Professors weigh in on Osama

Implications of bin Laden death remain murky

May 4, 2011

As the nation and Knox community gain greater perspective as more information emerges about the death of Osama bin Laden, many questions remain about the potential implications of the event, both domestically and abroad. Bin Laden’s death will certainly have an impact on the upcoming U.S. Presidential race, but how and why it will effect events abroad is much less clear. Two of Knox’s political science professors weighed in about what these exact implications might be.

“I see it having ramifications for how we conduct intelligence and foreign policy,” Assistant Professor of Political Science Andrew Civettini said, speaking about bin Laden’s killing late Sunday night by American commandos.

Civettini continued speaking about the intelligence implications of the killing, saying that, “it vindicates the intelligence community that hardnosed intelligence work found him and not torture and water boarding. I am glad that good intelligence led us to him …. The truth of the matter was that this was the work of hundreds, if not thousands, of people doing their job.”

At the same time, though, Civettini felt that there were concerning legal issues raised by the fact that the United States had carried out a military operation in Pakistan without informing the Pakistani government.

“While few countries are going to begrudge us that [carrying out the raid on bin Laden’s compoung], it should give us pause …. If the new al Qaeda number one was in Saskatchewan, would we go into Saskatchewan? Where is the line? I don’t mean to say that I don’t approve, but it’s an important question to consider.,” Civettini said.

Professor of Political Science Sue Hulett, on the other hand, does not feel that there are any legal issues regarding the United States’ actions in Pakistan.

“There’s nothing unprecedented about how this was pursued,” Hulett said. “In the U.S., it’s like the FBI and you’re going after the bad guys in hot pursuit … hot pursuit for 10 years. They were going after a war criminal, someone in war time, a terrorist—when you’re in hot pursuit, you go for it. To my mind the Pakistanis know that …. Whenever either side [the United States or Pakistan] see an opportunity, they go for it.”

Many students have voiced fear about possible terrorist reprisal in response to bin Laden’s death.

On the one hand, the event could encourage small scale attacks, but it will have done nothing to accelerate the planning and execution of larger attacks, and may have even hindered them. Hulett stated that while there are certainly still many “radicals and offshoots” that are part of terrorist organizations, “I don’t think there’s a uniform opposition to the U.S. on this particular occasion of going after Osama.”

Hulett continued to say that, “There are terrorist groups waiting for anything to happen. Radicals will use this as an excuse for some kind of radical action.”

However, Hulett also said that it does not “accelerate any planning” or create any new sentiments of “okay, we’re angry at the U.S. I don’t think this changes that dynamic.”

“Would it create backlash? Possible. That’s the best answer I can give you, “ Civettini said.

Both professors agreed that bin Laden’s killing represented a triumph for U.S. intelligence. Additionally, the capture of computers and papers belonging to bin Laden could prove extremely valuable. “One reason to send a SEAL team is to grab intelligence—whatever we can,” Hulett said.

Speaking about the celebrations of bin Laden’s death which took place around the country, including Washington, D.C. and here at Knox, Hulett emphasized how it was ultimately a response to events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“For the United States, this was a visceral reminder of 9/11 which people in the U.S. saw as an initiation of war … Osama bin Laden was representative of great evil, and he has now been taken out. I think it is appropriate to take the perspective of [those celebrating] in New York and D.C.,” Hulett said.

Hulett continued to elucidate the American perspective, saying that, “’Okay, the guy responsible [for 9/11] has been removed’. I think that’s our perspective, and I think it’s legitimate. It’s in our nature to go to the wall on some of these things.”

At the same time, though, Hulett acknowledged that differences in response and opinion differ globally based upon the objectives, concerns and fears of other countries.

In domestic political terms, Obama’s position coming into the next election cycle has been greatly strengthened by the strike against bin Laden. President Obama now has an overall approval rating of 57 percent (+/- four percent) in a poll conducted Monday by the New York Times and CBS. Among Democrats, his approval rating is 86 percent and 52 percent among independents. His approval rose 15 percent among Republicans to 24 percent.

“There’s an active debate in the scholarly community about the extent of rally effects [on poll numbers],” Civettini said. He continued to say that historically speaking, Obama’s overall approval rating should ultimately settle at a higher level.

Civettini credited much of Obama’s increased approval ratings to his speech Sunday night and use of first person pronouns and ownership language in speaking about the strike against bin Laden.

“It was the best strategy for reelection, and I think they stuck to that,” he said.

Furthermore, Civettini pointed out that, “Anyone that wants to be President has to praise this and by that Obama … Obama’s chance of reelection has increased significantly.”

Civettini likened the trends of Obama’s polls and the economic recovery to those of Ronald Reagan during his first term.

Finally, both professors spoke briefly about the invitation that had been issued by Obama to former President George W. Bush to appear with him at Ground Zero on Thursday. Bush turned down the invitation without much explanation.

“Some of the psychobiography of Bush says that he was motivated by legacy,” Civettini said, implying that Bush was not secure in his legacy post-presidency and was seeking to remain out of the limelight. “No one is playing the ‘we did this and you couldn’t’ game.”

Hulett held a similar opinion.

“It seems to me in a way that Bush realizes there is still so much animosity towards him, and it would detract from the commemoration,” she said. “Why go there and muddy the waters? … It’s Obama’s ship now.”

Ultimately, Hulett felt, “We need to trust the judgment of the president.”

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