Most Americans will likely remember where they were on May 2, 2011 when it was announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In his public address, President Obama announced:
“Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome … We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.”
The announcement of the successful operation by the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 covered the front pages of all national newspapers the next day and some Americans even took to the streets to celebrate.
Almost immediately, the talking heads took the air waves. People who are paid to talk never run out of things to say. Despite the adulation over the news, President Obama’s opponents started ‘damage control’ almost immediately and accused the President of taking credit for the hard and dangerous work of the U.S. military and Navy SEALs. Incongruously, they leveled charges that the President politicized the event, though they were the first to frame the discussion in terms of politics. The only way for President Obama to have missed this rhetorical trap was to not make any announcement at all. How much sense would it have made for the Commander in Chief to say nothing about one of the most important national security events since the 9/11 attacks?
This rhetorical trap is being picked set up again in time for the 2012 election season by a PAC called the ‘Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund.’ Though claiming to be a nonpartisan advocacy organization, their sole target is President Obama and they have very clear ties to the Republican Party. It is a supreme irony that a group that has accused the Obama administration of politicizing bin Laden’s death is in fact the guilty party themselves. They are now putting out attacks with edited versions of President Obama’s May 2 statement in an attempt to make it appear the he was taking credit for the operation. They delete entire sections of the address where the President makes it clear that the military and intelligence community are to get the credit for the successful raid. This seems to be taken out of the playbook of the 2004 presidential contest, where opponents ‘swift boated’ Vietnam veteran Sen. John Kerry.
After years of dedicated work from the U.S. intelligence community, one Navy SEAL killed Osama bin Laden. The whole of SEAL Team 6 put their lives at great risk, not for the first time, to conduct this operation at a walled and defended compound deep in a country where they were not welcome in the middle of a military garrison town. Things could have gone very differently. Remember the unsuccessful raid to free U.S. hostages in Iran in 1980. Success was never assured, as the crash of one of the team’s helicopters shows. The SEALs overcame the difficulties and executed brilliantly. Have no doubt: SEAL Team 6 killed Osama bin Laden.
But anyone who served in the military knows and will tell you that there is a very strict hierarchical command structure. No military unit from a division down to a fire team conducts a mission on their own without orders. Without orders, there is no mission. There were orders issued that gave SEAL Team 6 the go-ahead to conduct the raid. Those orders were issued by President Obama, the Commander in Chief. That has been confirmed by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a self-declared Republican who stayed on from the Bush administration. It has also been confirmed by Admiral Mike Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Leon Panetta, then CIA director.
If one goes back and reads or watches President Obama’s statement on May 2, he made himself very clear that the intelligence community, the U.S. military, and specifically the Navy SEALs are to be credited with killing Osama bin Laden. Watch or read it and decide for yourself. He doesn’t take credit for it himself. It has been made very clear by everyone involved in issuing the order to execute the raid that the President did make the decision to order the raid.
It is not often that events happen that cause almost every American to remember where they were when it happened. The Kennedy Assassination, the moon landing, your kids being born are a few examples. These events are few and far between.
The death of Osama bin Laden is another of them. It is a symptom of the sad state of our politics that an event that should cause us all, no matter our political affiliation, to come together is now being used as a wedge issue to drive us apart. The man that laid the ground work for the 9/11 attacks has been killed after a decade on the run from justice. This should be an event we all remember together. Instead, it is being used to score cheap political points to drive us apart. Is there no shame left?