George W. Obama

    President Obama is reaping the well-deserved credit for ordering the killing of Osama bin Laden. While he typically inflates his role (a president gives the order and then gets out of the way of the professionals, and is not involved hands-on in the execution of the mission), he nonetheless appropriately garners the laurels for a successful mission conducted under his watch. If, in the next year, the National Institutes of Health discovers the cure for cancer, Obama will surely assert that “I directed the NIH to find the cure for cancer” and he will be justly lauded for that as well. The nature of the presidency is that the president gets to claim credit for all the good that happens while he is in office, and accepts the blame for all the bad that happens. Obama, at least, has mastered the former, even if he still struggles with the latter.

     The President also needs to learn to share credit with his predecessors, and not project the impression that the world changed on January 20, 2009, and the policies of the Bush Administration immediately became obsolete and discarded. The irony is that Obama’s popularity boost here (however short-lived it might be) results from adopting Bush policies rather than rejecting them. Consider the ways in which the Obama attack on bin Laden was positively Bushian and most un-Obama-like.

     First, the United States acted unilaterally. Even though bin Laden had perpetrated terrorist attacks in many countries across the world, Obama did not deem it necessary to consult allies, assemble a coalition, or seek prior approval from international organizations. It was America at its “cowboy” diplomacy best.

     Second, the US did not even advise Pakistan that it was sending over the Navy Seal visitors (who did not stop at customs or procure visas). It was a willful, blatant, brazen, and unashamed violation of Pakistani sovereignty and territorial integrity. Here, Obama was forced to follow the Bush policy of treating Pakistan as both ally and adversary. (For sure, there are elements in the Pakistani government that are pro-American, and elements that hate America passionately; hence, the duplicity.) It was a Bushian statement to Pakistan that we will take care of American interests first, and you are “either with us or with the terrorists.” Clearly Obama felt, or was advised, that Pakistan could not be trusted with information of the commando operation, and so he did not trust them. After a similar operation in mid-2008 that resulted in the deaths of Pakistani civilians, Pakistan erupted in rage and the US was denounced by both houses of Parliament in Pakistan (as was Bush by the American left). Nevertheless, Obama proceeded and spurned the need to notify the Pakistanis in advance – a good move considering that Osama bin Laden’s hiding in plain sight outside their main military academy had to be known to the Pakistanis, or their incompetence is so breath-taking that their assistance in the war on terror is inherently worthless.

     Third, such an invasion of Pakistani territory was a flagrant violation of international law, for which a Senator Obama (or a community organizer Obama) would have excoriated a President Bush who had orchestrated such an action. It would seem that Obama’s protestations that America is a country of laws, bound and limited by international law, and can no longer be a bully on the world stage all fell by the wayside – quite quickly, and rightly so. When the moral and just are inhibited by the technicalities of law that only serve to protect the wicked, then it is the law that hampers justice and breeds injustice and needs to be ignored or re-defined. Obama has over-lawyered American foreign and military policy – except here, where he adopted a policy of “shoot first, and let the lawyers and diplomats sort it out later.”

    Fourth, the “targeted assassination” policy is one that candidate Obama harshly condemned as a violation of due process and human rights. Yet, the plan here was to kill bin Laden unless he meekly surrendered. There was little interest in arresting him and putting him on trial. He was shot, even though he was unarmed. And – Israelis take note – either bin Laden or an aide used a female human shield to protect them from the Navy Seals’ fire. No lawyers, hostage-negotiators or UN officials were called in: the female human shield was simply shot and killed, along with the person she was shielding. No questions asked, and no quarter given. Take that, Richard Goldstone.

     Fifth, Obama took the fight directly to the enemy with live forces in a daring operation. In this, he eschewed the endless negotiations that have been his diplomacy and the drone strikes that has been his military strategy. He abandoned the Clinton era policy of bombing empty buildings (think Sudanese pharmaceutical factory after the two US embassy bombings in 1998) and “training sites” from the air – which President Bush had already eliminated as not cost-effective, and not effective, period. Instead, Obama declined to bomb the compound from the air and sent American forces on a “kill or capture” mission – just like the old days.

     Sixth, Obama shunned the risk-averse strategies he had previously pursued. It is critical to realize that there was no certainty that bin Laden was hiding in that compound, just an educated guess by the intelligence establishment (that has been notoriously and consistently wrong on a number of matters). Had the raid taken place –and bin Laden not been there, and worse, never been there – Obama would have been lambasted, ridiculed, and derided for unnecessarily violating Pakistani sovereignty and the failure would have stuck to him like the botched rescue of the American hostages in Iran in 1980 stuck to the hopelessly inept Jimmy Carter. But Obama uncharacteristically threw caution to the wind, and acted before crossing all the ‘T’s and dotting all the ‘I’s – a gamble that strong presidents have taken in the past, including his predecessor.

   Seventh, it has become clear – although immediately politicized – that early information on the whereabouts of bin Laden was obtained through the enhanced interrogation techniques that were approved by President Bush (in fact, it was obtained while Bush was still president) and thrust aside by President Obama. Further information was garnered from inmates at Guantanamo, both during the Bush and Obama presidencies – a facility that Obama pledged to close down after he put the detainees into the criminal justice system in the United States. Of course, had Obama succeeded, these same detainees – including the sources of information as to the identity of the couriers who led the way to bin Laden – would have lawyered up and said nothing on advice of counsel, and the mission would never have been contemplated.

    Eighth, Americans, at least for the moment, heard again talk of “terror,” “terrorism,” and “radical Islam” from the White House. Those locutions – legacies of the Bush Administration – were banned by Obama and his minions, who were directed to use strange and ambiguous formulations such as “extremist violence,” apparently of unknown provenance. We also again heard from an American President who spoke of “justice,” put American interests first, acted like a superpower, and was unapologetic about the morality of his actions – just like the old days.

    It is no wonder that the American left is apoplectic, and perhaps not surprising that even Obama evinced no joy at this success. His embrace of Bush policies, and the attendant popularity, hits too close to home, for his political career is rooted in overcoming and reversing the Bush “failures.” It doesn’t look good if Obama’s major foreign policy achievement recalls his predecessor’s no-holds barred determination and unabashed projection of American power.

    The only thing missing was a statement that Obama prayed for the success of the mission, a staple of the Bush years. As reported, after final orders were given on Sunday, CIA Director Leon Panetta went to church to pray, and President Obama went to play nine holes of golf. So be it. But for America, and those who love good and hate evil, George W. Obama did the right thing in the right way at the right time.

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7 responses to “George W. Obama

  1. I think you’re overestimating President Bush’s characteristics and underestimating President Obama’s.

    Let’s not forget that Bush did not act decisively at Tora Bora when bin Laden was cornered there. When faced with this opportunity, Bush did not take the risk of sending in American forces — instead, Afghan forces went in and, of course, OBL got away.

    Although Obama is more contemplative than Bush, he is not risk averse and he does take decisive action. Look how he ordered taking out the Somali pirates.

    And please advise what voices on the American left are “apoplectic” about this take-out. As I see it, only a very few wing-nuts on the far left and far right are complaining about what went down in Abbottabad.

    By the way, if a breakthrough on a major disease does come through, and it results from new federally-funded stem-call research, it will indeed be thanks to Obama — and no thanks to George W. Bush, who caved in to the Christian right on that matter.

  2. Hmmm.
    It is interesting that now Bush is accused of being too reticent with his military. Hindsight is great. And imagine what the two couriers would have given up – contacts, names, places – had they been captured rather than killed. The entire terrorist network could have been dismantled under the necessary type of interrogation. Of course, that would have posed other dilemmas for Obama.
    And was killing Somali pirates holding Americans captive that controversial or bold an act ? It seems obvious that any president would have ordered it; in fact, it should be obvious that the commander on the scene should have been able to order it without prior approval to the top of the chain of command. You’re stretching because even you recognize that the bin Laden hit was clearly uncharacteristic of Obama, for the eight reasons I note.
    So far, the only stem cell research that has born any fruit has been with adult stem cells, but since they do not further any left-wing agenda, such research is underfunded.
    But, your revisionsim is fascinating: Bush=wimp; Obama=reckless, unilateralist cowboy. Whatever works –
    -RSP

  3. But, I like your style – Bush=wimp; Obama=reckless, unilateralist cowboy. Whatever works –

    Very funny, Rabbi, but I think you know very well that what I’m saying is that both of their approaches were/are much more complicated than their critics would allow.

    And I don’t think this episode means Obama’s cautious, multilateral approach has changed. Certainly a fine Talmudic mind like yours can distinguish between a surgical strike on an assassination target and massive intervention in another country’s civil war (or, if you will, a despot’s potential slaughter of his over-matched countrymen).

  4. Surely.
    By the way, Cindy Sheehan and the good people at Code Pink have condemned the Osama killing and Obama’s wars. They are fringe individuals, but curiously, they seemed to be media magnets when Bush was president, and are ignored these days. It is curious, indeed.
    -RSP

  5. Dear Rabbi Pruzansky-

    While I agree with you that President Obama is reaping the well-deserved credit for ordering the military action that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, the bulk of your analysis is patently in error.

    President Obama did invite G W Bush to join him in last Thursday’s visit and wreath laying at the WTC site and subsequent meeting with first responders and the families of victims. One could easily ask why such a visit was unimportant to G W Bush.

    Your conclusion that President Obama acted ‘Bushian’ is faulty in anumber of ways.

    1. American Unilateralism
    The 2003 invasion of Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom) only occurred after the US went to the UN Security Counsel for a resolution sanctioning certain actions. The Iraqi invasion, while primarily American led, included close to 50,000 soldiers from other countries. Our ‘coalition of the willing’ included the participation of forty countries (including Kuwait) supporting the war effort in some way.

    2. Involvement of the host country
    In December 2001, the Bush Administration failed to ‘take care of American interests first’. When Al Qaeda/Taliban/ bin Laden were trapped in the mountains of Tora Bora, we chose on relying on local tribal and Afghan forces to attack and destroy the enemy. US ground forces were only used in a supporting role. According to several CIA officers (the type of intelligence officers we are lauding for the bin Laden killing) have said that bin L:aden could have been captured over nine years ago if we only committed our available ground resources in sufficient numbers.

    3. Invasion of Pakistani soverign territory
    The US has been actively engagaed in Pakistan under the Obama Presidency. Obama authorized drone strikes in Pakistan in his first weeks in office and has expanded the use of drones to a far greater level than that of the G w Bush administration. One should question why Bush was so timid in his use of drones, especially given the recent intelligence that bin Laden was in the Abbotabad residence since 2006.

    4. Targeted assassinations/killing of human shields
    Targeted assassination is not a policy that was just adopted by the Obama administration. Over a year ago, President Obama authorized the killing of Anwar al-Alaki, an American citizen. What President Obama has shown is that the war on terrorism is complex, as are many presidential decisions, and that he will approach each deliberately. Compare this to the decision of the former administration to attack Iraq solely based on unfounded, and subsequently shown to be false, accusations.

    5. Taking the fight to the enemy
    It remains quite telling that the Bush administration spent most of its time and efforts in fighting a war in Iraq – where the Taliban and Al Qaeda weren’t – and not in Afghanistan, and by extension neighboring Pakistan, where the terrorists are. If President Bush took the fight to the enemy it is likely that many lives would have been saved.

    With regard to the use of Special Forces instead of drones, the Bush administration, when having a similar opportunity to attack a meeting where they suspected bin Laden would attend, decided on sending stealth bombers to ‘seal the fate’ of bin Laden and others. The mission was callled off with bombers in mid-flight because ‘caution was thrown to the wind’ and the administration’s concern of civilian casualties.

    6. Shunning risk adverse strategies
    What the Obama administration did was successfully use intelligence to define a military operation, and then successfully carry it out. Unlike the previous administration that has squandered intelligence as well as US human and fiscal resources. The Bush administration went out of its way to create risky situations by replacing professionalism with political litmus tests. How many inexperienced party hacks were given postions of authority in the Coalition Provincial Authority? US Special Ivestigators have documented more than $9 billion unaccounted from Iraqi oil revenues intended for reconstruction. The extent of corruption and war profiteering would make Bernie Madoff blush.

    7. Value of enhanced interrogation techniques
    While there are many forms of enhanced interrogration techniques, the one specifically that comes to mind is water boarding. There has been no claim from former Bush administration officials who would know that there was a direct corelation between water boarding and the intelligence information that was gathered and led to the bin Laden killing. A former CIA Director during the Bush term only said that some of the information used in this action was gathered from individuals who had been previously water boarded. The cost-effectiveness, and general effectiveness and value of information gathered during water boarding deserves to be debated. Many who question the value of this method also don’t want to justify the use of this or similar methods on any US troops who may be captured.

    8. Acting like a super power
    Many, including you, felt that President Obama is soft on terrorism. Being against the war in Iraq should not be viewed as being soft on terrorism. (Should a rabbi/social commentator be judged soft on terrroism because he doesn’t encourage yeshiva/day school graduates to enlist in the armed forces instead of attending a post-high school year of study in Israel?) As early as 2006, then Senator Obama was decrying that Al Qaeda and the Taliban were regrouping in Afghanistan while we looked the other way. He, as many others, felt the war in Iraq only served as a recruiting tool for Islamic extremists.

    The now infamous Bush responses regarding the location of bin Laden surely doesn’t generate visions of acting like a super power. If acting like a super power means having a huge photo op with a ‘Mission Accomplishment’ banner, I’ll go with this administration any day.

    Obama’s popularity bump right now is not because he was ‘Bushian’. Rather, it is because, as our Commander-in-Chief, an action he authorized was successfully executed by our military. History will judge – as it always does – previous administrations. I doubt it will be as generous as you when looking at 2003-2008.

  6. Interesting comments that prove that ‘hindsight is 20/20.’
    One error is that there is now a general consensus that waterboarding led to the initial identification of the courier, and that the individual waterboarded was captured… in Iraq, where US forces were battling al-Qaeda. And that his name became known through the warrantless surveillance that was part of the Patriot Act that Obama… opposed.
    So the least he could have done was express appreciation to the anti-terror network that his predecessor had established. Alas, graciousness is not Obama’s strong suit. (Even Nancy Pelosi apparently called Bush to thank him, not to ask him to be an adjunct on the victory parade.)
    But some of the points you raise (Why didn’t Bush bomb the compound?) can be asked of Obama as well. Others belie the facts- if Bush did not act uninlaterally, then why did Obama criticize him for …acting unilaterally ? Because it was perceived that Bush was “leading” the world, rather than “leading from behind” – as an Obama appointee recently described the president’s policies. (That will be the tag line for the Obama presidency.)
    Drone attacks were also quite reminscent of the Clinton approach of shooting cruise missiles at buildings and camps. That is why it was used sparingly by Bush.
    And your criticisms – again, all in hindsight – are somewhat disingenuous: you criticize Bush for going to war in Iraq, and then in not sending in enough troops to Tora Bora ? The notion of the good war v. the bad war was political tripe. You value the CIA intelligence as to the location of bin Laden in 2001, moments before disparaging it regarding the presence of WMDs in Iraq. Which is it ? Are they reliable or not ? Undoubtedly, had Bush sent in a millionn troops to Tora Bora – and not found bin Laden – and many soldiers were killed in that inhospitable clime (winter in Afghanistan, remember) – you would have blasted Bush for sending in the troops and relying on those bumblers in the CIA. Hindsight is great.
    And it was Bush who revamped the HUMINT, not Obama. And is it really true that Hussein did not have WMD’s ? Tell it to the Kurds; in fact, tell it to Saddam himself (if you can find him) because he repeatedly claimed to have them, might have still had them, and certainly had to the caapacity to re-start any WMD program.
    Perhaps Obama can show his appreciation for the intelligence services by halting the Justice Department investigation into the use of by the CIA of the very tactics that led to the killing of bin Laden. (Perhaps even a sotto voce admission that enhanced interrogation, rendition, Guantanamo, etc. all have a place in the war on terror. It doesn’t have to be very loud.)
    But, we are gratified that Obama had the courage to take these risks, for which he as president deserves the primary credit. Had it failed, he would have received the blame. But we are even more gratified that he has Republicans backing his stronger efforts in the “war on terror” (good to hear that phrase again), because Obama’s own Democrats are not as reliable.
    -RSP

  7. Personally I think the whole thing about Obama ordering or authorizing the strike is a lie. I think the military just did it without asking him, and that’s why he looks like somebody shot his dog. He’s having to cover up his total non-involvement in the whole thing. The situation room photo with him and his thugs watching “live video feed” of the assault is obviously a recreation after the fact, as if the video of him congratulating his team in a boring and totally unenthused monotone voice “good…uh…job….uh….you did….uh…..good.”

    As for a comparison of Bush and Obama. Just look at their comments after Osama was killed. Obama said “uh…uh…uh…this is….uh…a…uh….good day…..uh…for……uh….America.” Bush said “America has sent a clear and strong message today: justice will be done, no matter how long it takes.” And the morons in the media say Bush was a bad speaker and Obama is some sort of god-like orator. Yeah right.