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Questions Of Leadership

President Barack Obama is under attack for politicizing the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Before Mr. Obama ever set foot in the White House as our commander in chief, people were trying to paint him as too weak to keep the country safe.  Mitt Romney has often criticized the President for having an ineffective foreign policy, claiming that the President travels around the world to foreign countries apologizing on behalf of the United States and appeasing terrorist, the very people who are moving heaven and hell to hurt us.

To counter the claim that his foreign policy is worthless, Mr. Obama has used the one year anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks on September 11th that destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center and heavily damaged the Pentagon, to remind people that it was his leadership that led to the United States’ greatest foreign policy triumph.  And now, the opponents say that Mr. Obama is not playing fair and is trying to take credit for something that Mr. Romney claims even somebody as politically feeble as Jimmy Carter would have done.

First, everything the President does revolve around politics.  If the President gets a dog it becomes a political issue.  If the President takes his wife to a play in New York’s Times Square it becomes a political issue.  If the President finds himself ahead of schedule and takes time to get a haircut his opponents are ready to pounce.  And if he as so much grabs a burger, people will point to his potentially poor dietary choice as an example of how the people shouldn’t trust him to make the hard choices to keep us safe.  Everything the President does can and will be used against him in a court of public opinion.

If people stand ready to use everything he does against him, it is only fair that he can use everything he does to support his brand.  It’s why the guy who wears the title of President when the Berlin Wall comes down takes credit for the fall of the wall.  It’s why the commander in chief will allow somebody to put up a “mission accomplish” banner on the front windshield of an aircraft carrier to proclaim premature success for his rash decision to go to war.  If the President doesn’t toot his own horn once in a while, who will?

When he campaigned for the White House then Senator Obama made it clear that he would make the elimination of Osama a top priority if he was elected.  Mr. Bush admitted that he didn’t care to look for the puppet master behind the greatest terrorist attack against the United States.  Mr. Obama said he would finish the job left by his predecessor.  At the same time, Mr. Romney said he wouldn’t waste America’s resources in a hunt for a single man and didn’t think it should be a priority.  Mr. Obama won the election and kept his word, albeit very quietly.  He rarely made a public statement filled with bravado about how tough he would be on America’s enemies.

America didn’t just happen on bin Laden.  It took an intelligence network and the cooperation of many people around the world, American personnel and people from many other countries, to find him.  That’s evidence of a foreign policy.  In order to effectively run and maintain that network there had to be resources in place to sustain that network, resources that other people would not commit because they didn’t think his capture was important.

Finding the terrorist was just one of the first steps.  Next, a plan had to be concocted to deal with him.  More resources were expended to train the people who were going to go in and get him.  Navy Seal Team Six needed to have every advantage to assure their success.  Intelligence had to be gathered to uncover every bit of information related to the compound where Osama was staying.  That information was used to recreate a simulation compound so that the team could rehearse their infiltration procedure.  Intelligence continued to be gathered in order to determine the best time to spring the assault.  And all of that had to happen with the approval and under the direction of the President.  It didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Now, Jimmy Carter made a similar call as President when Iranian students took over the American embassy in Iran and took sixty six Americans hostage back in 1979.  When diplomacy failed to win the release of the hostages, Mr. Carter gave the military his blessing to attempt a rescue.  In April of 1980 Operation Eagle Claw failed miserably with the death of eight American servicemen and one Iranian civilian when a United States helicopter crashed into a C-130 Hercules transport plane.

Mr. Carter made the call to go into hostile territory on a daring mission and it failed.  He paid a considerable political price for that decision.  The idea that Mr. Carter deserves scorn for the failure of the people he led in a crisis situation is a part of politics.  If he had succeeded, things would have been much different.  He knew what the risk were and pulled that trigger regardless.  It was a tough decision that was met with tough luck.  But that’s politics when you’re the President.

Mr. Carter’s failure only put more pressure on Mr. Obama when he was faced with a similar decision.  Failure would be a serious albatross that would impact the political future for not just Mr. Obama but the entire Democratic Party.  People already assume that conservatives are better at keeping America safe and that liberals are incompetent when it comes to commanding our military.  If Mr. Obama’s decisions proved disastrous, it would have only cemented that political perception and opponents would have taken advantage of it.  Many of his advisers suggested that he not give the go ahead.  Mr. Obama had to weigh the odds.  In the end, he pulled the trigger and the mission was accomplished, finally.

Republican pundits are now saying that the assassination of bin Laden was such a unifying accomplishment for the nation that it should be off limits.  A year ago, even the Republicans who would rather stand up during a presidential address and yell that the President was a liar had to give Mr. Obama his props for a job well done.  It was a remarkable feat of leadership.  But now it’s nothing special, anybody would have done it, anybody but President Bush that is.

Conservative political pundit Ed Gillespie went on the Sunday morning political talk shows and said that Mr. Obama was trying to use the accomplishment of the death of bin Laden as a wedge issue against the conservatives and that was indicative of him trying to divide the country.  The death of bin Laden was a unifying event and now that he wants to use it as a proof of his leadership was now dividing us.  So the assumption is that anything that the President points to as proof of how he brought a politically divided country together with his leadership is politically divisive.  There’s just bizarre logic that only makes sense on opposite day.

Another pundit said that as a leader, Mr. Obama shouldn’t be trying to take credit for the successes of the people he leads.  The only thing a good leader should be taking is the responsibility for failure.  That’s why so many people who lead corporations get paid tens of millions of dollars in an annual compensation package.  They never take credit for leading a company to financial success.  They only take credit for leading a company to financial ruin.  It’s just more nonsense to hold Mr. Obama to a different standard.

The assassination of bin Laden was an achievement that every American can enjoy.  The fact that it was Mr. Obama that led the country to that accomplishment as he said he would do was something that he can take great pride in.  The people who feel that this now gives Mr. Obama unfair proof of his ability to lead and defend himself against their accusations that he’s incompetent is just the way things fall in politics.

Good job Mr. Obama!  If your opponents want to criticize you as being a poor leader when it comes to foreign policy, that’s going to be pretty hard to do with Osama’s demise under your belt.  But that won’t mean they won’t try.  Don’t let your opponents define the limits of what is and what’s not admissible as a political issue.  Don’t let them take this one away from you.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - Posted by | Barack Obama, Life, Thoughts

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