, very tough - even hard, especially facing America's foes.

It's also hard to imagine a better week that Barack Obama has had since he was elected president. He pursued this audacious plan - and that really deserves that word - against bin Laden, and it succeeded. He had those extraordinary moments in New York at ground zero with the firefighters, with the police officers, with the families of the people killed.

Then you have these jobs numbers - which have some problems with them, but it's still a very large number of jobs created, compared to what we've had. And then the Republicans are backing off their Medicare plan. And there are even signs - though who knows if they'll last - of oil prices going down.

BLOCK: And David Brooks, the killing of Osama bin Laden - political implications in the president's relations with Congress and extending into the 2012 election, what do you think?

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. I actually think minimal. I mean, I think it'll help him with a vague aura of authority, effectiveness and competence. But it's not like this was sort of a central element of the Obama administration. I think it'll help people feel better about the country. It's been a long time since one of our institutions worked well. And the fact that the CIA and the military could pull this off, and the president could make the decision, will give people a vague sense - or a better sense that the country's not totally on the wrong track. Seventy percent think it will.

I think the only area of concern for the president this week is, though his personal approval skyrocketed this week, when you asked about his handling of the economy, that was either flat or down. And the odd thing is, even though he's had three consecutive months of a quarter-million new jobs, people's opinion about the economy has plummeted in this time. And the question is, is people's feeling about the economy becoming detached from these unemployment numbers because there are deeper structural problems?

BLOCK: We have seen the story of just what happened during the storming of that compound in Pakistan change significantly over the course of this week, in accounts from top administration officials - who first said that bin Laden was engaged in a firefight with the SEALs. Now, the official account is that bin Laden was, in fact, not armed. He may have been retreating when he was shot and killed. Was the White House, David Brooks, clumsy in laying out the details of what happened?

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. I don't really blame them for this. I think, you know, they were enthusiastic. They'd had a great victory for the country, and there's always a fog of war. It has aroused the question: Were we right to kill a man who was probably unarmed? And I think the clear answer is yes. If someone is a declared combatant against the United States, we're certainly in our rights to bomb him. And if we're in our rights to bomb him, we're in our rights to shoot him. And this was, clearly, a targeted assassination campaign. I think we were in our rights to do that.

BLOCK: A question, E.J., about how we describe the killing of Osama bin Laden. Here's the president announcing the news Sunday night. Let's listen.

President BARACK OBAMA: We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qaida's terror: Justice has been done.

BLOCK: That choice of words - justice has been done. On Monday, I asked Susan Hirsch about that language. Her husband was among more than 200 people who were killed in the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa, orchestrated by Osama bin Laden. And I want to play a part of what she had to say about that notion of justice.

Ms. SUSAN HIRSCH: I think it's a common-sense way of using the term justice. For me, I really think about justice as sort of our highest ideal, you know. The sort of best we can be is to bring about justice. And for me, justice is really far away from things that look vengeful or are presented as a kind of rough-justice vigilantism.

BLOCK: E.J., I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the application of the use of "justice" in the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Mr. DIONNE: Well, that was an extraordinary - moving, and I think really magnanimous, view there. You know, and I think that there is never anything like perfect justice in this world. I also think the president is not given to language like "we took the guy out." So this measured language about what happened was sort of quite appropriate to him.

I guess I'd say that yes, there can never be any perfect justice. And nothing you ever do can make up for the killing of a single human being, let alone 3,000. But I do think if there was ever a justified killing, this was it. And I imagine that a lot of people who lost loved ones did, in fact, identify with that language that the president used.

BLOCK: There are a lot of voices in Congress right now, both Republicans and Democrats, saying that bin Laden's death means it's time to get out of Afghanistan after nearly 10 years of war. David Brooks, where do you come down on that?

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. I actually don't see the relevance, particularly. Bin Laden, as far as we know, was not central to a lot of what's going on with al-Qaida. We know, from some of the documents, he had some tangential role. But al-Qaida is not an organization like a normal corporation, very centralized. It's an extremely decentralized organization. And so getting rid of that one person doesn't really affect the extremely decentralized terror network he helped create, but which is off on its own.

BLOCK: E.J. Dionne?

Mr. DIONNE: I think the administration believes that this gives them the possibility of withdrawing more troops than they might have, and negotiating some deal with the Taliban, because this undercuts al-Qaida in a very serious way. And I think there is a sentiment in the country that would like to hope that the killing of bin Laden does mark the turning of a page on both wars that we're engaged in.

BLOCK: OK. We'll have to stop there. Thanks to you both. Have a great weekend.

Mr. BROOKS: You too. Thank you.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

BLOCK: E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of the New York Times.

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