Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Obama's spiked football

Michael Mukasey, who served as Bush's attorney general after the unlamented departure of Alberto Gonzales, rightly smacks down Obama's self-praise for ordering the raid on bin Laden's compound and the entire approach the Obama administration has taken towards intelligence.
Moreover, the president does not seem to have addressed at all the possibility of seizing material with intelligence value—which may explain his disclosure immediately following the event not only that bin Laden was killed, but also that a valuable trove of intelligence had been seized, including even the location of al Qaeda safe-houses. That disclosure infuriated the intelligence community because it squandered the opportunity to exploit the intelligence that was the subject of the boast.

The only reliable weapon that any administration has against the current threat to this country is intelligence. Every operation like the one against bin Laden (or the one that ended the career of Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. citizen and al Qaeda propagandist killed in a drone attack last September) dips into the reservoir of available intelligence. Refilling that reservoir apparently is of no importance to an administration that, after an order signed by the president on his second day in office, has no classified interrogation program—and whose priorities are apparent from its swift decision to reopen investigations of CIA operators for alleged abuses in connection with the classified interrogation program that once did exist.
Mukasey rightly compares Obama's self-congratulation and focus on himself in how he emphasized his own role in the killing of bin Laden rather than focusing his praise to those who gathered the intelligence, planned the attack, and carried it out.
While contemplating how the killing of bin Laden reflects on the president, consider the way he emphasized his own role in the hazardous mission accomplished by SEAL Team 6:

"I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority . . . even as I continued our broader effort. . . . Then, after years of painstaking work by my intelligence community I was briefed . . . I met repeatedly with my national security team . . . And finally last week I determined that I had enough intelligence to take action. . . . Today, at my direction . . ."
Mukasey draws the contrast with other great leaders at similar moments of triumph in their presidencies. Just think of how Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural, given at a time when the collapse of the Confederacy was imminent, spent his speech contemplating how slavery was "somehow the cause of the war," and how the "scourge of war" would last "until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword." And then he went on to ask for "malice toward none, with charity for all" as we fought on until the end of the war. Every time I teach Lincoln's Second Inaugural, I marvel at the modesty of that speech and how Lincoln took a moment when any other president might rightly have taken the opportunity to praise himself and the course he took to stick out the fighting even at the lowest moments when so many in the North advised some sort of negotiated conclusion and instead spent the address to contemplate the country's sin of slavery and how this war was God's righteous reaction to that offense. And he concluded by attempting to bring the nation together just as the war was going to force the country back together.

No such grace for Obama. Mukasey reminds us of how George W. Bush announced the capture of Saddam Hussein. Note the contrast to Obama's announcement.
The man from whom President Obama has sought incessantly to distance himself, George W. Bush, also had occasion during his presidency to announce to the nation a triumph of intelligence: the capture of Saddam Hussein. He called that success "a tribute to our men and women now serving in Iraq." He attributed it to "the superb work of intelligence analysts who found the dictator's footprints in a vast country. The operation was carried out with skill and precision by a brave fighting force. Our servicemen and women and our coalition allies have faced many dangers. . . . Their work continues, and so do the risks."

He did mention himself at the end: "Today, on behalf of the nation, I thank the members of our Armed Forces and I congratulate them."
While the orders for the raid on bin Laden's compound included an escape clause that put the responsibility on Admiral McRaven for the "operational decision making and control" and the presentation of the "risk profile" given to the President, contrast that with Eisenhower's behavior on the eve of ordering the D-Day landings.
Dwight Eisenhower is famous for having penned a statement to be issued in anticipation of the failure of the Normandy invasion that reads in relevant part: "My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."

A week later, when the success of the invasion was apparent, Eisenhower saluted the Allied Expeditionary Forces: "One week ago this morning there was established through your coordinated efforts our first foothold in northwestern Europe. High as was my preinvasion confidence in your courage, skill and effectiveness . . . your accomplishments . . . have exceeded my brightest hopes.

Eisenhower did mention himself at the end: "I truly congratulate you upon a brilliantly successful beginning. . . . Liberty loving people everywhere would today like to join me in saying to you, 'I am proud of you.'"

Such examples are worth remembering every time President Obama claims bin Laden bragging rights.
Is Obama spiking the football in Romney's face because that is the only thing he has left to run on?
The increasingly unavoidable conclusion is that this is the only thing this President thinks he can campaign on. ObamaCare and the stimulus, his two main legislative achievements, are unpopular. Even liberals say Dodd-Frank didn't solve the too-big-to-fail bank problem. Two-thirds of the country thinks the economy is still in recession.

Ergo, wave the bloody shalwar kameez of bin Laden in a way that would have got Karl Rove hooted out of Washington had he tried anything remotely like it.

Voters aren't likely to believe that any Presidential candidate would fail to pursue the man who killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11. But there is a danger in all of this for the incumbent in the White House.

One of Barack Obama's remaining campaign advantages is that most people still like and respect him personally. Lose that advantage, and we wouldn't want to be the campaign strategist who has to break his fall.
And now he has repeated his criticism of Romney from the White House during a joint press conference with the prime minister of Japan.
"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 to take out bin Laden," Obama said, obviously taking a shot at Romney. "I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. And that's been at least my practice. I said that I would 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."

The president was visibly smirking as he made today's statement. It also mirrors a campaign ad the president released Friday, which likewise suggests that Romney wouldn't have killed bin Laden if he, as commander in chief, would have been in the same position.
How crass to issue such a crack during a joint White House press conference. The man has no class or sense of what is appropriate in a true leader. Even present and former Navy SEALs are saying enough is enough.

Obama's need to not only take credit for the attack on bin Laden but then to try and argue that somehow he knows that Mitt Romney wouldn't have ordered the attack in a similar situation has distracted from the praise that Obama is due for the death of bin Laden. His spiked football, that he told us Americans didn't need to do, has muddied Obama's message. But then grace and modesty are not characteristics that have ever been associated with Barack Obama.