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Expert alert: the death of Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden was buried at sea Monday after U.S. forces raided his hideout in Pakistan on Sunday, shot him in a firefight and then whisked his body out of the country. Several University of Nebraska-Lincoln experts can help put the death of the world’s most wanted man into context for readers and viewers.

– Everything an American president does, of course, is political. UNL political scientist Michael Wagner keeps a close eye on the U.S. political landscape: ”President Obama is likely to experience a short-term bump in his job approval over the next few weeks,” Wagner says. “This is a big, big story and will likely dominate news coverage from a variety of angles for the next week or more — and the tone of that coverage will almost be universally positive for Obama.  These approval spikes are short-lived, though. Recall President George H.W. Bush’s approval rating in the high 80s at the end of operations in Operation Desert Storm, for example.

“However, one reason that Bush’s approval ratings dropped was that the economy went into recession. Another reason might be that the public tends to already give the Republican Party high marks on national security issues. So, it might not have been as remarkable to the public that President Bush was successful in the first Gulf War. Now that a Democrat is enjoying major policy success on a national security issue, it is conceivable that the public will begin to consider that Democrats strong on security issues as well.

“Certainly the success of the operation will help diminish the memory of Democratic President Jimmy Carter’s failed attempt to rescue hostages from Iran in the 1970s. If Obama shores up Democratic strength on national security issues, he may be more able to absorb trouble with the economy than President Bush was in 1992.

“As for the unity of the American people, the data suggests that the happy faces and hand holding will come to an end soon. Already, Republican lawmakers are praising Obama’s efforts to lead the effort to kill Osama bin Laden and, in the same breath, are blaming him for high gas prices. In other words, partisan politics is not going away any time soon.

“Regarding 2012, the news may keep a few potential GOP candidates from announcing their intentions for a few weeks, which could have a small effect on the arc of the campaign from both fundraising and momentum perspectives.”

Wagner is at 402.472.2539 or mwagner3@unl.edu. More on Dr. Wagner

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Speculation on what this may mean to the Muslim world and U.S. relations in the Middle East has begun in full. Simon Wood, associate professor of classics and religion studies, is an expert on modern Islam,  Christian-Muslim relations, and fundamentalism, religion and politics:

“The death of Osama bin Laden is of great symbolic importance for the U.S. and for the rest of the world. As the New York Times observed in an editorial, it is ‘an extraordinary moment for Americans and all who have lost loved ones in horrifying, pointless acts of terrorism,’” Wood says. “At the same time, as commentators here and abroad have noted, bin Laden had been a politically marginal figure for some time. Uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and much of the Arab world suggest that al-Qaeda and its leader had largely been swept aside by the tide of history. Millions of Arab Muslims – in some cases working together with Arab Christians – have risen up in rebellion against undemocratic leaders.

“Yet critically, their call has not been for a new Islamic caliphate, but for freedom, liberty, and democracy. Bin Laden and al-Qaeda did not remove the regimes of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt. Tunisians and Egyptians did. And they did so through calling for peaceful change, not through following al-Qaeda’s lead. Further, the discourse of change has been framed by nation more than by religion. Al-Qaeda has utterly failed in its efforts to cast recent events in terms of its own ideology.

“Beyond the Arab world, one of the main issues to arise from bin Laden’s death is what it will spell for relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, a country of tremendous strategic importance even without the bin Laden factor. President Ali Zardari had claimed that bin Laden was in Afghanistan. But he was found in a mansion compound in Abbottabad. This is not far from Pakistan’s capital city and is home to its military college and a major army base. This brings Pakistan’s role into harsh focus, particularly regarding what has been the Pakistani government’s official line on al-Qaeda: that no relationships exist between the terrorist group and Pakistan’s military and intelligence communities.

“Even before bin Laden’s death political leaders such as David Cameron had treated this line with skepticism, and most observers now find it plainly lacking in credibility.”

Wood is at 402.472.2434 or swood2@unl.edu. More on Dr. Wood

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Is it justice, or is it vengeance? And what does that say about Americans as a society? Ari Kohen, an expert in politial philosophy and restorative justice, has written on the topic as it relates to bin Laden’s killing at his popular weblog, Running Chicken:

“We call it justice, but that’s mostly because we don’t like calling it vegeance. Vengeance has a decidedly negative connotation and so a ‘Vengeance At Last’ headline would make the excited, screaming people in photo seem like unsavory characters; ‘Justice At Last,’ instead, sends the message that this celebration is the appropriate response,” Kohen writes.

“The real victory over Osama Bin Laden didn’t need to involve killing him so much as showing the whole world he was wrong about us. We’ve now managed the former; what will it take to accomplish the latter?”

Kohen can be reached at 402.472.3214 or akohen2@unl.edu. More on Dr. Kohen | Dr. Kohen quoted by CNN.com

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