When President Obama addressed the nation and the world last night to report Osama bin Laden’ death, I was surprised by the absence of a global element in his message. Obama is known for his multilateral, global approach to foreign affairs, and it the lens through which he seems most comfortable framing American actions in the world. The war waged by the Bush Administration in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks was relentlessly globalized, as the name “global war on terror” suggested. And it has been a consistent thread in U.S. messaging to remind those in the Middle East and Central Asia, and elsewhere, that bin Laden’s brand of global jihad killed more Muslims than any other group.
Obama’s message last night made a strange reversal. The larger narrative framing the search for and killing of bin Laden was emphatically Americanized.
The effect of this framing, if there is any, remains to be seen. In the global swirl of fast moving media, not to mention events, the President’s words may soon fall away as memorable in the global context. Or they may be picked up—Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis as may wonder how much of the brunt of an effort reconceptualized as primarily American they must be called to bear.
We can be sure however, that the reminder that Obama was at the helm during this moment of American bravery is intended as a formative statements in the story of his presidency, which is now being written in advance of the 2012 presidential elections.