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Belmont Club

Of Skulls and Podiums

October 9th, 2012 - 2:24 am

Chris Rock tweeted shortly after the first Obama-Romney debate that “Obama is bringing Bin Laden’s skull & setting it on the podium for the next debate.” But Mitt Romney‘s speech attacking the president’s foreign policy serves notice that Osama’s skull may not be enough to keep him back; the criticism he delivered suggests he’s going to mix it up.

Andrew Sullivan, who only a few days ago was serenely confident in his champion, is so traumatized that he can barely stand to watch Obama climb back into the ring.

Look: I’m trying to rally some morale, but I’ve never seen a candidate this late in the game, so far ahead, just throw in the towel in the way Obama did last week – throw away almost every single advantage he had with voters and manage to enable his opponent to seem as if he cares about the middle class as much as Obama does. How do you erase that imprinted first image from public consciousness: a president incapable of making a single argument or even a halfway decent closing statement?

It’s a sight he’s trying to forget. But Sullivan’s always looking to throw away information. The image he ought to be trying fix in his mind shouldn’t be of Obama wilting under Romney’s humorous chafing but of Obama alone with Putin; of Obama alone with the Chinese premier; of Obama alone with representatives of America’s enemies and rivals without Jim Lehrer to help him out.

Some people haven’t forgotten the president’s meltdown though. He was in L.A. trying to convince big donors to keep backing him and vowing to “close the deal.” With a billion dollars of campaign money riding on him, Obama knows he’s going to disappoint a lot of people who aren’t used to being disappointed if he doesn’t come out swinging against Romney.

One complicating factor now weighing on his shoulders is whether to order drone strikes on the suspected perpetrators of the Benghazi attack. Eli Lake says “five administration officials tell The Daily Beast that the White House is now weighing whether to pursue those responsible through law enforcement or via military means like drone strikes or special operations.” In what has come to be the characteristic absurdity of his administration, the secret operation was being discussed in the New York Times.

The existence of the list was first reported this week by The New York Times. It was compiled with input from several U.S. intelligence agencies and is being constantly revised and edited as new information comes in to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. Some U.S. intelligence officials say there is enough detail to begin military operations to kill or capture 10 of the operatives tied to the planning of the attack.

Television has Reality TV. The Obama administration has Reality Secret Ops. The president’s dilemma is exquisite. If he doesn’t act now, the targets may scatter. If he acts now, he may hit the wrong people and start another crisis in the Middle East.

The delay from the White House could allow specific intelligence on the locations of suspects to whither on the vine if the suspects flee the country and evade detection, according to three U.S. intelligence officials working closely on the manhunt in Libya …

“There is always the risk of flight in a situation like this,” this official said. “But it’s probably worth doing right and waiting a bit and trying to get more intel on these guys. You have to worry about relationships. If you do the wrong thing, the ramifications could be serious.” The U.S. intelligence officer said the information on the 10 suspects was “good enough to authorize action if this was Pakistan or Afghanistan.”…

But there is no agreement between the U.S. and Libya to allow the kinds of drone strikes that have become common in the border provinces of Pakistan and lawless regions of Yemen.

Good thing the rebels in Libya don’t read the New York Times. Still, a legend built on a single deed is a fragile thing. There is no depth to it; no reserve of achievement that can be called upon in time of need. The veneer of fiction, once scratched, must instantly be japanned to cover the defect.

Here’s a thought. What Andrew Sullivan saw being pummeled in public last week was the real Obama not the one who is petulantly withholding his genius. The same incompetent he trusts to keep him safe; the very same one who is making the decision on Libya and the one he hopes will win an election to another four-year term.  You know, the Billion Dollar Man. Maybe Chris Rock has got it all wrong. It’s not Osama’s skull that is in  the president’s hands. It’s our skulls that are in his keeping. People knew that once, back when they remembered that being president was a deadly serious job.


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