Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is never pleasant to observe, especially when it is an American President doing the snatching. President Obama was running strong:
1. He just announced The Dream Team taking over the Afghan campaign,
2. He launched a unilateral direct action mission deep into Pakistan to kill bin Laden.
This bold move, in view of we have seen from President Obama during the uprisings in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Iran and Libya, was decidedly out of character. Then came the press conference, and what should have been a moment of national unity and catharsis has festered into a case study in self-inflicted PR wounds. Only today’s obituary (courtesy of al Qaeda) has managed to quell most of what were increasing doubts in this part of the world that OBL is really dead when there was no doubt about it on Monday. Even worse, the story has now begun to focus on the legality of the assaulters shooting an unarmed bin Laden. It seems to me that the president will exit this news cycle with lower numbers then he entered it with, which is a stunning accomplishment of incompetence.
I watched the President’s news conference live on the internet and it was the strangest Presidential announcement I have ever seen. He could have buttressed his leadership role more forcibly had he confined his remarks to the remarkable efforts of the thousands of people working on this mission for the past 7 + years. Boasting that his absolute confidence in the military to enact this bold plan was justified when they lost one of their insert birds but still completed the mission, and extracted all hands without delay or injuries. That would have reflected the boldness of his personal decision for all to see without him saying anything about himself. But no, Obama couldn’t bring himself to do that… Then the team started leaking details about the mission, which even now are changing daily. They had no need to elaborate on one damn aspect of the mission -namely: we sent in the SEALs, they shot Osama bin Laden in the face, took his body, dumped it into ocean, didn’t take any casualties and left his women and children (minus his adult son) alive. That is all they had to say; the huge advantage of employing JSOC is that all of them have Top Secret security clearances and cannot (nor would not) leak any details to anyone outside of their elite community. The fleshed out story of what happened will come out in time but right now nobody needs to know the details. The mission was impressive enough; the less you say the better- especially because we caught Pakistan with their pants down but still need them if we plan to feed and equip the 200,000 or so troops and contractors currently in Afghanistan.
When the Pakistanis said there were no weapons on the men in bin Laden’s compound, the president could merely have replied “Of course the SEAL’s took all the weapons with them, and by the way, that little AK that Osama was so fond of being photographed with? I’m having the SEAL’s fly it down to President Bush as a fitting addition to his Presidential library for the work he did to hunt him down”. How presidential would Obama appear now if he had said that?
Killing bin Laden is, to use the words of our Vice President, a “Big F___ing Deal”. It leaves the government of Pakistan with a lot of explaining to do, it enables us to define a more acceptable end state, it should allow us to send in our best civ/mil team (Allen and Crocker) with a plan to scale down our massive involvement in Afghanistan and get most of our people out of here. This raid has put us squarely in the drivers seat, but now it is the Obama administration doing the explaining, changing, rearranging their story, spinning like tops and one has to wonder why?
The United Kingdom Mail Online posted a story this morning which may explain some of the confusion at the top. Obama took 16 hours to make the decision according to the article; we were ready to go as early as Thursday. That is not the end of the world – it was a tough decision; a lot of things could have gone wrong. But the mail story got me (and millions of others) surfing the net looking for more detail where I found this link on the wall of The Mark Levine Show facebook page. Check this out:
“I was told in these exact terms, we overruled him. (Obama) I have since followed up and received further details on exactly what that meant, as well as the specifics of how Leon Panetta worked around the president’s persistent hesitation to act. There appears NOT to have been an outright overruling of any specific position by President Obama, simply because there was no specific position from the president to do so. President Obama was, in this case, as in all others, working as an absentee president.”
The link above has popped up all over the internet but I don’t believe it. I think Obama will go down in history as the worst president we have suffered through in my lifetime but even he can’t possibly be as clueless and cowardly as portrayed in the account of an alleged “Washington Insider”. Makes you wonder who wrote those posts and what their political ties are, doesn’t it? It seems that the hosting website has a strong liberal orientation and the first name to pop into my head was H. Clinton.
In Afghanistan, the reaction to Osama’s death was the same as it was Salida, Colorado; nothing. I was in Zaranj when the news broke and aside from being congratulated by my Afghan and Pakistani project managers, not a peep from anyone around me. Killing bin Laden was a huge victory for Americans because it was personal for us but the Afghans, having a much more pragmatic view of the event, immediately concluded that killing bin Laden will make it easier for us to leave. They are correct, but they don’t know how this is going to play out, and neither do I.
It doesn’t have to be this way; we should be letting the successful hunting down and killing of bin Laden re-energize our efforts and refocus our mission while leveraging this impressive achievement with our political “allies” Pakistan and Afghanistan. But we lost control of the story because the administration has too much invested in the on-going investigation of the very intelligence people who extracted the information that started this hunt. The administration has too much invested in the narrative that George Bush and Dick Cheney were off the reservation, acting illegally and recklessly when they set up the enhanced interrogation program. Now the president lectures us about the Osama death photos, saying “We don’t need to spike the football” that as Americans “we don’t do that”. Don’t do what? What the hell is he talking about?
An experienced leader would know a thing or two about how not to let a huge victory go to waste. He would also know that those photos will leak at some point in the future and frankly there is nothing he can do to stop it. President Obama might well have used this remarkable event to elevate his stature and to seal another election victory, but only if he was big enough to act like the leader of the most powerful nation on earth. As the leader, he could have focused his praise on the people who worked years to put us in the position where we could launch the raid. Months ago when the mission started to come together, he could have told the Attorney General to quietly drop the investigations targeting the very people who performed the enhanced interrogations. He could have positioned himself to use this victory as a blunt instrument with which to forward the goals of the United States throughout this entire region. What other country can work ten years at tracking down one man and when they find him fly stealth helicopters into the middle of another country to shoot him in the face? We’re so bad ass that we sent sailors to do the shooting – that’s how deep our bench is.
Instead of re-election; what he is going to get in 2012 is exactly what I believe he wants – he’ll get to be an ex-president. Wealth and affluence beyond his wildest dreams, surrounded daily by the pomp and circumstance of an ex-head of state, super cool Secret Service detail for the rest of his life, and above all, no responsibility or accountability to anyone other than Barack H. Obama. I’m sure he can’t wait and neither can I.