President Obama got his comeuppance when some Navy SEALS called foul on his attempt to hog the credit for the Osama bin Laden raid. This report will certainly give the Obama spin squad chest pains:
Ryan Zinke, a former Commander in the US Navy who spent 23 years as a SEAL and led a SEAL Team 6 assault unit, said: ‘The decision was a no brainer. I applaud him for making it but I would not overly pat myself on the back for making the right call.
‘I think every president would have done the same. He is justified in saying it was his decision but the preparation, the sacrifice — it was a broader team effort.’
Mr. Zinke, who is now a Republican state senator in Montana, added that Mr. Obama was exploiting bin Laden’s death for his re-election bid. ‘The President and his administration are positioning him as a war president using the SEALs as ammunition. It was predictable.’ . . .
A serving SEAL Team member said: ‘Obama wasn’t in the field, at risk, carrying a gun. As president, at every turn he should be thanking the guys who put their lives on the line to do this. He does so in his official speeches because he speechwriters are smart.
‘But the more he tries to take the credit for it, the more the ground operators are saying, “Come on, man!” It really didn’t matter who was president. At the end of the day, they were going to go.’
Chris Kyle, a former SEAL sniper with 160 confirmed and another 95 unconfirmed kills to his credit, said: ‘The operation itself was great and the nation felt immense pride. It was great that we did it.
‘But bin Laden was just a figurehead. The war on terror continues. Taking him out didn’t really change anything as far as the war on terror is concerned and using it as a political attack is a cheap shot.
‘In years to come there is going to be information that will come out that Obama was not the man who made the call. He can say he did and the people who really know what happened are inside the Pentagon, are in the military and the military isn’t allowed to speak out against the commander- in-chief so his secret is safe.’
This sentiment is widespread according to another report:
The frustration—or, even anger—within the SEAL community is real, and has been brewing for months, particularly among a politically conservative core of operators. It started immediately after the raid, with questions among the Special Forces and intelligence community of whether the president should have waited to announce the kill to exploit the intelligence cache at Osama’s compound. It simmered after a Chinook helicopter was shot down, killing 30 Americans, 22 of them Navy SEALs from Team Six.
Was it a coincidence, SEALs asked themselves, catastrophe hit Team Six so soon after being named as the team responsible for the killing?
Well, Obama had this one coming. Yesterday, Obama, in denying he intended to politicize the Osama bin Laden mission, actually doubled down, stoking the issue once again. Politico reported:
I hardly think that you’ve seen any excessive celebration taking place here,” Obama said at a joint White House press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, pushing back at the idea he’s overplayed the marking of the event. “I think that the American people, rightly, remember what we as a country accomplished in bringing to justice somebody who killed over 3,000 citizens.”
Obama continued with a Romney jab: “I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. That’s been at least my practice,” he said. “I said that I would go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him and I did. if there are others who said one thing and now suggest they would do something else, I’d go ahead and let them explain.”
This latest Obama gambit is a test of sorts — for the media, for Obama and for Mitt Romney.
As for the media, will the press corps confront the president on the criticism he’s received from the SEALS and others and his past statements on politicizing national security? Will he be grilled on whether he is actually saying that Romney, if in the same position with the same information on bin Laden that Obama had, would have said, “I’d rather not”? So far, the general reaction among the chattering class has been to focus on Obama taking credit (fair game, to some extent) for killing bin Laden and to ignore the unsupported and unsupportable accusation that Romney would have flinched. Obama is not only putting his opponent’s feet to the fire on this one, he is testing whether the media will be as compliant and nonconfrontational with him as they were in 2008. (It’ not a bad gamble for him that they will be.)
For Obama, the test will be whether he can use the bin Laden raid to cover for his other, manifest foreign policy failings. He abandoned the Green Revolution, is passively observing mass atrocities in Syria, appeased both Russia and China, pulled the rug out from under allies in Eastern Europe (on missile defense), risked victory in Iraq by yanking out all troops, set the troop withdrawal schedule in Afghanistan to meet his electoral needs, not our national security interests, and slashed defense spending (refusing at least for now to come up with alternate cuts in lieu of defense sequestration that his own defense secretary has said would be “devastating” to our national security. But absent war between Iran and Israel or another obvious foreign policy debacle (e.g. handing over blind dissident Chen Guangcheng to the Chinese regime), he may well get away relatively unscathed. In doing so, he’ll to some degree rebut the Romney attack on his leadership.
As for Romney, his relative meekness may be more problematic than the bin Laden ad itself. After all, no one ( frankly, I don’t think the Obama team even believes it) thinks that Romney, given the identical intelligence and military options, would have nixed the raid. Romney’s reaction, however, risks lessening his credibility on national security.
Romney has made the charge that Obama has made us less safe. Well where’s the proof? There are the defense cuts (but those haven’t happened yet). One of the best arguments against Obama is the degree to which he criminalized the war on terror, including his executive order barring enhanced interrogation.
The Post's Marc Thiessen reminds us that CIA counterterrorism chief Jose Rodriguez has come forward with new details substantiating the argument that enhanced interrogation interrogation techniques — which Obama has now banned — of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others “made the bin Laden operation possible.” As Thiessen notes, “President Obama is happy to take the credit for this operation, and even use it as fodder for political attack ads. How sad that he refuses to share the credit with the dedicated CIA officers who made the greatest achievement of his presidency possible.” So long as Romney lets all of this slide, however, he's undermining his own case that Obama is damaging our ability to wage the war on terror.
I suppose Romney can rely on the SEAL’s and conservatives unaffilitated with the campaign to make these arguments. But that makes him a passive figure in his own campaign. It lessens the image he is trying to convey, namely the forceful grown-up in the room. (This argument certainly transcends foreign policy; Obama’s bin Laden gambit is about as unprincipled and frivolous as his Buffett tax.)
Romney surprised some conservatives by showing a killer instinct against his primary opponents as he dispensed with Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Many Romney skeptics saw those debates and concluded: “Wow, he really does have some spine!” But that’s a distant memory now. What is the electorate for the general election to think about him?
You see, if you’re going to show you are the leader and the other guy isn’t, you need to take the fight to him. The first step in showing that Romney will be a more vigorous commander in chief and defender of American interests is to stand up to Obama. The “more in sadness” routine doesn’t really cut it.