One year ago today, under the cover of darkness, a Navy SEAL team stormed a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, with intelligence that the man responsible for the September 11th attacks was inside. Less than an hour later, their mission was accomplished: Osama bin Laden was dead. In the days and weeks after, it was revealed that the operation wasn’t an easy one; in fact, there was great risk. As more and more details revealed the mission was more and more treacherous, Americans everywhere expressed gratitude and admiration primarily towards the SEALs who carried out the mission.
President Obama also got some of the credit and some of the gratitude, in the form of an approval ratings boost and a solid (to say the least) foreign policy credential to use in his reelection campaign. But even though the killing of Osama bin Laden was easily his best political victory in over a year, President Obama made sure to raise his voice over the celebrating crowds to caution that “we don’t need to spike the football.”
Which is why I was surprised to find him doing just that for cheap political points.
As far as my personal role and what other folks would do, I’d just recommend that everybody take a look at people’s previous statements in terms of whether they thought it was appropriate to go into Pakistan and take out Bin Laden,” Obama said. “I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. That’s been at least my practice. 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 would do something else, then I’d go ahead and let them explain it.
Let me be clear: President Obama absolutely deserves credit for making the decision to go into Pakistan to take out bin Laden. Not only did Obama decide to go in, he also decided to do so via ground forces rather than a drone or air strike. Going in at all was risky: even with a drone attack, President Obama ran the risk of a national security embarrassment or jeopardizing military technology secrets. Going in on the ground was even more risky, and had the mission not succeeded, Obama would have been criticized for a blunder in foreign policy, an exposure of defense secrets (the tail of the crashed helicopter) and possibly the loss of one or more brave soldiers. Obama’s decision wasn’t easy, but he made it, and make no mistake, he made the right one. This is absolutely something he should be showing the American people as a prime example of his decision making and why it can’t hurt to have four more years of it.
But he didn’t do it alone, and instead of taking the victory as a victory for the country, attacked Mitt Romney on out-of-context quotes that suggest Mitt Romney wouldn’t have gone in after bin Laden. The message first came out in a web commercial, but Obama confirmed his administration’s stance on the issue with his words today. The premise is sort of ridiculous as it is: President Obama spends most of his time overseas apologizing for the U.S., barely stood up to Libya, wouldn’t stand up to Syria or Iran, and doesn’t quite know how to deal with Pakistan or North Korea, but yet here he is suggesting his opponent is weak on national security, so weak that he wouldn’t go after bin Laden given the chance.
There were a lot of elected and unelected officials who gathered, collated and analyzed intelligence that led to bin Laden’s whereabouts. There were more elected and unelected officials who coordinated and executed Operation Geronimo. President Obama’s role was important, of course. But if Mitt Romney was present, many of those same officials, assuming they found the same information, would have made the same recommendation. Romney and Obama rarely get along, but if they were presented the same evidence, they’d agree on the action. The President is a smart man, he knows this; so the only explanation for his statements is that he saw an opportunity to score some quick political points against his opponent, and might have seen that maybe this is the best chance he’s got.
President Obama likes to compare himself to Abraham Lincoln and other great Presidents, and as I read his words today I was reminded of this quote from Abraham Lincoln:
I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.
Lincoln’s words show incredible humility on the part of the Commander-in-Chief. It suggests that while Lincoln tried his best, he knew that some things were bigger even than him. He implies that although he was in office for the Civil War, any man who was in that office would have navigated the War with success because he was just a small part on a larger team. By suggesting that Romney wouldn’t have taken out bin Laden, President Obama is suggesting that he is the only man who could have made that decision (at least, between him and Romney). And rather than just taking the win for the American people, Obama has taken the win and stuffed it down the throats of his opponent.
If that’s not spiking the football, I don’t know what is.