[Viewpoint] Don’t push your luck

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[Viewpoint] Don’t push your luck

In delivering news that the biggest enemy of the United States, and mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden has been killed, President Barack Obama was solemn-faced and modest. He took no credit.

Instead he thanked the American people as well as countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals. “The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice,” he said before thanking the officers who carried out the deadly mission, for “they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country.”

President Obama went on television at 11:35pm on Sunday for a brief, nine-minute statement to announce the success of “Geronimo,” the code name of a secret operation to kill bin Laden, the head of Al Qaeda. His concise speech had been painstakingly-worded to contain the power of restraint and modesty.

Americans often use the phrase “don’t push your luck” to warn against over-confidence when things are going well. President Obama appears to be an expert in common sense. He briefed the American public on the background leading up to the mission and details on how it was carried out. By praising his subordinates’ heroism and hard work over the last decade, he manifested measured leadership and good judgment.

We have seen numerous leaders who hype their achievements no matter how small they may be. There are many who steal the credit for successes and blame others for their failures. They should feel ashamed upon hearing the latest statement from Obama.

The president did not use the euphoric words “triumph” or “victory.” He instead called for continued vigilance as the war on terrorism is far from over. “Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that Al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must, and we will, remain vigilant at home and abroad.”

He may have wisely taken note from the fallout caused by some of President George W. Bush’s infamous remarks (“bring it on” and “mission accomplished” among them), which cost his nation lives after he ordered the invasion of Iraq. President Obama called his predecessor to inform him of the news before he addressed the nation. Bush issued a brief congratulatory statement in response.

Most noteworthy was the last part of Obama’s speech in which he addressed families of victims of 9/11. He reminded them of the strength and the sense of unity that prevailed over the nation after the attacks. “Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power but because of who we are: One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” he said.

The American leader capitalized on the destruction of the culprit of one of the country’s worst tragedies to unite the people under the values of liberty and justice.

We cannot know how long and far President Obama will benefit politically from the accomplishment. It also remains unclear how he can balance the news with wavering support for the countries in North Africa and the Middle East in their fights for freedom from despotic regimes.

Obama earned respect for a show of calmness and cool-headedness in delivering the stunning news to his audience at home and abroad.

President Obama has been losing popularity from both liberals and conservatives. He is attacked as a socialist from critics and as not liberal enough by the left. A good leader should not be overly popular with any particular side. Politics in essence should be an art of moderation in the pursuit of a common ground.

If Obama insisted on perfect health-care reform, including a public option, he would have never gained congressional approval for the first reform of the public health care system in a century. He would also have risked this year’s budget if he had not yielded to the Republicans’ demand to scale it down by $38.5 billion.

A leader does not need to throw away his or her principles and philosophy and betray supporters in making concessions. The public knows if the leader has made the choice on a political calculation or genuine care for the people. Expedient wavering is as deplorable to witness from a leader as self-righteous intransigence. A leader who discounts voters has no future. It is common knowledge to Koreans as well as Americans.

The recent by-election outcome in Korea is proof.

A leader must be modest to deflect praise for accomplishments to others, while taking the blame for blunders.

The U.S. is lucky to have such a leader.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAngIlbo.

By Bae Myung-bok
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