The president is due praise, but the self-congratulation reveals a sad truth about the expectations for liberal presidents.
My first reaction upon hearing of Osama Bin Laden’s death was sheer, unadulterated joy – a monster was dead, with a bullet through the head. A just end to an evil human being. My only regret was that Bin Laden didn’t suffer more before meeting his forty virgins.
I was also filled with gratitude to President Obama for authorizing the trigger pull. My wife and I were at Disneyland when we heard the news, and I immediately whipped out my cell phone and tweeted, “Obama deserves all credit for pulling the trigger as Clinton never could.”
Then I watched President Obama’s speech, and realized that he didn’t need me to give him credit – he was too busy taking it for himself. “[S]hortly after taking office,” Obama informed the American public, “I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda.” This is 20/20 hindsight triumphalism at best – if Obama truly informed the CIA director that Bin Laden was at the top of the priority list at a time when the figurehead leader was holed up without telephone or internet, and when we were at full-scale war with al Qaeda across the Middle East, it demonstrates his lack of understanding about the nature of the terrorist threat rather than his determination.
Obama continued, “I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located Bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action … Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan …” These, naturally, are all functions the president of the United States is expected to perform. Obama felt it necessary to enumerate them only for purposes of self-aggrandizement.
It is unseemly for the Commander in Chief to take personal credit for the operations of the U.S. military. And make no mistake – that is precisely what he did. Obama and his team are the heroes of this drama, at least according to Obama and his team. All that was missing from this little laundry list of braggadocio was a personal description of the operation itself: “As I gazed through the sites of my sniper rifle at Bin Laden and waited for that brief pause between heartbeats …”
Obama’s fans, like Obama himself, are entranced with Obama’s supposed personal victory here. The incoming chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has already given Obama full credit for the kill. So has Andrew Sullivan, who posted a picture of Obama with the caption, “Sorry it took so long to get you a copy of my birth certificate … I was too busy killing Osama bin Laden.” (Apparently, Obama had no such time crunch preventing him from repeat appearances on Oprah.)
This is unserious and unbecoming for the left. There are certain events for which Obama deserves credit, and certain events for which he does not. First and foremost, Obama deserves credit for authorizing the kill. President Clinton supposedly could have authorized a kill shot on Bin Laden several times, and let each and every one of those opportunities slip away. Obama made no such mistake. Of course, it’s setting a rather low bar to congratulate a president for granting authority to take a shot at the face of 21st century evil incarnate. The fact that so many Americans feel proud of Obama for greenlighting the hit simply demonstrates the depths of pusillanimity to which the presidency has sunk over the past twenty years.
Second, Obama deserves credit for keeping the operation secret from the Pakistanis. Obama’s Pakistani policy has been schizophrenic at best – he funds the government to the tune of billions each year (he raised Pakistani foreign aid by 36 percent his first year in office), but routinely utilizes drone strikes to go after targets the Pakistani military won’t. Even in his Bin Laden speech, Obama clung to the bizarre notion that the Pakistani government had been helpful -- “our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden” – although by all indicators, the government knew exactly where Bin Laden was for years. Still, Obama should be feted for authorizing a U.S. military mission inside Pakistan without clearing it with that corrupt government.
Third, Obama deserves credit for his handling of the Bin Laden corpse. Dumping Bin Laden’s body in the ocean is a beautiful way of preventing enshrinement (although it would have been nice if Obama had avoided any talk of corpse treatment in the first place, since the Muslim community has, predictably enough, protested anyway).
There are also certain events for which Obama does not deserve credit. It was Bush-era intelligence that led to Bin Laden’s death, gathered via methods Obama ripped time and time again, and which led to threats of prosecution for those who gathered it; it was Bush-era institutions like Guantanamo Bay, which Obama attempted to shut down, that allowed such intelligence to be gathered. It was the U.S. military that planned and operated this operation, not the White House. It was Bush who initiated drone strikes in Pakistan; Obama wisely followed course and upped the ante. Yet Obama mentioned Bush only once in speech, and there it was merely to cite him in support of the proposition that America is not at war with Islam.
When the military found Saddam Hussein hiding in a spider hole in Iraq in 2005, President George W. Bush announced that “United States military forces captured Saddam Hussein alive.” He announced that the success of the mission was “a tribute to our men and women now serving in Iraq.” When he used “we,” he specifically lumped himself in with Americans. There was no personal triumphalism, nor was there any minute-by-minute rundown of his authorization of any specific actions. Bush was expected to take actions in the best interest of the United States. He did, and Saddam was captured, tried, and executed.
The same holds true of Obama. Any reflexive horn-tooting on the part of Obama or his supporters reinforces the soft bigotry of low expectations for liberal presidents. Any president of the United States should be expected to do his utmost to root out enemies of the United States and authorize their killing or capture. That the killing of Bin Laden was accomplished under Obama’s Administration should surely redound to his benefit – but any exclusive credit-taking on his part or on the part of his backers blemishes what should be a joyous day for all Americans, especially all of those who deserve credit for this tremendous achievement.
Ben Shapiro is an attorney and writer and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, and author of the upcoming book “Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How The Left Took Over Your TV” from Broadside Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.