Despite the ever-shifting narratives issuing from the Obama administration, a couple of facts remain unchanged: (a) The Americans found bin Laden; and (b) a cadre of daring U.S. warriors killed him in a commando raid fraught with risk. Congratulations to those who carried out this difficult operation. As we might say, “Mission Accomplished … but the longer war continues.”
While also extending gratitude to the commander-in-chief for approving the operation, it is all but impossible to ignore the fact that Obama’s “greatest triumph” never would have come about had he and the other politicians shown in the official White House photo (taken inside the Situation Room as the events unfolded in real-time) been successful in dismantling the policies of their predecessors. This operation demonstrated that — contrary to what we too often have heard from this administration — American exceptionalism still lives. Yet it likely would not have occurred had Senators Obama, Clinton, and Biden had their respective ways prior to the election in 2008. Their blistering denunciations of the Bush-era policies established post 9-11 have proven to be wrong. That the fruits of these policies, so mercilessly pilloried by Obama, form the foundation for Obama’s “greatest triumph” is rich in irony.
Regarding the timing of the mission (and grumbling behind the scenes that suggests the president was a reluctant decision-maker and belatedly forced to act), there is little reason at this point to question it. Some may continue to accuse Obama of unreasonable dithering — and such accusations may be merited — but the criticism is largely moot given the successful outcome of the raid. At the same time, it was neither particularly courageous nor “gutsy” (a favored word among the Obama faithful) to have ordered this mission when he did. Almost every American faced with the situation as it has been presented to date would have acted in much the same manner — and many might have acted far more quickly. In truth, one could argue that Obama had reached the point where he had no choice but to act. If for months prior to May 1, 2011, Obama had known bin Laden’s location with reasonable certainty, his failure to take action would have constituted gross malfeasance had the opportunity been lost because Obama could never bring himself to make a decision.
One need not be a cynic to view Obama’s action in the following way: If in the lead up to November 6, 2012, the American voters had learned that bin Laden had been comfortably residing for years in Abbottabad and information leaked that Obama — despite having been presented with three different plans to take him out — had failed to act, any hope for Obama’s re-election would evaporate. Thus, is it so far off the mark to conclude that Obama, in approving this mission, was acting almost, if not entirely, in a purely political manner?
To his credit, Obama pulled the proverbial trigger. That is a good thing. The only decision point for Obama, however, was to select one of the three methods presented to him: (1) a bomb delivered from thousands of feet above Abbottabad; (2) a commando raid conducted with Pakistani assistance; or (3) a raid comprised of an all-American team inserted into Pakistan without any prior notice given to the Pakistani government. That Obama made a good — and lucky — choice goes without saying. But he may have been inches from losing up to ten or more of our most valuable operatives when the first bird went down; and was perhaps one additional helicopter accident away from pure disaster. Moreover, had there been a few more minutes delay in leaving the compound, our SEALs might have faced a deadly confrontation with Pakistani aircraft, reportedly scrambled to respond to unknown and uninvited intruders. The ramifications are almost unthinkable had the Pakistanis shot one of our choppers out of the sky including the one ferrying bin Laden’s body.
It is noteworthy that Secretary of Defense Gates reportedly favored the first option (bombing). It will be of interest to learn who within Obama’s inner circle favored the method eventually selected. As for the president, he certainly had the overall responsibility — as well as the lives of our men — on his shoulders. That is no small thing. But a man who deserves equal credit for the success of this mission is today living quietly in retirement in Texas. It would be nice for Obama to acknowledge that man publicly.
Another interesting question is this: Will bin Laden’s death make the world a safer place?
It undoubtedly is a better place; but I suspect we are years if not decades away from knowing whether civilized peoples will be safer because of his death. What we do know is that the President Bush bequeathed to Obama the indispensable tools his administration needed to carry out this mission. Sadly, Obama’s own policies since being elected will make more difficult the achievement of future successes of the nature Obama, today, claims as his own.
One final observation: Why did Obama elect to make the announcement of bin Laden’s death? Why not, instead, send out CIA Director Leon Panetta, or Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, or — perhaps the best option of all — General David Petraeus? One can argue the announcement, coming as it did from the American president himself, unduly elevated the status of bin Laden to the entire world. This may be one unfortunate fall-out from the president’s decision since, by all accounts, the mythology surrounding bin Laden was in sharp decline. That Obama chose to interrupt the nation late on a Sunday evening to personally convey the news that bin Laden was dead may have the unintended effect of reversing that decline. Indeed, one could argue that the importance Obama has showered on this event has needlessly reinvigorated the mythology of a madman. It’s all second-guessing, but in my view the wisest choice would have been to send out General Petraeus, the senior military leader in Afghanistan and the new CIA director-designate, to make the following announcement: “Osama bin Laden is dead. We got him. Details will follow once the brave Americans who carried out this mission have been fully debriefed.”
And to the White House public relations folks, for this and all future administrations, I offer one small suggestion: When events of similar gravity occur down the road, please consider taking a photograph in the Situation Room where the commander-in-chief is shown observing them while standing on his feet. The official White House photo showing the CiC hunkering in the background does little to inspire confidence that he was in control of anything, much less the mission. Thank goodness our Navy SEALs were.