One interesting note: It turns out that the famed “gutsy call” by Obama wasn’t quite what it was presented to be:
Today, Time magazine got hold of a memo written by then-CIA head Leon Panetta after he received orders from Barack Obama’s team to greenlight the bin Laden mission. Here’s the text, which summarized the situation:
Received phone call from Tom Donilon who stated that the President made a decision with regard to AC1 [Abbottabad Compound 1]. The decision is to proceed with the assault.
The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven’s hands. The approval is provided on the risk profile presented to the President. Any additional risks are to be brought back to the President for his consideration. The direction is to go in and get bin Laden and if he is not there, to get out. Those instructions were conveyed to Admiral McRaven at approximately 10:45 am.
This, of course, was the famed “gutsy call.” Here’s what Tom Hanks narrated in Obama’s campaign film, “The Road We’ve Traveled”:
HANKS: Intelligence reports locating Osama Bin Laden were promising, but inconclusive, and there was internal debate as to what the President should do.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: We sat down in the Situation Room, the entire national security apparatus was in that room, and the President turns to every principal in the room, every secretary, “What do you recommend I do?” And they say, “Well, forty-nine percent chance he’s there, fifty-one … it’s a close call, Mr. President.” As he walked out the room, it dawned on me, he’s all alone. This is his decision. If he was wrong, his Presidency was done. Over.
Only the memo doesn’t show a gutsy call. It doesn’t show a president willing to take the blame for a mission gone wrong. It shows a CYA maneuver by the White House.
The memo puts all control in the hands of Admiral McRaven – the “timing, operational decision making and control” are all up to McRaven. So the notion that Obama and his team were walking through every stage of the operation is incorrect. The hero here was McRaven, not Obama. And had the mission gone wrong, McRaven surely would have been thrown under the bus.
I’m not sure that if the mission had gone south that McRaven would have been a fall guy. No one — not even the press — would have let Obama get away with that. Still, hard to see how much blame he would have gotten for failure after 10 years of missing the boat on getting Bin Laden. It was a very low risk operation politically speaking and the upside, as we have seen, was fleeting.