Once again, the "news" media seem to have no patience for real news to come their way, as if the operation to get Osama Bin Laden and its aftermath are not pressing enough. Since Tuesday, the hot subplot has been former President George W. Bush reportedly declining President Obama's invitation to join him when he visits Ground Zero on Thursday in New York.
President Bush is trying to be a gentleman and defer to the current sitting President, and the press pervert that gesture and use it to upstage President Obama's military success and his effort to provide some closure for thousands of 9/11 survivors and millions of Americans. Bravo!!
Shortly after President Obama announced the killing of Osama, George W. Bush issued a brief, magnanimous and patriotic statement praising the operation, U.S. forces, and the President. Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader and former Speaker -- and one of Bush's prime adversaries on Capitol Hill -- called the former President to thank him for his leadership in the cause that culminated in Sunday's dramatic operation. Since he left the White House, Bush has avoided politics and public roles, which is why he decided against accompanying the President to Ground Zero. He did partner with Bill Clinton to help the victims of last year's devastating earthquake in Haiti, because President Obama asked him and because a million or more lives were hanging in the balance.
Do the press really expect Bush to take a victory lap around Ground Zero? Do they really think Bush is being petulant by not joining Obama on a solemn occasion?
For myself, it is totally obvious that George W. Bush recognizes this is Barack Obama's moment. Obama has been pilloried from the right for lacking foreign policy credentials, for being a novice, and now he has clearly stepped out of any such typecasts. Bush believes American only gets to have one President at a time, and for now, that President is Barack Obama. Being an intelligent politician, though not a proud intellectual, Bush must also anticipate that Obama will win re-election, especially after taking out Bin Laden. Obama needs to be seen by Americans and the global public -- and their leaders -- as his own man, owning the war on terrorism but without the Bush baggage. There is baggage, whether we choose to see that baggage as unavoidable and justified or as regrettable. If Bush were to join Obama Thursday in Manhattan, it would be perceived by most Americans and by many worldwide as just such a victory lap. That would not help President Obama do what he needs to for the next two years and another four years after that.
Obama needs to continue galvanizing a new alliance of nations and peoples to combat terrorism, continue the long economic recovery at home and open new markets overseas. He must rebrand America, which may (or may not) have needed to go it alone in Iraq and so many other places, but which now needs allies more than ever. Obama needs to respond to the Arab Spring in a constructive and assertive way -- now -- and eliminating Bin Laden can help him do that IF he is not seen as "Son of Bush". Thursday's visit will be Obama's bullhorn moment, and what he communicates there will depend upon who joins him. Even if Bush had made no mistakes in his war on terrorism and his invasion of Iraq, his presence on Thursday might not enhance America's current goals.
Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have both been blamed with or without validity for having missed the opportunity to prevent 9/11. Obama has absolutely no connection to any such failures or to the invasion of Iraq. Why should Bush insert that now? Obama was gracious to invite him, and Bush was principled and patriotic not to accept. End of story.