It’s been less than 72 hours since President Barack Obama announced that
U.S. Special Forces “a small team of Americans” had killed Osama Bin Laden. Since then, his administration has been hard at work screwing the whole thing up.
Let’s start with that speech Sunday night. It was originally announced for 10:30 but didn’t happen until 11:30. By that time, the news Obama was supposed to be breaking had broken already. Not the best start. Presumably he was delayed arguing with his speechwriters about keeping in all the “I,” “Me,” and “Mine.” Everything having to do with this raid was “I”; anything that could be attributed to the Bush administration was “We.” “I gave the order, I did this, I did that.” The hallmark of any great leader is a willingness to bravely take credit for the hard work and sacrifice of others.
Then there’s the official narrative of the raid, which has already gone through more versions than the Star Wars movies. First Bin Laden had a gun; then he didn’t. He hid behind one of his wives, who was killed; wait, no, scratch that, she’s alive and wasn’t his wife. Maybe? Now Leon Panetta says he and President Obama didn’t actually see the whole thing go down, after the White House made a point of releasing that instantly iconic picture of the whole gang watching it go down.
Isn’t it kind of important to get all that stuff right the first time? Personally, I don’t care if Bin Laden was holding a tray of freshly baked cookies and asking our boys if they wanted any tea when they shot him. You’ve heard of suicide by cop? As far as I’m concerned, Osama Bin Laden committed suicide by 9/11. But now the White House just looks like a bunch of bumblers. If you’re not exactly sure what happened, why give details you might have to retract? How in the world do you screw up a win this big? (Amanda Carey has a wrap-up of the inconsistencies in the official story.)
And now the Obama administration is showing decisive leadership on the issue of dithering. “Gee, should we show the pictures of Bin Laden with his Navy SEAL makeover? Won’t that make people mad?” The Abu Ghraib pics were in the public interest; visual evidence of the death of the mastermind of 9/11 isn’t. Keeping us from seeing flag-draped coffins was bad; keeping us from seeing a blood-drenched mass-murderer is good. Now they’ve finally decided not to release the pictures, after Panetta already said they would. I’m sure that’s Obama’s final decision unless he changes his mind. Stay tuned for the latest round of polls.
Tomorrow Obama is going to Ground Zero, his first visit there as president. He invited George Bush, who declined. Guess Bush was paying attention to what happened to Paul Ryan when he accepted an invitation from Obama. Donald Trump and a few Supreme Court Justices know a little bit about it too. When you only reach across the aisle to slap your opponents in the face, eventually they stop showing up. But hey, it’s entirely possible that Obama will use this moment to show some bipartisanship instead of just saying, “I’m really bipartisan, you guys” and then attacking people who disagree with him. Hey, it could happen.
For more on how the Greatest President in U.S. History is managing to turn a near-perfect military and intelligence victory into a snowballing public-relations fiasco, see Stephen Green (“The Gang That Could Shoot Straight — But Not Much Else”) and Andrew Malcolm (“Osama bin Laden dead: Yes, SEALs were in on the raid, but aides hail Obama’s office bravery”).
And if it irks you that anybody’s daring to criticize the President of the United States for not doing everything perfectly after a big win: now you know how we felt for 8 years.
P.S. Reuters: Photos show three dead men at bin Laden raid house.
P.P.S. Thought experiment: If Osama Bin Laden had been killed by U.S. troops between September 11, 2001 and January 20, 2009, would you have wanted to see pictures? Do you now? Are they different answers? If so, why?
P.P.P.S. HuffPo: Administration Grows Frustrated As Conversation Shifts From Bin Laden To Waterboarding. What a shame, the peasants won’t stick to the script. A couple of key grafs:
Defenders of the interrogation technique raised the issue, earning write-ups in several high-profile publications, including The New York Times and Time magazine. It was also put forward in most bin Laden-related news interviews with Obama officials. The problem, those officials stress, is that questioning the effectiveness of waterboarding in the bin Laden case oversimplifies a complex issue to which there may not be any concrete answers.
Ever notice how much more “complex” and “without concrete answers” everything is when the president is a Democrat?
By most accounts, harsh interrogation measures including waterboarding did not play a role in helping to track bin Laden’s whereabouts or his associates. According to the Times, in 2002 and 2003 “interrogators first heard about a Qaeda courier who used the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti” — the same courier who would ultimately lead the CIA to bin Laden’s location. But, the Times reported, “his name was just one tidbit in heaps of uncorroborated claims.”
“Waterboarding had nothing to do with finding Bin Laden, except for, um, er, uh, uncovering the clue that led to finding Bin Laden.” Good stuff. Dismissing the courier’s name because it was just one of many clues is like dismissing a needle because it was found in a big stack of hay.
P.P.P.P.S. Damian Thompson: That White House clarification in full.
P.P.P.P.P.S. Bookworm Room has a numbered list of the changes to the official story. There are 26 so far, but keep in mind that it’s only been three and a half days.