"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thoughts on Blowing the Osama PR

I am willing to cut the Obama administration some slack for some of the public relations miscues that have occurred since the successful mission to kill Osama bin Laden.    They are ably outlined here by Jim Treacher at the Daily Caller, in his article "Obama administration takes victory lap in clown car":
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?
And here by Stephen Green in his article "The Gang That Could Shoot Straight -- But Not Much Else":
The plan for killing Osama Bin Laden was perfectly conceived and as perfectly executed as any special forces operation since Israel’s raid on Entebbe. But the follow-through has been strange at best, sometimes bordering on incompetence.

First, there was that weird burial at sea “in accordance with Islamic tradition.” There, the White House managed to annoy most everyone. There are those like me, who thought Bin Laden’s corpse was treated with too much respect, to those in the Islamic world now inflamed because it wasn’t really done properly after all.

Then there was the president’s oddly bloodless speech Sunday night. For almost ten years we’d been trying to get the guy who murdered 3,000 Americans, attacked our military HQ, and ripped the heart out of the New York City skyline. The effort spanned two continents, four or five countries, a Caribbean Navy base, and the persistent efforts of two presidents, the American intelligence community, and the best of the best of our special forces. And yet President Obama sounded as if he were announcing a “worthwhile Canadian initiative.”

Now the Administration can’t even decide whether or not to release a photo of the body. They didn’t have a PR plan in place before the killing? It must be amateur night at the White House, because what I’m hearing sounds increasingly like karaoke. More specifically, a Last Call group chorus of “My Way,” with the participants too drunk to remember all the words.
And, finally, a less snarky round-up of inconsistencies in the administration's story by Amanda Carey, again at The Daily Caller:   
The White House also had to backtrack on early reports that Bin Laden was armed and engaged in combat when U.S. forces swept the compound. On Monday, a senior official at a Pentagon briefing said that Osama used his wife as a shield and “was firing behind her.”

Brennan also said at his briefing Monday that the terrorist leader joined in the fight when the raid was underway. “He [bin Laden] was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don’t know,” he said.

In Tuesday narrative change, however, Carney told reporters that Bin Laden was actually not armed during the raid.
I think the first two commentaries are too harsh.   As I said, I am willing to cut the Obama administration some slack on this.   We are talking about a huge undertaking, involving many layers of bureaucracy and much secrecy, where plans and tactics were likely kept secret even from most of the people in the White House -- and properly so, as information about such an operation would be on a strict "need-to-know" basis -- and where the events took place around the world in the middle of the night in what is aptly referred to as the "fog of war."   I get how some details would be mistaken.   It happens.  It's like the "telephone game" that kids play:  someone tells their superior in Afghanistan that X happened; the superior translates that to his superior back in the U.S.; that officer tells someone further up the chain of command; then the White House is told, perhaps at the Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State level; then the information is finally trickled back down to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney at the podium in the press room.   Not surprising that he might get some things wrong.

But (and this is a big "but") the one thing that this trail of misinformation shows beyond dispute is that, at the level of tactical details, the White House had little first-hand knowledge and little input into what was going on.   Other than giving the ultimate order (which, as I've written below, any President would have done), the White House had little involvement.   And appropriately so; civilian leaders set policy, military personnel plan and conduct the actual operations.  

But when they then take credit for their own "bravery" and act as if Obama was somehow remotely conducting the operation as tactical commander, taking away credit from the brave SEALs and the unknown number of intelligence operatives around the world who likely risked their lives to develop the information to lead to bin Laden, that's the part that really irks me.  

Obama would have gotten credit for being President when the Osama takedown occurred anyway.   He could have given credit where credit was due to the servicemen and intelligence personnel who made it happen.  He didn't need to seize the credit from them and trumpet his own wonderfulness.  It shows a good deal of insecurity, methinks. 


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