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Obama's careful victory lap

Matt Frei | 21:43 UK time, Friday, 6 May 2011

President Barack Obama speaks at Fort Campbell, Kentucky

Even in the eyes of his critics, Barack Obama has made the transition from wimp to warrior president. One opinion poll had support amongst Republicans climb by 15%. Overall his approval ratings stand 11% higher than they did last month. There was the president riffing with the press at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner last Saturday, while he had already ordered the mission that would end Osama Bin Laden's life and could have haunted his presidency, had it failed.


At one stage Seth Myers, a comedian, was joking that Bin Laden was not only alive but broadcasting in the early hours on C-Span. There were so few viewers that no-one had noticed. The president grinned a full set of teeth. As my friend David, a Republican lawyer, said: "Now that kind of nerve takes a cool cat."

It was a huge gamble, etched on the president's face in those now famous stills from the Situation Room. Notice also how the commander-in-chief sat hunched in the corner, while his war cabinet was watching the live feed of the raid, mouths agape. Other presidents would have sat at the head of the table, chest out, chin up.

Of course, since the kill Mr Obama has carefully staged his own victory lap. At Fort Campbell in Kentucky on Friday the banner Mission Accomplished might as well have been fluttering above the stage. And although most now pour scorn over George W Bush's fancy dress moment in the flight suite after the end of combat missions in Iraq, at the time just about everyone was impressed. With hubris in mind, Mr Obama has been treading a fine line. In the silence of the wreath laying at Ground Zero - to which he had invited Mr Bush - he found his voice once again.

His actions last Sunday speak louder than any words. Unlike the invasions of Iraq or even Afghanistan this was an act that needed no explanation or - for most Americans at least - justification. That in itself is a novel experience these days. Will the killing of Bin Laden end the war with al-Qaeda? No. Could it make it worse? Possibly. Could there be a violent reaction? Maybe. Will the end of Osama ensure Obama's re-election? Unlikely. Gas prices, jobs and housing are ultimately more important, as George H W Bush will tell anyone who asks. But I do predict one thing. The Donald won't have the guts to run for president now.

The real blow to Bin Laden creed

Matt Frei | 20:15 UK time, Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The details of the daring raid that killed Osama Bin Laden are riveting. It is, as my colleague Mark Mardell suggests in the blog next to mine, important to get them right. For us journalists. For the administration. For the public.

The White House displayed astonishing discipline and discretion in the planning stages of the operation. Perhaps elation about the success had allowed them to become sloppy in the immediate aftermath. There will be some misgivings in the UK and Germany about what appears to have been a kill rather than capture mission, as our Berlin correspondent Stephen Evans suggests. By the way, he survived the collapse of the Towers.

Europe and America deliver justice in different ways. Put it down as another way we're divided by a common goal. In Pakistan there seem to be plenty of people who still can't accept the fact that Osama Bin Laden is dead, either because they prefer to think of him as invincible or because they shudder at the thought that he was hiding a stone's throw away from Pakistan's equivalent of West Point Academy in the local version of a MacMansion for six years.

Then there is the debate about the Bin Laden photos, a discussion which will no doubt continue despite the president's decision not to release them - too gruesome and inflammatory or just what's needed to prick the Osama mystique once and for all?

Again it's surprising and unhelpful that this delicate debate is being played out by the administration in public on network and cable TV.

But all of the above are footnotes to a bigger point that the real blow to Bin Laden and his twisted creed was delivered by young Arabs in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Libya and Morocco in recent months. The Arab Spring is a rejection of Osama's antiquated mission of resurrecting a caliphate.

The people in Tahrir Square didn't want to return to the 10th Century. They would like to be able to live and thrive in the 21st Century like the rest of us, without being defined by the many hatreds that have haunted their region, often nurtured by their rulers. But the Arab Spring is a work in progress, to say the least. The die has not yet been cast and the danger is that too much chaos and too many power vacuums will resurrect Bin Laden's appeal, if not the man himself.

Will the royal wedding 'reboot' the British monarchy?

Matt Frei | 22:34 UK time, Tuesday, 26 April 2011

kate_William.jpgSuch is the fairytale nature of the imminent royal wedding that even London's notoriously treacherous weather has, in the build-up, at least been suitably deferential.

On the American television networks, anchormen and women are falling over each other to talk about the easygoing, recession-defying charm of a couple that seems perfectly in love, delicately thumbing their noses at recent family history, the straitjacket of protocol and, one hopes, the prying eyes of billions.

The world wishes them well. But hours of air time need to be filled and even the most gripping interviews with former Buckingham Palace pastry chefs, part-time nannies, dress designers and people who once had lunch with people who once had lunch with a royal do not do the trick.

So the discussion has inevitably turned to other matters. First, there is the question whether the British monarchy can be "rebooted" by the infusion of fresh blood after this wedding. After the nuptials have ended, the answer to this constitutional question will surely hinge on how the various palaces negotiate the messy minefield of whether Charles could step aside in favour of Wills.

Most monarchists and monarchy experts seem to think this question could open a terrible can of worms, best left closed even if the tabloids and much of the public want to prise it open.

Secondly, there is plenty of serious discussion about that persistent British poison: class. Does the pit-to-palace fairytale of the Middleton family represent a genuine rebirth for the monarchy and an example of social mobility? Admittedly, that transition from the coal mines of Durham to Buckingham Palace has taken 150 years. But is Kate Middleton the embodiment of a British dream?

Well, no. But the monarchy is less stuffy than it used to be. Diana dragged it publicly into the messy, modern age kicking and screaming. And like in America, all the economic indicators point to the idea that social mobility has stagnated or gone in the wrong direction. The middle class feels squeezed on both sides of the pond. Views of the future are bleak.

A majority in both the US and the UK believe their children will be worse off. The poison of class trickling down from the Palace through the aristocracy to the upper middle class, the lower middle class and so on (only Britain had these sub-categories) has left trace elements. There are still plenty of snobs who prove, as George Bernard Shaw once said, that no Englishman can open his mouth without being despised by another Englishman. But their numbers have dwindled.

Britain's new elite has made its money in the City of London. The gulf between the rich and everyone else is a chasm. And there is nothing that Wills and Kate can do about it.

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