When Pastor Terry Jones burned a Koran a month or so ago, driving a mob of outraged Muslims into a homicidal frenzy resulting in the deaths of nine U.N. workers, there were condemnations aplenty, not of the Muslims, but of Jones. He just shouldn't have done something so incendiary and disrespectful, we were told by media opinionators. To mistreat something so revered by Muslims was inexcusably irresponsible, and there was even talk of limiting freedom of speech so that no one could in the future use the First Amendment to offend Muslims.
Now President Obama has had one of the most revered figures in the Muslim world killed, reprisals are almost inevitable, but the media, or at least that segment of it represented by Chris Matthews and his soulmates at MSNBC, is treating the event as the occasion for the beatification of President Obama.
What, we might ask, is the salient difference between burning the Koran and killing bin Laden?
In one case a man demonstrates his displeasure with a book that he believes inspires murder and terrorism by burning a copy. In the other case a President demonstrates our national displeasure with a man who, inspired by that book, has actually committed mass murder, by having him killed. In the former case the media condemned the man who in fact hurt no one by burning the Koran. In the second case the media is calling the murder of a man and his wives and associates a "gutsy" decision and proof of Mr. Obama's greatness.
Indeed the encomiums tossed at Mr. Obama by some in the media have been so fulsome one might think that he himself rappelled into the compound, braving enemy fire, and throttled bin Laden with his bare hands.
Yet all the president actually did was give the go-ahead to an operation that was planned and carried out by others and which he could not have halted in any event without committing political suicide.
Had the public learned that we had bin Laden in our sights but refused to take him out, the president's political career would have been over. Had he ordered a missile strike instead of an assault on the compound there was the chance that bin Laden would have survived (as Qaddafi did recently) and that even had he not survived the intelligence "trove" seized by the assault team would have been destroyed or inaccessible.
There really was no choice but to order the attack and to do it with troops rather than with missiles.
Nor, I'm quite convinced, was the killing of bin Laden anything other than deliberate. Had the man been taken alive what would we have done with him? Where would we have kept him? Would we have put him on trial? How much turmoil would there be in the Middle East and around the world as long as bin Laden was alive and held in jail? I'm reasonably sure that the SEALs had orders to kill him whether he surrendered peacefully or not.
All of this, I imagine, was planned and presented to Mr. Obama months ago, and he really had very little choice in the end but to take the advice he was given and approve the plan. Even so, at MSNBC tingles are running up everyone's legs at such awe-inspiring presidential leadership.
Funny, though, when Saddam was captured it didn't make those folks feel any better about Mr. Bush's leadership. But, of course, that was different.