Archives for: May 2012, 01
Sometimes a President makes decisions that are inherently lonely. This was one of those occasions. The special team, preparing to helicopter into hostile territory, faced an uncertain situation. They were as prepared as they could be for any foreseeable contingency, but not every possibility could reasonably be foreseen.
It was a gutsy decision by the President.
Then the results came in. A helicopter had crashed, the careful plan turned into a disaster. Brave military personnel died. The Americans held hostage in Tehran remained in captivity. And, incidentally, Jimmy Carter became a one-term President.
It was jarring to hear Mitt Romney yesterday denigrating the decision to go after bin Laden. He regards it as a no-brainer. Any President would have done the same. "Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order." Then he laughed. Even Jimmy Carter.
Actually, Jimmy Carter did give that order, and the experience should tell us that it took something more than Mitt Romney is prepared to acknowledge. It took sober deliberation. In 1976 when it was known as a President's most glaring failure, and in 2011 when it became known as a remarkable success. It took a 3 AM form of courage.
In 2007, George Bush was criticized for letting bin Laden get away. At the Battle of Tora Bora, CIA operatives on the ground begged officials for air strikes and troops. They were told no. The reasoning was ostensibly a reluctance to risk American lives. It seems apparent in retrospect that the real reason was that troops had already been committed to preparation for invasion of Iraq.
President Bush, understandably I think, diminished the importance of bin Laden. His "dead or alive" bravado was reduced to a feeble "truly not that concerned" when it came to the architect of 9/11. The politics of the moment invited that lack of concern. Why give opponents a rhetorical opportunity by amplifying an American failure?
Mitt Romney, being Mitt Romney, play along for a few hours. In the grand scheme of things, in comparison to the larger fight against terrorism, one individual could not be considered all that important. "It's not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person," he said.
In fairness, Mitt Romney retracted that formulation, that of bin Laden as one drop in a larger ocean of terrorism, just a few days later. "Of course we get Osama bin Laden and track him wherever he has to go, and make sure he pays for the outrage he exacted upon America." Can we move heaven and earth to do it? "We'll move everything to get him." Easy to be right when you play every angle.
Later that year, he moved back again. Candidate Barack Obama said that, if given firm evidence of terrorist targets in Pakistan he would move against them with or without permission from the Pakistani government. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."
Romney condemned Obama as irresponsible. "I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours... I don't think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort." It was not an outrageous position on Romney's part. It was, however, a position that was open to other views, other views that Mitt Romney had held earlier that year.
It's the same play-it-safe we have always seen from the former Governor. It seems fair to me, when confronted with so many instances of political whiplash, to target a candidate with the worst of his just-in-case positions. I think the It's-Not-Worth-It position is sufficient to at least counter his own anyone-would-have-done-the-same.
A year a ago, the elusive bin Laden became the late bin Laden. He moved from his home in Abbottabad, Pakistan to his new residence beneath the ocean.
Would Governor Romney have made a similar move, pushing for an aggressive search, then making a risky decision to proceed on less than ironclad evidence? We don't know. We can't know. It is an unanswerable question.
We will never know whether Mitt Romney would have had the moral courage of a Jimmy Carter.