Mike Kueber's Blog

January 1, 2013

Sunday Book Review #94 – No Easy Day

No Easy Day is a military memoir by a former Navy SEAL.  It is subtitled, “The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden.”  Talk about an attention grabbing subtitle, and the book doesn’t disappoint.

The listed author of the book is Mark Owen, but that is a pseudonym, and according to Wikipedia, the author’s real name has been revealed to be Matt Bissonnette by an official al Qaeda website.  Since that revelation, Bissonnette has been threatened by al Qaeda for killing OBL and by the Defense Department for disclosing national-security secrets.

There is no exaggeration in the description of the book as a “firsthand account.”  Of the 22 SEALs who landed in Abbottabad, Bissonnette was the second of three who went up the staircase to the third floor, and this has to be the definitive version of how OBL died:

  • We were less than five steps from getting to the top when I heard suppressed shots.  BOP.  BOP.  The point man had seen a man peeking out of the door on the right side of the hallway about ten feet in front of him.  I couldn’t tell from my position if the rounds hit the target or not…. [after entering the room] the point man grabbed both women and drove them toward the corner of the room….  With the women out of the way, I entered the room with a third SEAL.  We saw the man lying on the floor….  The point man’s shots had entered the right side of his head.  Blood and brains spilled out the side of his skull.  In his death throes, he was still twitching and convulsing.  Another assaulter and I trained our lasers on his chest and fired several rounds.  The bullets tore into him, slamming his body into the floor until he was motionless.”

The other newsworthy item in the book relates to whether the so-called Operation Neptune Spear was a “kill mission.”  According to Bissonnette:

  • “Toward the end [of a briefing], a question was asked whether or not this was a kill mission.  A lawyer from either the Department of Defense or the White House made it clear this wasn’t an assassination.  ‘If he is naked with his hands up, you’re not going to engage him,’ he told us.  ‘I am not going to tell you how to do your job.  What we’re saying is if he does not pose a threat, you will detain him.’”

Based on this legal guidance, I suppose the point man was justified in taking the killing action that he did, but I’m not sure how Bissonnette justifies putting OBL out of his misery.

Among the less significant trivia in the book, Bissonnette points out that, not surprisingly for patriotic military men, “None of us were huge fans of Obama.”  During a subsequent Obama TV speech, one of the SEALs said, “You know we just put admiral’s stars on Jay.  And we just got this guy reelected.”  How true!  “GM is alive and bin Laden is dead” became Obama’s campaign battle cry, which reminds me of the greenhorn who got famous as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Bissonnette also describes meeting with Obama a few days after the killing – “I don’t recall much about the speech.  It was straight from the speechwriter playbook….  After the speech, we posed for a few pictures.  Biden kept cracking lame jokes that no one got.  He seemed like a nice guy, but he reminded me of someone’s drunken uncle at a Christmas dinner.”

Coincidentally, there is a brand new action-thriller movie called Zero Dark Thirty based on the search for and killing of OBL.  The movie, which doesn’t get to San Antonio until January 11, apparently focuses more on the search for OBL (including the so-called torture) and less on his killing, but I will be interested in seeing whether the movie-makers got the facts right without the benefit of reading No Easy Day.

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October 21, 2011

Celebrating the coup de grace of Moammar Gadhafi or worrying about the future of Libya

Filed under: Issues,Media,Politics,War — Mike Kueber @ 4:30 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

More and more often on weeknights, I find myself leaving FOX News shortly around 8:10 p.m.  After listening to right-leaning Bill O’Reilly off-and-on for an hour, I quickly tire of viewing far-right-leaning Sean Hannity and then start channel surfing.

My first stop is Piers Morgan on CNN.  Although he is a bit effeminate, he does good interviews if he has a good guest.  Unfortunately, he only rarely has a guest that I’m interested in listening to.

My next stop is usually Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.  Rachel is as far left as Hannity is far right, but she has a lot more sparkle in her personality, so a few minutes with her is usually more enjoyable than a few minutes with the dull Hannity.

I especially enjoyed Maddow tonight because she was waxing romantic over the killing of Moammar Gadhafi.  Her lengthy soliloquy was broken up only by a
conversation with an equally emotional Richard Engel.  Both individuals were nearly in tears of joy, not only because the wicked witch dead, but also because he had been killed by a collective of good guys and was being replaced by a bunch idealistic reformers.

When Maddow asked Engel about the new group in charge, Engel quickly admitted that they were highly religious Islamists, but these Muslims loved the Americans who helped them overthrow the evil Gadhafi.  Engels said he hadn’t had to pay for a cup of coffee in Libya for months.

While listening to Maddow and Engles, I couldn’t help but recall the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the greeting of Americans as liberators in Iraq.  The analogy was also similar in that Hussein was hiding in a spider-nest when he was captured while Gadhafi was pulled from hiding in a sewer.

Near the end of the hour, I changed channels back to FOX News and learned that Maddow might be sugar-coating things.  According to two FOX foreign-policy experts, America should be highly concerned about the people who will be running Libya.  Among other things, the country is a virtual munitions armory and the new leadership could do a variety of things with these armaments that could prove disastrous to America.  Who is right – FOX or Maddow?  I’ll find out tomorrow by getting outside the world of talk TV.

I finished my political fix for the night by listening to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  He was on the same page as Maddow and used a major portion of his show to make fun of the FOX fiends for begrudging Obama this unqualified success.  In fact, Stewart presented one of the most partisan, unfair segments that I have seen on The Daily Show.  He attempted to prove his point (a) by showing several clips of leading Republicans, like McCain and Rubio congratulating European countries, like France, Great Britain, and Italy and (b) by implying that America was actually the dominant power that brought down Gadhafi.

I haven’t been following Libya closely, but my understanding is that Europe, not America, played the dominant role in supporting the rebels in Libya and that Obama made America’s secondary status clear in his various communications.  Consistent with this position Maddow proudly pointed out during her soliloquy that America had never deployed a single combat troop in Libya.

During his Libya segment, Stewart criticized FOX for taking two inconsistent opinions – (a) the removal of Gadhafi may make things worse, and (b) we should have been able to remove him in one month instead of taking six months to do it.  I suggest that Stewart and Maddow are guilty of an analogous inconsistency in their positions – (a) Obama deserves credit for removing Gadhafi, and (b) America led from behind as part of a collective and we never seriously engaged militarily in Libya.

I’ve been a consistent supporter of America’s role in Libya, and I believe America should always prefer participating in a coalition instead of lone-rangering, so I completely agree with Maddow’s feeling good.  But even with MSNBC pundits saying “the war in Libya is over,” I think Americans should be reminded that despite the hoopla in the streets, “more work needs to be done.”

Someone famously told George Bush that if you break Iraq, it is yours.  That is why America’s huge short-term investment in overthrowing Saddam led to a huge long-term investment in the building of new Iraq.

By contrast, America made a relatively small short-term investment in overthrowing Moammar, but it is undecided whether America is going to make a long-term investment in the building of a new Libya.

We can start worrying about that tomorrow.  Tonight let’s just celebrate.

May 31, 2011

Foreign policy – above my pay grade

This past Sunday, “60 Minutes” included a segment that described the tough slogging in Afghanistan.  Coincidentally, at a Saturday bar-b-q I met an Army infantryman who had recently returned from Afghanistan.  Both “60 Minutes” and the infantryman told stories that were remarkably similar – i.e., the fighting is intense and Americans are decisively winning every battle and nearly all engagements, yet the enemy Taliban keeps coming.  Sounds like Vietnam, except that the American public is not being fed body counts.

Back in Vietnam days, the military publicized the enemy body count to show that we were winning the war, and the media publicized our body count to show that we were paying an exorbitant cost for our win.  Although the military has never publicized enemy body counts in Iraq or Afghanistan, the media publicized American body counts while their enemy Bush was in office, but discontinued the practice when their hero Obama took over the wars.

I usually take the position that foreign-policy decisions are above my pay grade and have previously recommended that politics should “end at the water’s edge.”  The war in Afghanistan is a perfect example of that.  If President Obama concludes that America should withdraw from Afghanistan now that Osama bin Laden has been killed and al Qaeda has been decimated, I will accept his judgment.  If he decides that we need to further decimate the Taliban, I will accept that, too.  I don’t think these options should be argued with the American public in the upcoming presidential election.

Israel v. Palestine is an exception to my rule that foreign-policy issues should play a role in domestic politics.  Because Jewish Americans have a special interest in America’s relationship with Israel, they will naturally comprise a large voting block that politicians will be tempted to pander to, not unlike the ethanol pandering that politicians do for the Iowa presidential caucus.

The best protection against that pandering is for the vast majority of voters, who aren’t a part of the special interest (whether pro-ethanol or pro-Israel) to punish the politician to panders.

May 17, 2011

The gutsy call

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is arguably the most respected American in public service, and he is preparing to resign next month after five years on the job of directing two wars.  Last night on “60 Minutes,” he had a quasi-exit interview by Katie Couric, the scourge of Sarah Palin.  Katie wasn’t as tough on SecDef Gates, whom she introduced by saying, “You are the ultimate soldier’s secretary.  

During the interview, Gates showed himself to be thoughtful and self-effacing, quite unlike his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld.  Everything Gates said made sense except his homage to President Obama for the assault on bin Laden.  In previous posts, I have suggested that the assault was a no-brainer, and blog readers responded that I was a rank partisan who refused to give credit where credit is due.  Add SecDef Gates to that camp of critics.

Gates, who has 30 years of public service and has worked for seven presidents, called the bin Laden mission one of the most courageous calls by a president.  He explained by noting that they weren’t even sure that bin Laden was in the compound – i.e., they had no direct evidence, only circumstantial evidence.  He also noted that there were consequences if the mission went badly.  And finally, there was the risk of lives.  Gates summed this up by saying, “It was a very gutsy call.”

If I had been Katie Couric, I would have followed up by asking, “If the call were so gutsy, so courageous, what alternative did you or anyone else suggest?  You have already said that, ‘Everybody agreed we needed to act and act pretty promptly.’  So if you needed to act, and the three options were to (1) send in SEAL Team Six, (2) bomb the hell out of the compound, and (3) get the Pakistanis to help with an assault, and you weren’t as gutsy and courageous as President Obama, which were you recommending?”

From the position of a Monday Morning Quarterback, it would be completely irresponsible to involve the Pakistanis, and bombing the hell out of the compound might risk those pilots and would leave an ambiguous inconclusive result.  The guts and courage belong to the SEALS.

May 11, 2011

Why the SEALs?

If you are like me, you have wondered why the Navy SEALs were given the dangerous mission of killing Osama bin Laden in a mountainous desert in Pakistan.  Although the acronym “SEAL” means “sea, air, and land,” the operative word is “sea.”  America must surely have Special Forces whose training has not been diluted by all the sea training that SEALs receive.

Because the news reports have failed to address this issue, I asked my world’s resident Cliff Clavin.  (Cliff was the postman on “Cheer” who seemed to know everything, or at least he thought he did.)  He explained that the Army Rangers and Green Berets were like high school athletes, the Delta Forces were like college athletes, and SEALs were like professional athletes.

The first part of his explanation made sense because Delta Forces are recruited from the ranks of the Army Rangers and Special Forces (Green Berets), so that makes them the elite of the elite.  But the SEALs recruit their members from the ranks of sailors, whose reputation for fighting is not much better than airmen, so how can they possibly be better qualified than Delta Force?

I decided to conduct some internet research.  That research revealed that the United States Special Operations Command (USSOC), which was created in 1987 in response to Carter’s failed rescue mission in 1980 (Operation Eagle Claw), consists of more than 50,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.  Its major operational units are (1) the United States Army Special Operations Command, (2) the United States Naval Special Warfare Command, (3) the Air Force Special Operations Command, and (4) the United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command – all of which report to a four-star officer.

Within the USSOC, there is a much smaller, secretive component called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).  A major responsibility of the JSOC is to conduct clandestine, covert, highly classified missions through its Special Mission Units:

  • The Army’s Delta Forces; and
  • The Navy’s Special Warfare Development Group (called DEVGRU; formerly SEAL Team #6)

Thus, the DEVGRU personnel who killed Osama were, in fact, the elite of the elite; they were on level above SEALs. 

The question remains, however, why DEVGRU instead of Delta Forces.  A cynic might suggest some inter-service rivalry is at play because the commander of JSOC, William McRaven, is a SEAL and a vice admiral in the Navy (three stars).  According to news reports, however, McRaven has been so successful in achieving mission objectives as commander of JSOC that President Obama had already nominated him for the four-star USSOC command prior to the Osama mission.  Based on that track record of success, I think a charge of favoritism has less credibility.  But I would still be interested in hearing McRaven or Panetta tell us, “Why the SEALs instead of Delta Forces?”

May 10, 2011

If kill missions are OK, why isn’t torture?

While watching Bill O’Reilly’s TV show last night, I learned two things:

  1. His show, The O’Reilly Factor, is taped.  I learned this fact when Bill closed the show by saying he was in Boston to watch the Celtics’ game against the Miami Heat.  I immediately changed channels and joined the Celtic/Heat game at the start of the fourth quarter.  Although I had assumed that some of the show’s segments might be taped, I am a bit disappointed that the show is not as lively as it seems.  Don’t tell me that Bryan Williams isn’t live.
  2. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon is not ready for prime time.  On Sunday I saw Donilon on Meet the Press (his first appearance) and was struck by his lack of command.  Although he was given relatively easy questions from David Gregory about the highly successful Osama mission, he continually gave nonresponsive answers.  Even worse, his talking points were poorly drafted and horribly delivered.  In reviewing the transcript, I counted six times where he said, “With regard to that, I’d like to make (two, three, or four) points.”  Last night’s The O’Reilly Factor showed that Donilon also appeared on FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace and was completely unable to answer Wallace’s question about why the Obama administration was unwilling to waterboard a terrorist, but it was willing to shoot an unarmed terrorist.  Although Donilon was obviously prepped for his interviews, this line of questioning seemed to catch him off-guard and he was completely unable to think on his feet.  If I were President Obama, I would keep this guy away from public interviews.

Regarding an appropriate answer, I haven’t seen the pundits discuss Wallace’s question.  In my opinion, the terrorists should be treated like the enemy combatants that they are.  Therefore, it is appropriate to kill a combatant unless he is “conspicuously surrendering,” but after surrendering, it is wrong to torture him.  This, of course, begs the question, because we don’t have an agreement on whether waterboarding is torture.  I think I agree with O’Reilly and Bush-43 – i.e., waterboarding is borderline torture than should be utilized only in extenuating circumstances authorized by POTUS. 

Most people forget that, when Bush-43 authorized waterboarding against three terrorists, he declined to authorize two types of enhanced interrogation that he concluded crossed the line into torture.  Perhaps there is a Pulitzer waiting for the enterprising journalist who identifies those types of interrogation.

May 9, 2011

Divided counsel

Last night, President Obama was on “60 Minutes,” and he provided viewers with his description of the killing of Osama bin Laden.  His interview, which was prerecorded earlier in the week, showed Obama at his best – knowledgeable and articulate, with good judgment and common sense.  Although his geopolitical views are distinctly neocolonial and his domestic political views are far left-of-center, he is unsurpassed in his ability to understand and connect with ordinary Americans.  Much of that ability, I suspect, is due to living his life outside of the Washington beltway.  Although he is a career politician, he has amazingly managed to avoid becoming co-opted by the D.C. establishment.  Of course, the values instilled in him by his mother and grandparents provided a solid foundation.   

Obama’s explanation in the “60 Minutes” interview of why he decided against releasing photos of a dead bin Laden provides an excellent example of Obama’s foundational values and common sense.  According to Obama on releasing the photos – “You know, that’s not who we are. You know, we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.  You know, the fact of the matter is this was somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received. And I think Americans and people around the world are glad that he’s gone. But we don’t need to spike the football.”  This part of the interview had been released earlier in the week to resolve a roiling public debate.

The “60 Minutes” interview contained several new facts about President Obama’s perspective of the mission:

  1. The likelihood of Osama being in the compound was 55%-45%.  Other news reports placed the likelihood at 60-80%, with one outlier at 40%.
  2. The “vast majority” of President Obama’s senior advisors did not know about the mission, but he side-stepped a question about whether Michelle knew. 
  3. Some advisors had “voiced doubts” about the mission.  Despite these doubts, President Obama decided to send in the SEALs instead of air-mailing some bombs because he wanted (a) proof of the kill and (b) access to the information/intelligence in the compound.  Obama indicated a tertiary concern for the lives of the SEALs and the lives of innocent non-combatants (but in my opinion these tended to cancel each other out).

Although Obama said that some advisors had “voiced doubts” about the mission, his National Security Advisor Tom Donilon went further on several Sunday talk shows and said the president had received divided counsel ahead of the raid and had shown decisiveness under pressure.  “I wouldn’t call it dissension. I would call it a divided counsel — that people had, were in favor of, different options,” he said on ABC

Normally an organization likes to present a united front on important decisions.  Donilon’s interviews suggest, however, that the Obama administration has decided to spin its decision to attack bin Laden with Navy SEALs as questionable and controversial. 

From my selfish perspective, this spin refutes my argument that the decision was a no-brainer since there were apparently smart people in the White House who disagreed with the decision.

The Washington Post went even further with the administration spin by reporting:

  • President Barack Obama faced sharply divided counsel and, in his mind, barely better-than-even odds of success when he ordered the May 1 commando raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the president said in an interview broadcast Sunday….  In doing so, he rejected the advice of a substantial number of his national security advisers, who worried that the plan to send ground troops deep into Pakistan was too risky, he said.”

The Post must have been listening to a different interview because I never heard anything about sharply divided counsel.  Of course, a cynic would say the administration is trumpeting about divided counsel because it spins the president’s leadership as sine qua non to elimination of bin Laden – i.e., although the intelligence and military performed their jobs admirably, the successful conclusion depended on a daring president who trusted.

My friend Robert from Austin recently suggested that a success has a thousand parents and a failure is an orphan.  That will probably prevent us from ever knowing the identity of all the Obama advisers who argued in favor of the bombing option.     

A question that I have not heard anyone ask is whether President Obama felt any pressure to act between the discovery of Osama bin Laden in September of 2010 and the actual kill mission in May of 2011.  During those eight months, the CIA continued to gather information that culminated in it concluding there was as much as an 80% probability that Osama was in the compound.  The advantage of waiting for this additional confirmation is clear, but what about the danger of Osama deserting the compound during this time or, more important, what about the danger that Osama would commit more mayhem while we were confirming his identity?  Wouldn’t there have been a huge benefit to cutting off the head of the snake months earlier?

May 7, 2011

Operation Neptune’s Spear a/k/a the McRaven option

The highly successful conclusion to the search for Osama was due in no small measure to a child of San Antonio.  The commander of Operation Neptune’s Spear was William McRaven, who grew up in San Antonio and graduated from Roosevelt High School before moving on to the University of Texas in Austin for Navy ROTC and a journalism degree.

As news reports continue to describe Operation Neptune’s Spear, it has become clear that Admiral McRaven played a central role.  Although the mission was carried out by the military, the legal authority for the mission came from the CIA instead of the Department of Defense.  Thus, McRaven, whose was in charge of SEAL Team 6, reported directly to CIA Director Panetta, who reported directly to President Obama.

According to an absorbing article in the Washington Post, Operation Neptune’s Spear was known as “the McRaven option.”   He earned the assignment because, for the three years that he headed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), their “jackpot rate” – i.e., when Special Operations raids got their intended target — jumped from 35 percent to more than 80 percent.

The Post article suggested that McRaven selected the SEALs for the mission because, “SEALs have a tradition of moving in and out fast, often killing everyone they encounter at a target site….  One senior official said the general philosophy of the SEALs is: ‘If you see it, shoot it. It is a house full of bad guys.’”

That suggestion, however, is contrary to the additional facts presented in the article:

  • A ‘pattern of life’ study of the compound by intelligence agencies showed that about a dozen women and children periodically frequented it.  Specific orders were issued to the SEALs not to shoot the women or children unless they were clearly threatening or had weapons. (During the mission, one woman was killed and a wife of bin Laden was shot in the leg.)  Bin Laden was to be captured, one official said, if he ‘conspicuously surrendered.’”

When Obama refused to release the photos of Osama, he famously said, “That’s not who we are.”  I agree whole-heartedly with that sentiment, and I agree whole-heartedly with the rules of engagement for Operation Neptune’s Spear.  The distinction between the combatants/men (kill unless conspicuously surrendering) and noncombatants/women and children (don’t shoot unless clearly threatening) reflects American values when fighting a war.

As Charles Krauthammer accurately opined in his column earlier this week:

  • Bin Laden declared war on us in 1998. But it was not until 9/11 that we took him seriously. At which point we answered with a declaration of war of our own, offering the brutal, unrelenting and ferocious response that war demands and that police work prohibits.  Including bin Laden’s execution. It’s clear there was no intention of capturing him. And for good reason. Doing so would have been insane, gratuitously granting him a second life of immense publicity on a worldwide stage from which to propagandize.  We came to kill. That is what you do in war. Do that in police work and you’ve committed murder. The Navy SEAL(s) who pulled the fateful trigger would be facing charges, not receiving medals.

The Washington Post article contained four additional pieces of information that are relevant to our Monday Morning Quarterbacking of Operation Neptune’s Spear:

  1. “Several assessments concluded there was a 60 to 80 percent chance that bin Laden was in the compound. Michael Leiter, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, was much more conservative. During one White House meeting, he put the probability at about 40 percent.”
  2. Officials said Obama’s national security advisers were not unanimous in recommending he go ahead with the McRaven option. The president approved the raid at 8:20 a.m. Friday.”
  3. “During the assault, one of the Black Hawk helicopters stalled, but the pilot was able to land safely. The hard landing, which disabled the helicopter, forced the SEALs to abandon a plan to have one team rope down from a Blackhawk and come into the main building from the roof. Instead, both teams assaulted the compound from the ground.”
  4. After the information was relayed to Obama, he turned to his advisers and said: ‘We donated a $60 million helicopter to this operation. Could we not afford to buy a tape measure?’”  Since information about the downed copter was highly classified, let’s hope this humorous aside did not unintentionally reveal the actual cost of this bird of war.  

 As Obama told the SEALs on Saturday, “a job well done.”

May 5, 2011

Getting carried away – lessons learned about Obama from the killing of Osama

Maureen Dowd of the NY Times wrote a column yesterday titled Cool Hand Barack.”  In the column, she compared Barack Obama not only to Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke” but also to Al Pacino in “The Godfather.”  That’s fine; poetic license is fine.  But then Maureen attempted to distinguish between Obama and his milquetoast predecessor, Jimmy Carter:

  • But now the president has shown he can lead straight-on and that, unlike Jimmy Carter, he knows how to order up that all-important backup helicopter. He has said that those who call him a wimp are mistaken, that there is often muscular purpose beneath his diffident surface.”

That’s not fine; that is not poetic license or mere hyperbole.  I don’t think anyone in a position to know has indicated that Obama had anything to do with the back-up choppers. 

Maureen’s bald misstatement reminds me of Senator Kyl’s statement that 90% of the work of Planned Parenthood involves abortion and his follow-up comment that the statement was not intended to be factual.  Perhaps Maureen expected her readers to realize that she was merely attempting to prove her point. 

You might think that I am being too picky with Maureen, but she is not alone.  Today Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne went even further in trying to create a legendary Barack Obama.  His description of Obama as a warrior (“sheer audacity”) evoked Robert E. Lee, but Dionne also noted, “It can also end in daring action tempered by prudence — for example, making sure that additional helicopters were available to our Navy SEALs.”

You will have to read Dionne’s entire column to get the full flavor of his man-love for Obama.  For now, let these closing words suffice:

  • “And anyone who doubted our willingness to project our might as we see fit will have second thoughts after the events in Abbottabad.  This single action does not ‘change everything,’ because nothing ever changes everything. Killing one man does not settle two messy wars. Obama’s political standing will ultimately rise or fall largely on the basis of domestic issues and economic circumstances. The president’s supporters will again experience bouts of frustration when his philosophical caution prevails over his bold streak in the less martial work of negotiating budgets and promoting the general welfare at home. His opponents will not suddenly embrace his priorities.  But because he ordered this attack, and because it was successful, no one will ever view Barack Obama in quite the same way again.”

I wonder what was the “sheer audacity” of the assault on Osama bin Laden.”  Surely, things could have gone wrong, as they did with President Carter, but what choice did President Obama have.  He had already waited for months for intelligence to raise the likelihood of Osama being in the compound to 60-80%.  I suppose he could have waited longer.  His only other options were (a) to bomb the hell out of the compound or (b) involve the Pakistanis.  I don’t know anyone who has argued that those were better options.

Let’s assume that President Obama did not actually plan the assault, including the back-up choppers, then please tell me how Obama was a difference-maker.

Osama’s head shot

One of the reasons that I voted for Barack Obama was that during the campaign he acted coolly and dispassionately, unlike his opponent John McCain.  When the American financial system was approaching a meltdown, McCain lurched from recommending a campaign shutdown to a D.C. summit to a gas-tax vacation while Obama stuck to his campaign and let Bush-43 run the country.

Since his election, however, Obama has disappointed me because he and the Pelosi-Reid Congress took America further to the left than it wanted to go during their two-year reign.  But his action today in deciding to withhold photos of the Osama head shot is an example of why I voted for him.  Although his explanation reveals him not as polished or articulate as Bush-43 (notice the three consecutive “you knows”), he gets to the heart of the matter: 

  • It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence, as a propaganda tool. You know, that’s not who we are. You know, we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies. You know, the fact of the matter is this was somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received.”

Yes, the tabloid crowd in America will ask for tabloid fodder, but the American government should not be complicit in this untoward and unseemly activity.  That is not what we do. 

For a too-fawning description on Obama’s leadership mojo, see Maureen Dowd’s most recent column.    She calls Obama “Cool Hand Barack” and compares his Saturday appearance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner to Michael Corleone’s appearance at a baptism while several “hits” on his rivals were being carried out.

Maureen also points out that one on Obama’s advisers “described the president as the un-John Wayne ushering a reviled and chastened America away from the head of the global table. The unnamed adviser described the Obama doctrine on display in Libya as ‘leading from behind,’ which sounds rather pathetic.”  I agree with Maureen that such advisors are not helpful when they make gratuitous slights about the Duke.

Maureen’s reference to John Wayne came from an article in The New Yorker written by Ryan Lizza.  The following is the concluding paragraph in the interesting article titled, “The Consequentialist”: 

  • “Nonetheless, Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as ‘leading from behind.’  That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. ‘It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world,’ the adviser said.  ‘But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.’”

Charles Krauthammer discussed Lizza’s article in a recent column:

To be precise, leading from behind is a style, not a doctrine. Doctrines involve ideas, but since there are no discernible ones that make sense of Obama’s foreign policy — Lizza’s painstaking two-year chronicle shows it to be as ad hoc, erratic, and confused as it appears — this will have to do

And it surely is an accurate description, from President Obama’s shocking passivity during Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution to his dithering on Libya — acting at the very last moment, then handing off to a bickering coalition, yielding the current bloody stalemate. It’s been a foreign policy of hesitation, delay, and indecision, marked by plaintive appeals to the (fictional) “international community” to do what only America can.

But underlying that style, assures this Obama adviser, there really are ideas. Indeed, “two unspoken beliefs,” explains Lizza. “That the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world.”

Amazing.  This is why Obama is deliberately diminishing American presence, standing, and leadership in the world?

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