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.
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