Turn back the pages to history to 2008. Remember the presidential campaign rhetoric regarding Senator Obama’s ability to be the Commander-In Chief. The criticism came early and forcefully from his mortal opponent for the Democratic nomination. Remember Hillary Clinton’s ads saying that inexperienced Mr. Obama was unprepared to take “that 3AM phone call” that would have him making a life and death decision. It was a fair point and the Clintons hammered away at it.
Once the young Senator had won the nomination the Republicans picked up the hammer and swung away on this soft underbelly of the inexperienced Chicagoan who had no foreign policy credentials and had not even served as a private in the military himself. How could such a man make foreign policy decisions and lead the military as well as the certified war hero, John McCain?
There were loud grumblings in the military as well. The prospect of Obama assuming the role as their Commander-In-Chief was genuinely and understandably frightening to both ordinary rank-and-file soldiers as well as to their superiors drenched in brass and battle ribbons.
The President-To-Be had a tough row to hoe to earn the respect of his army, his opponents, and his countrymen as well. In fact it seemed an impossible task. In those far off days it looked as though the country would just have to get used to an incapable leader and hope that vice president Biden and the generals could make the new President look marginally respectable. What a grand and welcome surprise we were all in for!
During the 2008 campaign, when the upstart Barack Obama bluntly vowed “we will kill bin Laden,” he had no way to know that one of the most consequential moments of his presidency would be deciding whether to make good on that vow.
Five months into his presidency, he sent a memo to Leon Panetta, then the new CIA chief, signaling that he considered finding bin Laden a high-priority task. He requested a detailed operation plan for locating and “bringing to justice” the mass-murderer.
Months later, conclusive intelligence had been obtained by CIA operatives showing that Bin Laden was living in a large compound in the lush green hills of Abbottabad, a beautiful tranquil location near Islamabad. The intelligence was presented to Obama and the small number of White House aides tracking the CIA’s progress.
In mid-February 2011, Obama concluded that the intelligence was strong enough to start thinking about a mission to nab or kill bin Laden. Panetta brought Vice Admiral William McRaven, the commander of the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, into the picture and asked him to start planning options for an assault. Now the bin Laden mission had become a matter of presidential decision-making.
In mid-March 2011, Obama convened a series of National Security Council meetings on a possible bin Laden operation. At the first meeting, Panetta presented Obama with a three option COA (course of action) devised by McRaven and his team.
- a massive bombing strike in which B-2 stealth bombers would drop dozens of 2,000-pound GPS-guided bombs and obliterate the large compound
- a helicopter raid mounted by U.S. commandos
- a joint assault with Pakistani forces, who would be informed of the operation only shortly before its launch.
According to a participant, the president had “a visceral reaction” against the bombing strike because collateral damage would likely extend beyond the compound into the surrounding neighborhood. The CIA had already determined that the compound contained a number of women and children.
Another drawback of such an attack was that it would leave behind only rubble—and the remains of 20 or so people mixed in with the concrete and steel. In all that wreckage, could they find a piece of bin Laden—hair or flesh—for DNA analysis? “The question was, would you accrue the strategic benefits of getting bin Laden if you couldn’t prove it?” At the end of the meeting, Obama said, “I’m not going to tell you what my decision is now. I’m going back and thinking about it some more.” But he said he would decide soon.
Obama left the meeting, walked across the colonnade past the Rose Garden to the residence, to make a decision. He was thinking of Desert One and Black Hawk Down, two similar past operations that had turned out disastrously for America.
Obama, despite the public perception that he is a cautious seeker of consensus, is a consummate risk taker. He had pushed for health care reform when practically no one in the White House thought it could be achieved. In internal deliberations, he had advocated pressuring Egyptian President Mubarak, when pro-democracy protests erupted, though his top foreign policy aides preferred preserving the status quo.
The President had launched a multilateral military action in Libya over the reservations of his most experienced military advisers. And once again, the Commander In Chief was considering disregarding the play-it-safe advice of senior national security advisers to move forward with a bold action that had no guarantee of success and that could bring about a heap of trouble.
His decision, to go forward with the commando/helicopter raid, was bold and audacious. The operation, conducted by the elite Navy Seal Team Six, took 40 minutes.
World leaders welcomed the news of Bin Laden's death. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Bin Laden had "paid for his actions". Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said the killing was a "great victory" but added that he "didn't know the details" of the US operation. Former US President George W Bush described the news as a "momentous achievement". "The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done," Mr. Bush added.
Admiral McRaven has said it all in his brief statement, “I would contend that he was the smartest guy in the room. He had leadership skills that we’d expect from a guy who had 35 years in the military”. The Admiral speaks for the military that now hold their Commander-In-Chief in the highest regard. He also speaks for The Rational Majority of our countrymen and women whose respect and admiration have been well earned by President Barack Hussein Obama.