Home > politics, stupidity > Obama Scores Major Victory with bin Laden Death, Then Screws It All Up

Obama Scores Major Victory with bin Laden Death, Then Screws It All Up

Friday, May 6, 2011, 14:28 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

When Navy SEALS finally found and killed Osama bin Laden last week, President Obama had the opportunity to take credit for a major, if symbolic, victory in the war against terrorism. Everyone realizes that many people, seen and unseen, contributed to the ultimate outcome, but the fact is that it happened on Obama’s watch. I might not like him, but he is the Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces and if those forces do something I like on his say-so, I don’t begrudge him a share in the credit.

That said, how did he manage to turn such a long-awaited victory into the giant boondoggle the aftermath has become? The answers are many:

  1. He waited too long to announce that bin Laden was dead. Besides the guy in Pakistan who started tweeting as soon as he noticed American helicopters hovering over his neighborhood (though he didn’t realize why the copters were there until later), nobody else should have been allowed to scoop the President of the United States. Obama wasn’t even on time for his pre-announced 10:30 p.m. (EDT) television address. By the time he got around to delivering the news to the nation, the nation (or at least those who were awake, which I wasn’t) had already heard it from at least three other sources. Knowing how lousy Obama is at off-the-cuff remarks and how anal he is about his prepared speeches, I suspect much of the delay was because he was 1) waiting for the speechwriter to finish, and 2) nit-picking over what the speechwriter wrote. Either way, it was unnecessary, because the speech should have been mostly written before the operation even began. Which brings us to…
     
  2. He gave out too much detail when the fog of war was still thick OR he gave out too much detail before his Administration, the Pentagon, and the CIA had agreed on a consistent story. Personally, I don’t care which one it is. I realize that all the details of operations like this can’t necessarily be made public without compromising future operations and/or national security in general, so I have no problem with everybody making sure they’re on the same page and nobody spills beans that could imperil future operations or the lives of our troops. But the message preparation should have happened long ago. All parties should have been ready with an announcement (or a couple, one for bin Laden’s capture and one for his death) that had been carefully crafted and pored over by all the parties involved. (This is what news agencies do when a well-known person is sick/old/otherwise likely to die soon; they write 95% of the obituary in advance and then fill in the rest when they have to.) In the bin Laden case, the overriding rule for the pre-planned announcement should have been: Less Is More. Say what happened and when, praise of the military personnel who did it, say something of comfort to the survivors of bin Laden’s victims, and then announce that further comment would be forthcoming only after a full debriefing and complete analysis of all the details of the operation. That would have bought some time to figure out what to say next under the particular circumstances that had unfolded, and it would have given the talking heads in the 24-hour media an opportunity to speculate and prognisticate. What we got instead was too much detail too soon, which guaranteed that as soon as the story changed (even if it was because of that whole fog of war thing), those who wanted to criticize were given the ideal excuse to do so.
     
  3. He decided not to release pictures of the body, directly and inexplicably contradicting his CIA director. This decision reflects not only the poor planning mentioned in point #2 but also a desire not to inflame the Muslim world by disrespecting the deceased. The reality is that Leon Panetta was right in saying that the photos should be made public, and it is equally true that the portion of the Muslim world who are supportive or sympathetic to terrorists in general and bin Laden in particular are inflamed by the plain fact of his death. Trying to placate them is thus fruitless. Besides, Islamic terrorists routinely and deliberately videotape for public release the murder of their victims, desecrate the bodies, and fully intend to cause offense. Remember Mogadishu in 1993, when Somali Muslims dragged the bodies of American Marines through the streets? I say let them reap what they have sown. As for the rest of the world, a picture would verify for reasonable people that bin Laden is actually dead. When President George W. Bush released photos of the bodies of Saddam Hussein’s thug sons, there was the predictable hew and cry from the usual suspects, after which the issue went away because the photos had eliminated any fodder for wild conspiracy theorists.
     
  4. The photograph he did release, of him and his inner circle supposedly watching the operation unfold on live video feed, apparently wasn’t of that at all. It turns out the video feed cut out for about 23 minutes just as the biggest action was occurring. Now the whole world thinks they were watching—what, a DVD of Platoon? Reruns of M*A*S*H? Some General playing World of Warcraft? Either that, or it was simply a staged photo op. Maybe the live feed cut out ten seconds after that picture was snapped. But it doesn’t matter because nobody has explained it.
     
  5. He failed to anticipate the predictable backlash against the disposal of bin Laden’s body. Apparently, burial-at-sea isn’t in accordance with Islamic tradition. See #3 above.
     
  6. He continues to allow, five days after the announcement, confusion and criticism to proliferate by not addressing it. This happens whenever there is widespread negative reaction to something this President says or does, and he usually deals with it by lashing out at the critics. To his credit, he hasn’t done so in this situation, probably because the critics represent a cross-section of his entire constituency, including his far-left base who are ticked off at him over the war in the first place. What he should do now, and I use the present tense because late is better than never, is correct his mistakes: take to the airwaves again and take the blame for the contradictory information, forcefully assert the reasons for the decisions that were made vis-a-vis disposal of the body, release one or more photos of the corpse, and move on.

These are some of the big errors; there are others, plus many small ones as well. They all combine to essentially undo the benefit Obama could have gained from this event and to reinforce the image of a bumbling poseur who refuses to learn what he must to do better. Unfortunately, it’s against his narcissistic nature and a threat to his fragile ego to ever admit a mistake. So the blunders will continue until he has managed to completely transform what began as a long-awaited moment of justice into just another demonstration of America’s big mistake in electing someone so utterly ill-equipped for the biggest job in the world.

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Categories: politics, stupidity
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