It’s easier to criticize than to praise, which is why it’s important to pause once in a while to give credit where credit is due. And although it’s now well beyond the timely news cycle, I want to step away from my frequent criticisms of President Obama to give him unstinting kudos for his call on taking bin Laden out with a special forces unit instead of an aerial attack.
Since at least Ronald Reagan’s attack on Qadafi’s palace in the 1980s there has been a tendency for U.S. Presidents to play it safe and attack from afar with bombs or missiles. Clinton did the same thing. Maybe it was a response to Carter’s failed hostage rescue attempt in Iran, or to the bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, or both. But aerial attacks seemed to offer the promise of achieving success at low risk. Except they didn’t always seem to actually be that successful. Reagan’s attack on Qadafi didn’t eliminate him, and Clinton’s attack on bin Laden was similarly unsuccessful.
Still, it would have been the lower-risk option for Obama to take. It’s been widely reported that the failure of the helicopter in the bin Laden raid brought hearts into throats in the White House. Probably everyone my age and over understands why, but younger people may not. Carter’s attempted rescue of hostages in Iran–a big gamble from the start–failed completely, with the loss of several aircraft and 8 servicemen. It was a debacle for Carter, and made the U.S. look incompetent. An Obama, despised by pro-
military war conservatives and with no military experience himself, simply could not afford to have a similar failure. The right would have crucified him, especially since he overruled the option proposed by the military. I suspect people in the White House weren’t just nervous when the helicopter failed, but had a moment of sheer terror.
And Obama surely knew going into this decision that he was taking that risk, yet he made the call anyway, against the recommendation of the military, which offered him the lower-risk option. To overrule his military advisers and choose the bolder but better option–it was a great call, and I honor President Obama for it.