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Obama Misses Opportunity With Bin Laden   May 3rd, 2011
The president never seems to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity       

 
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I hope someday I will have an opportunity to recognize and congratulate President Obama for having done something right. Sunday evening could have easily been that moment. It should've been that moment. It almost was that moment. But it wasn't.

First, I'll recognize what the president did do right.

Justice was served in what appears to have been a virtually flawless precision operation based on the culmination of nearly a decade of intelligence work. No Americans were injured. Pakistan was not informed which means Obama has learned that sometimes unilateral action is appropriate, even when another country's sovereignty must be violated. Obama, thankfully, continued--and maybe even built on--the work that President Bush began. He had the courtesy to give Bush a call before informing the nation. And President Obama did give the "go" order.

I wish all of that had ended with a well-delivered, well-crafted speech to the nation to simply let America and the world know that justice had been done. And if he could have united Americans in the process, all the better.

Unfortunately, once again, President Obama seems intent on never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity to just do and say the right thing and leave it at that.

All About Obama

As has become customary with this president, so much of the speech was about Obama rather than about the mission that was accomplished and those that accomplished it. Some examples: "I directed Leon Panetta to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority..." or "I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden..." or "I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information" or "I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action" or "Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation" or "I've repeatedly made clear that we would take action" or "These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one."

To observe the difference one need only compare Obama's Bin Laden speech (or virtually any Obama speech) to FDR's Pearl Harbor Speech. Churchill's V-E Day speech. Truman's V-J Day speech. JFK's Cuban Missile Crisis Speech. George Bush at the outset of the first Gulf War. GWB's 9/11 speech.

In none of those presidential speeches--nor any others that I can remember--were the president's words so centered on himself.

The constant level of self-recognition by Obama is disturbing. In such a solemn, important, and historic moment it's more than a little bit unsettling that our president and/or his speechwriters would not recognize that it's not necessary for the president to pat himself on the back, take credit, or remind us he's commander-in-chief. It goes without saying. It's understood.

It was was unbecoming for Obama to focus so many of his words on his own participation when there are so many that have risked and sacrificed so much more than he. Every sentence he uttered in which he highlighted his role diminished the weight and importance of what everyone else contributed.

President Bush, on the other hand, issued a statement in which his only self-reference was him stating that he had congratulated Obama and the professionals responsible for the victory. Bush didn't dwell on, highlight, or even mention all the things he had done and the decisions he had made that ultimately led to this outcome. He didn't boast about his steadfastness in the mission. He simply congratulated everyone else involved. Classy. Confident. Presidential.

Ignored President Bush

Let's call a spade a spade: Bin Laden would most likely still be alive if it weren't for President Bush's persistence in the War on Terror in the face of withering criticism from the left, and even from then Senator Obama himself.

I wouldn't expect Obama to recognize everything that he opposed that ultimately led to Sunday's success. But it would be appropriate to at least acknowledge President Bush's seven-year commitment to the mission under often brutal and hateful criticism. After so much of the speech being Obama talking about his participation, at least a hat tip to his predecessor would have been appropriate. I was waiting for it. It never came.

When Americans landed on the moon, President Nixon had the class to refrain from a lengthy planned speech out of respect for the moon landing being the legacy of an earlier president, John F. Kennedy.

It was entirely proper for Obama to say something about the outcome of the operation. But the only time Obama mentioned Bush was when he hid behind Bush's previous assertion that we aren't at war with Islam--as if he were afraid that people might think he was the first president to take that position.

Emergency-Like Announcement

While I'll admit this might come off as minutia, I'm honestly not sure the news had to be delivered by the president on a Sunday night at 10:30PM Eastern.

I was enjoying a Sunday evening when all the sudden news started exploding that the president was going to address the nation on an unknown subject. I was immediately fearful about what might have happened, or what might be about to happen. This is the kind of thing that is usually related to national emergencies or matters of urgent national security... news of an attack on our country, news of us attacking another country, or a threat to our country.

As time went on the scheduled time for Obama's address slipped, supposedly as he was notifying international leaders and Congressional leadership. My concern mounted.

Then news started leaking that Osama had been found and killed. I was certainly pleased to hear that, but I immediately thought, "Ok, and what else is going on? Is there an imminent retaliatory threat?" Because even though America would certainly like to know about this, there must be something more to justify such a dramatic, hastily called late-night presidential address to the nation.

There wasn't.

By the time Obama took the podium we already knew the news. The only reason to watch the speech was to see if Obama was going to announce an imminent threat, or maybe some change in our defense posture or tactics.

He didn't.

In reality, President Obama caused a dramatic news frenzy so he could play the part of a glorified television anchorman. He wanted to report the news rather than someone else. This would have been fine if he taken the opportunity to say something that would have planted some seeds of unity. But he didn't.

What Obama Should Have Said

Here's what I think Obama should have said--it's the speech he gave on Sunday night with some small changes. By eliminating just seven sentences and making minor modifications to two more, Obama would have appeared far more presidential, less focused on himself, and made it more about America's success than "his" success.

This slightly modified speech would have been very different and really could've set a different tone for our country.

    Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

    It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory -- hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.

    And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child's embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.

    On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.

    We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice. We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda -- an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and was committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe. And so we went to war against al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies.

    Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we've made great strides in that effort. We've disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense. In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government, which had given bin Laden and al Qaeda safe haven and support. And around the globe, we worked with our friends and allies to capture or kill scores of al Qaeda terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot.

    Yet Osama bin Laden avoided capture and escaped across the Afghan border into Pakistan. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continued to operate from along that border and operate through its affiliates across the world.

    And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.


    Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community developed I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And Finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and I authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

    Today , at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

    For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda's leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al Qaeda.

    Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There's no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must - and we will -- remain vigilant at home and abroad.

    As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not - and never will be - at war with Islam. I've made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.

    Over the years, I've repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we've done. But it's important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.

    Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

    The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war. These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one, or look into the eyes of a service member who's been gravely wounded.

    So Americans understand the costs of war.
    Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda's terror: Justice has been done.

    Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who've worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.

    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.

    Finally, let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 that we have never forgotten your loss, nor wavered in our commitment to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attack on our shores.

    And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.

    The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it's the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

    Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

    Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.

That's it. Skeptics may say that the above changes are trivial. And perhaps they are. But they're the kind of "trivial" changes that make all the difference between a speech that invites all Americans to join in celebrating a national success a decade in the making and one that perpetuates decade-long divisions... by what was said and what was left unsaid.

By highlighting his own participation while completely ignoring President Bush's contribution, he simultaneously appeared disturbingly narcissistic while maintaining the partisan divide that has so separated America on this very issue of our War on Terror. Instead of uniting America in a joint victory accomplished under both Presidents Bush and Obama, he attempted to make the victory his alone by failing to recognize his predecessor who initiated the mission. This, given his previous attacks on Bush's efforts and tactics, rings hollow and petty to half the country.

Had Obama spoken a sentence or two in recognition of President Bush, his speech could have really moved the nation towards healing that decade-long division. And he would have earned an enormous amount of political capital that he'd be spending from now until November 2012.

But he didn't. And, as a result, his speech became little more than another in a series of Obama-centric throw-away speeches. A year from now we'll all remember that Bin Laden was brought to justice but it's unlikely that we'll be looking back at Obama's words and how they bridged the partisan divide. Because they didn't. Obama often asks for bipartisanship and bemoans the fact that it doesn't exist, but he doesn't utilize nights like Sunday to say the words that would build bipartisanship. That would have been an investment that would have helped him (and America) "win the future."

Which is why I say that Obama never seems to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Generally speaking, I'm glad when Obama falls short. I don't want him to be effective at advancing his agenda because I don't agree with it.

But there are moments like these when I hope beyond hope that Obama will rise to the occasion and simply say the words that could move mountains and unite this country, if only for awhile. I believe that most presidents get very few such opportunities. For Obama, this was one of those opportunities. And he missed it.

Sunday was a good day for America. But it could've been so much better.

    NOTE: After writing this article, but before posting it, I stumbled on another article that expresses very similar sentiments here.

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