His HuffPo hagiographers notwithstanding, President Barack Obama did not plan the mission to take out Osama bin Laden. And rightfully so. He has no military experience, and therefore, no standing, to directly plan a combat mission. He would have needlessly and recklessly endangered American soldiers’ lives if he had. The sad thing is, his abject supporters had no reason to give voice to such fancies, because it was a rare instance of Presidential courage.
There were substantial risks inherent in this mission, not least was the damage that failure posed to Obama’s reelection campaign. While it is no means clear that the mission’s success will ensure reelection, its failure, by indelibly linking him to Jimmy Carter’s abortive Iranian rescue mission, would have cemented his identity as that hapless predecessor’s doppelganger. Clearly, Obama is far too ambitious to dream of spending the next few decades building houses for poor people and rubbing shoulders with dictators, mass murderers and Holocaust deniers.
It was a rare show of courage from this most timid of visionaries, yet it was courageous. It was, in fact, an astoundingly risky maneuver. The physical insertion of a team of soldiers into a foreign nation, even those as superbly skilled and impeccably drilled as Navy Seal Team Six, was fraught with peril. Chances of catastrophic failure were far greater than reliance on a “surgical” air strike. It was akin to Woody Hayes’ view of throwing the football. Anytime you drop back to pass three things can happen, and two of them are bad. Yet Obama wasn’t just dropping back to pass, he was heaving a bomb into triple coverage, and the pass was completed.
Obama took a risk, and it paid off. The chance of failure loomed large, and more than just the end of his Presidency, the danger to national interests was considerable. Imagine if bin Laden weren’t there. Mission planners were 80% certain he was, but that means in one of five circumstances, he wouldn’t have been home. If he weren’t, it’s entirely possible that the lengthened search time would have allowed locals to swarm the scene. It would have been Black Hawk Down all over again, but this time it would have been much worse.
This time it would have been an invasion force pinned down, short on supplies, forced to fire on Pakistani citizens, or possibly even the military, or worse, to surrender. It would have been the Jimmy Carter Desert Classic on steroids. Imagine the public relations disaster. Imagine the foreign policy implications of a squad of American soldiers held in a Pakistani version of Guantanamo. Imagine them going on trial in Karachi, or before the International Criminal Court. Or, imagine the audio, once leaked, of the soldiers, surrounded, out of ammunition, water and supplies, both helicopters inoperable, begging, pleading for backup, for reinforcements, and receiving only silence. Imagine them fighting hand to hand, until, finally, they were overwhelmed, stripped naked, brutally mutilated and dragged through the streets of Abbottobad; in other words, imagine them receiving a Sharia-compliant funeral.
The risks were huge, and Obama “manned up” for once. So give the guy a Miller Light. He’s earned it. Remember, this is the guy who needed to ask permission of the Arab League before he would go along with NATO’s humanitarian intervention in Libya. (On the other hand, Pakistan is ostensibly our ally, which in the curious ethos of Obamaworld, merits it less consideration than a brutal dictator slaughtering his own citizens).
Still one has to wonder whether this mission was necessary at all. Bin Laden, was isolated, without internet or even telephone connections. He was reduced to communicating through written messages, hand-delivered by a courier. His influence as a terror strategist was diminished if not eliminated. Clearly, he was living his dream of returning his world to the middle ages. There may be some sense of vindication in nailing the bastard, but was it really the “most significant achievement to date” in the war against terror? Surely not. Capturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, whose interrogation set in motion the actions culminating in bin Laden’s death, was more significant. So was the apprehension or death of most of the lop levels of al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan, and even more so the slaughter of thousands of willing jihadists in Iraq.
It wasn’t necessary, but it made a lot of people feel good. Was it worth the risks? Hard to say, since the mission was successful. It was good to see that our President is willing to take chances, even if the rewards are limited, or personal. When all is said and done, though, “getting” bin Laden is starting to look suspiciously like a campaign stunt, and if that is the case, maybe he hasn’t earned that Miller Light.