Over the past few days we’ve witnessed a barrage of criticism aimed at Barack Obama for his comments on, and a televised feature commemorating, the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death. Mitt Romney and many of his allies on the right initially tried to downplay, minimize or spin the political significance of bin Laden’s removal or they have tried to frame Obama’s televised piece as a “cheap political ploy”, a mere campaign promotional.
Mitt Romney, while campaigning in New Hampshire and asked about Osama bin Laden’s liquidation replied that he, of course, would have done the very same thing, suggesting that Obama’s decision was a “no brainer” that even Jimmy Carter would understand. Oddly enough, Mitt Romney was actually against such a move before he was for it, sort of a reverse of the flip flopping once ascribed to John Kerry. Back in August of 2007 Mitt Romney was singing an entirely different song: “Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticized Democrat Barack Obama on Friday for vowing to strike al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan if necessary as the Obama camp issued a strident defense of his plan…I [Romney] do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours… I don’t think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort…” Another one of Romney’s comments of 2007 is also coming back to haunt him, his statement to the Associated Press that with regard to getting bin Laden “it’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” Romney operative and veteran conservative mouthpiece, Ed Gillespie, appearing on Meet the Press, claimed that Obama’s referring back to the bin Laden killing was somehow “divisive”, something that was driving a wedge further and further through American society. If Gillespie’s words aren’t representative of pure spin then what is, after all when is it inappropriate to acknowledge a military or security victory and how would it be considered divisive unless those doing the complaining had something to feel defensive about? Political commentator David Korn noted that Mitt Romney’s haughty and disdainful comments on Obama’s decision in the bin Laden hit give rise to the question of whether or not Romney himself appreciates and understands the gravity of the situation which Obama confronted in ordering the raid as well as whether or not Romney would be capable of performing as a Commander in Chief. To suggest that Obama’s decision was somehow obvious and apparent raises real questions as to Mitt Romney’s own judgment in dealing with matters of grave national importance regarding homeland security. After all committing special forces to this sort of operation can be a most dangerous endeavor as the experience of President Carter had already proven to be the case.
It’s obvious as to why Romney and his Republican minions are so desperately trying to underplay the importance of Barack Obama’s single greatest national security achievement, prior Republican administrations had almost eight years to achieve the same outcome and failed to do so. George W. Bush, after strutting across the deck of an American aircraft carrier under a banner touting the phrase “Mission Accomplished”, would go on to preside over the greatest foreign policy debacle in American history. That debacle, wherein which Iraq would be torn from end to end in an eruption of violence that would ultimately consume thousands of American lives as well as those of many more Iraqis came as a complete surprise to the Bush Administration who claimed that we would be welcomed as liberators. Its hardly a stretch to say that Bush’s war in Iraq coupled with rising isolationist talk among today’s right has had the effect of completely undermining the traditional Republican claim that they are the party best qualified to insure national defense and homeland security. This is a particularly vexing situation for the G.O.P. as it was on their watch that the country had gone from surplus to deficit, driven in a large part by the Bush Administration’s decision to go to war while at the same time cutting taxes, a first in American history. In today’s geopolitical calculus economic power ranks right along with military might in determining global power and to have severely undermined America’s balance sheet in pursuit of riding the world of Saddam Hussein factors in as much in the final analysis of Bush’s war in Iraq as does any military or political miscalculation. Just imagine how much different things would be here today if we had spent that $1.1 trillion dollars on roads, bridges and infrastructure in America rather than on two allies of questionable military and political value in South Asia.
Perhaps it is the reality that in many instances American conservatives have been consistently wrong in their approach to dealing with the changed world of Islam. They totally misread and misrepresented the connection, to the extent that it ever existed, between al Qaeda and the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. They totally misread the rise of the post war anti-American insurgency, labeling the insurgents, in Donald Rumsfeld’s words “dead enders”, when they were anything but desperate men who were running out of options. They initially declared that Iraq and Afghanistan would be model democracies in a region dominated by autocrats and that dream has yet to be realized as well. Dick Cheney would go on to warn us that electing Barck Obama would guarantee another terror attack on American soil and that hasn’t happened either. Lastly, the ultra conservatives in America have completely misread the Arab Spring and fallen for the notion that it was a front for al Qaeda’s drive for a new world caliphate which it most certainly is not.
As for whether or not deciding to go in for the kill on Osama bin Laden was a lay up or not, the after action analysis reveals that nothing, from bin Laden’s actual location to a high probability of mission success was anything but guaranteed. Michael E. Leiter, Director of the United States National Counterterrorism Center at the time of the raid said on the cable circuit today that there was never any unanimous consensus as to whether or not bin Laden was in Abbottabad when the decision to launch the raid was made, the probability was put at 50-50. Likewise is assessing whether or not to launch the raid, many of Obama’s advisers put the chances for success at 40 percent. Admiral Mike Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs at the time, also quoted on the cable shows today, said that the decision to launch the raid to kill bin Laden’s was Obama’s alone thereby laying waste to the idea that Obama was indecisive and prodded into action by his advisors. In fact if you look at Obama’s record there’s no way that his conservative critics can honestly make the case that he’s an appeaser or someone who’s been weak in handling America’s security concerns. Quoting Peter L. Bergen of the New America Foundation: “The president who won the Nobel Peace Prize less than nine months after his inauguration has turned out to be one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades…Mr. Obama decimated Al Qaeda’s leadership. He overthrew the Libyan dictator. He ramped up drone attacks in Pakistan, waged effective covert wars in Yemen and Somalia and authorized a threefold increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan. He became the first president to authorize the assassination of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and played an operational role in Al Qaeda, and was killed in an American drone strike in Yemen. And, of course, Mr. Obama ordered and oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden…Mr. Obama’s readiness to use force — and his military record — have won him little support from the right. Despite countervailing evidence, most conservatives view the president as some kind of peacenik. From both the right and left, there has been a continuing, dramatic cognitive disconnect between Mr. Obama’s record and the public perception of his leadership: despite his demonstrated willingness to use force, neither side regards him as the warrior president he is.”
Whether or not Barack Obama should use, or to what degree he could use the bin Laden raid as a backdrop for his reelection campaign is a legitimate question as the same controversy arose when George Bush did the same thing when he used Ground Zero as a backdrop for his 2004 campaign. However, that’s where the debate ends and the commentary on who, how and why said decisions were made and whether or not Barack Obama exhibited any personal courage and sound judgment in making them is now beyond the pale of the debate as the after action analysis shows. When Mitt Romney or his lieutenants use the issue of Obama’s campaign piece as the takeoff point to belittle the president’s accomplishments in the war on terror they have clearly crossed the line of what constitutes intellectual and factual honesty. The inane prattle about Obama’s actions being divisive or demeaning to the significance of the operation are nothing more then the parroting of shopworn talking points being mouthed by people who have nothing of substance to say in the first place and those comments should be identified as such. Barack Obama’s actions in defending America are likewise unequivocal and conservatives, if they want to be taken seriously, would be better served looking elsewhere for their critiques. President Obama built on the accomplishments of the previous administration in the area of counterterrorist operations and scuttled most of that which was ill conceived or ineffective. That’s what’s called effective and efficient leadership and conservatives need to acknowledge that as well. In the long run Mitt Romney has probably done nothing but given the Obama reelection team another sound bite to use against himself, nothing altogether new there as it turns out.
Steven J. Gulitti