The Osama Hit -- It Wasn't a Gutsy Call

Even Carter would have made it.

Any reasonably astute observer of politics knew within hours of Osama Bin Laden’s killing that President Obama would take as much credit for the hit as humanly possible. What we didn’t know is that he’d turn it into a full-blown campaign issue – and that in the process, we’d find that he fulfilled all our worst fears about his weakness in the first place.

This week, President Obama’s campaign put out an ad suggesting that had Mitt Romney been President of the United States, he wouldn’t have authorized the mission to “get Bin Laden.” That ad featured Bill Clinton – yes, the same Bill Clinton who routinely missed opportunities to get Bin Laden – stating that Obama took “the harder and the more honorable path.” Then these words appear on the screen: “Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?”

The answer: the same path as every President of the United States in the history of the country. Even Jimmy Carter (as Romney said)  would have had no problem making this call. The fact that we were all surprised – and face it, we were – when President Obama ordered the hit is evidence that we didn’t expect him to do the right thing.

In fact, as the evidence shows, Obama did the right thing  only after safely ensuring that should anything go awry, he’d have someone to blame. Here’s the memo that then-CIA head Leon Panetta wrote about the Obama order:

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.

Notice anything odd here? There are a few elements that are strange. First, Obama places all operational authority under Admiral McRaven (who, by the way, received exactly zero credit in any of this). To ensure that Obama would be able to throw McRaven under the bus should things go south, he spelled out that the approval was based only on the “risk profile presented to the President.” Any additional risks were to be “brought back to the President for his consideration.”

This is strange language. Typically, it is understood that a president is giving orders based on the risk profile presented – what else would he give approval for an operation based upon? The extra sentence here spelling out how Obama might stop the mission if the risk profile changed  is extraneous. More than that, it’s troubling – military situations are always fluid, and the risk profile constantly changes. Were the military to update President Obama with every change in risk profile, the operation would never take place.

But Obama did want the operation to take place. He just wanted to be able to cover himself if things went wrong. He could always say that the risk profile had changed and that he wasn’t informed. He could blame Panetta or McRaven.

That, of course, has been President Obama’s M.O. throughout his presidency on foreign policy. When he gave the military fewer  troops than requested in Afghanistan, he blamed it on his generals. When things go poorly in Afghanistan, it’s Bush’s fault. Everything is always someone else’s fault. But when things go right, he takes all the credit. In Obama’s new opinion, he’s the only man who would have made the call to get Bin Laden. As he said this week, “I said that I'd go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him, and I did. If there are others who have said one thing and now suggest they'd do something else, then I'd go ahead and let them explain it.”

Even Ariana Huffington finds Obama’s grandstanding on this issue despicable.  And so, apparently, do a number of  Navy SEALs, who usually remain anonymous and silent for the most part, but have spoken out on this occasion.  As Toby Harnden of the UK Daily Mail reported, “Ryan Zinke, a former Commander n the US Navy who spent 23 years as a SEAL and led a SEAL Team 6 assault unit, said: ‘The decision was a no brainer. I applaud him for making it but I would not overly pat myself on the back for making the right call. I think every president would have done the same.’” Zinke wasn’t the only SEAL speaking out. Harnden reports the words of Chris Kyle, a former SEAL sniper “with 160 confirmed and another 95 unconfirmed kills to his credit,” said “In years to come there is going to be information that will come out that Obama was not the man who made the call. He can say he did and the people who really know what happened are inside the Pentagon, are in the military and the military isn’t allowed to speak out against the commander- in-chief so his secret is safe.”

Not safe enough.  The way President Obama has turned the hit on bin Laden into a political issue has drained away the credit he deserved for ordering the mission in the first place.

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