President Obama stands to gain even more credibility for being tough on terrorism because of the U.S. air strike that killed radical Islamic leader Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen today. But the successful mission probably won't do much to help Obama's re-election prospects because Americans are no longer as concerned about terrorism as they used to be.
The American-born Awlaki's death follows by a few months the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Obama's job approval quickly increased to nearly 60 percent after bin Laden's death in May, but dropped back to where it had been, at less than 50 percent, a few weeks later.
Awlaki's death is considered a big setback for al Qaeda, the international terrorist network. President Obama this morning called it "another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates." Obama said al-Awlaki "took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans,'" including an attempt to destroy U.S. cargo planes in 2010. [See photos of reactions to Osama bin Laden's death.]
Republicans joined in praise of the operation. Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, called the death of al-Awlaki "another great step forward in breaking the back of al Qaeda."
Awlaki was apparently killed in a drone strike. Bin Laden was killed in a special operation by Navy SEALS.
The success of these missions is expected to reinforce the argument by administration officials that carefully planned special operations are more effective and appropriate in fighting terrorism than big deployments of American troops, as in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In domestic political terms, Obama gets good ratings from voters on fighting terrorism and keeping the country safe. But such issues are not nearly as prominent as they were in the years after the 9/11 attacks, so Obama's standing on national-security issues isn't as much of an asset as it might have been in years past. The focus of Americans has moved to the troubled economy, especially high unemployment, an issue where Obama is not rated highly by voters. A New York Times assessment of the situation is here.