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Bin Laden's Death 'Huge Victory' For Obama


This is special coverage from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne with Steve Inskeep.

As we've been reporting all morning, President Obama announced last night that Osama bin Laden has been killed in his hideout in Pakistan, by American special forces.

For an update on what's happening at the White House this morning, we turn now to NPR's Mara Liasson. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What is the latest?

LIASSON: Well, the latest is that Obama administration officials report that DNA evidence has proven Osama bin Laden is dead. We knew that last night, U.S. forces took photographs of the body, and they used facial recognition technology to compare them with known pictures of bin Laden, and they were 99 percent sure that they had the right guy.

Now they've used DNA evidence, and they are very certain. We also know that Osama bin Laden's body has been buried at sea. Muslim custom dictates that bodies be buried within one day and last night, administration officials made a point of saying that they respect those customs, and that they were going to treat the body accordingly.

MONTAGNE: OK. So those are some of the facts. Let's turn to some of the politics of this event. How big a victory is this for the president?

LIASSON: It's a huge victory. He is the president who got Osama bin Laden, and three presidents have been trying to get him - for many years. This is a huge national security victory. It's generated some headlines that some people thought they'd never see, such as Cheney Congratulates Obama.

So very big victory for him. And he took a big risk. He decided not to bomb the compound. He wanted to make sure that he got Osama bin Laden, so he took the riskier decision of sending the Navy Seals, by helicopter, into the compound. He exercised leadership by taking a risk - because this could have ended up like Desert One, with Jimmy Carter's helicopters stranded in the desert, or Black Hawk Down.

And there was a moment last night, we know, when one of the helicopters malfunctioned. It - one of the blades might have hit a wall in the compound, but it had to be abandoned. And the president, who was monitoring this from the White House - everyone really had a tense moment then. They all were thinking of Black Hawk Down and Desert One. But as it turns out, the pilot and the men got out of the helicopter fine. They blew it up, and they went on their mission.

MONTAGNE: So - and also, Mara, when you say this goes back three presidents, it's a reminder that this hunt for Obama - sorry, this hunt for bin Laden -goes back to President Clinton.

LIASSON: That's right. It goes back to President Clinton. There have been many attempts to get him, and they have failed. And now, President Obama is the man who got Osama bin Laden.

MONTAGNE: And what effect might this have on his presidency, going forward?

LIASSON: Well, it's going to have - we don't know exactly what kind of effect, but we know it's going to have a big one. First of all, there's the simple fact that this is going to dominate the news for quite some time, and I think that that's a good thing for him. Eventually, it will fade away, and gas prices and the economy and the deficit will be the issues that the 2012 election will be decided on. But for a while, this is a very good thing.

It also allows him to stress the theme of unity. In his remarks last night, he said: Remember after 9/11 when the country came together. And he acknowledged, yes, that unity has frayed a bit. But this gives him an opportunity, and I wouldn't be surprised if you hear him talking about this theme tonight, today, and in the days ahead - this was his signature theme.

He was elected as the man who could bridge partisan divisions. And it turns out that tonight, he had already invited the bipartisan leadership of Congress to come up and have dinner with him and the first lady. This is a social dinner. This is the kind of outreach, social outreach, that his news chief of staff, Bill Daley, has encouraged him to do.

And it turns out that they're coming up just 24 hours after bin Laden has been killed, and he'll make remarks at that dinner. And the timing of the dinner is important because later this week - on Thursday - the vice president is going to start budget negotiations with the leaders of both parties in Congress, seeing if they can find a way to avert a default on the United States' debt.

So this is a good start to those negotiations. It will certainly give the president a boost.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much, Mara. That's NPR's Mara Liasson, joining us live from the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.