If White House press secretary Sean Spicer says it’s so, does that make it so?
In today’s media briefing, NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker cited a disputed report that Yemen had withdrawn permission to the United States to conduct anti-terrorism ground missions in that country — a result of a raid that resulted in civilian casualties as well as the death of Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6. Despite reports and commentary insisting that the operation failed, Spicer has insisted that it was a success. Welker asked him, “Does that not undercut the administration’s ability to fight terrorism in that region, and do you stand by your assessment that it’s a success?”
There would be no policy change coming from the podium.
“It’s absolutely a success,” said Spicer, whose boss has shown a fondness for labeling his own ventures “successful.” “And I think that anyone who would suggest it’s not a success does disservice to the life of Chief … Owens. He fought knowing what was at stake in that mission, and anybody who would suggest otherwise doesn’t fully appreciate how successful that mission was — what the information that they were able to retrieve was and how that will help prevent future terrorist attacks.”
Repetition, Spicer appeared to determine, would make the point stronger. “I think anybody who undermines the success of that raid owes an apology and a disservice to the life of chief Owens,” said Spicer, thundering on. “The action that was taken in Yemen was a huge success. American lives will be saved because of it. Future attacks will be prevented. The life of Chief … Owens was done in service to this country, and we owe him and his family a great debt for the information that we received during that raid. I think any suggestion otherwise is a disservice to his courageous life and the actions that he took, full stop. … I don’t know how much clearer I could be.”
With that, Spicer curtly ended his back-and-forth with Welker and moved on to another question. The message? Uh, media outlets — and anyone else, for that matter — had better not undermine “the success of that” raid — as if questioning the raid after the fact could possibly alter anything about the action. All indicators point to the need for further investigation: As the New York Times has reported, this operation was “jinxed from the start.” “Through a communications intercept, the commandos knew that the mission had been somehow compromised, but pressed on toward their target roughly five miles from where they had been flown into the area. ‘They kind of knew they were screwed from the beginning,’ one former SEAL Team 6 official said,” the Times reported. According to Yemeni officials, 15 women and children died in the clash; the Pentagon says that women participated in the fighting.
“As it turned out, almost everything that could go wrong did,” summed up the New York Times. After attending a briefing on the raid, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) initially termed it a “failure.”
So does this sound like the type of governmental action that needs less scrutiny? Of course, Spicer’s stern objections won’t mute further investigation of this incident. They’ll merely encourage it. Military families, journalists and civil servants — they all know that the proper way to commemorate the lives of fallen service members is to sort out the truth. Not to heed the remonstrations of some fellow at a press podium. Extreme vetting will happen regardless of Spicer’s wishes, as a Post colleague notes: