On his last day as defense secretary last June, Robert Gates was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. Reportedly reacting with genuine surprise, the man who was appointed to the job by President George W. Bush in 2006 turned to Obama and said, “You’re getting pretty good at this covert ops stuff.”

This handout photo provided by the White House shows President Barack Obama, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, during a phone call from the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, immediately after his State of the Union Address, informing John Buchanan that his daughter Jessica was rescued by U.S. Special Operations Forces in Somalia. (Pete Souza/AP)

“Good job tonight,” Obama told Defense Secretary Leon Panetta while walking into the House chamber for his State of the Union address. Indeed, much thanks and congratulations are owed to the armed forces for another stunning achievement. Yet it takes a president to give the order. Such secret maneuvers are inherently risky for the commander in chief, the military and the nation. And there’s more than a modicum of luck involved, too. But Obama has shown time and again that he is willing to take big risks and do whatever is necessary to maximize luck and ensure success.