By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
From the Navy SEALs’ daring raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, we learned a lot about the world’s most wanted man. We learned he wasn’t such a macho guy, after all. No cave for him. He was living in a mansion, he sent out for Pepsi and biscuits, he had money sewn into his clothes for a quick getaway. And there was no sign of a kidney dialysis machine.
Yes, we learned a lot about Osama bin Laden. But we learned even more about Barack Obama.
We learned, first of all, that Obama does what he says he’s going to do. Remember way back to Oct. 7, 2008, when candidates Barack Obama and John McCain met in their second presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Surprisingly, the most pertinent question was posed, not by moderator Tom Brokaw, but by Belmont student Katie Hamm, who asked Obama: “Should the United States respect Pakistani sovereignty and not pursue al-Qaida terrorists who maintain bases there, or should we ignore their borders and pursue our enemies, like we did in Cambodia during the Vietnam War?”
Nobody paid much attention to Barack Obama’s answer that night. But they sure do now. Because here’s what he said: “If we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act, and we will take them out.” Now listen to his conclusion: “We will kill bin Laden. We will crush al-Qaida. That has to be our biggest national security priority.”
Do you know what you call that? Promise made, promise kept. And promise announced to the American people late Sunday night, May 1: “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.” Again: Promise made, promise kept.
We also learned that Obama is willing to take big risks. He didn’t just get lucky with the mission that captured and killed Osama bin Laden. Sure, he benefited, first of all, from the top-notch work of the CIA. And he was able to call on the nation’s finest warriors, our Navy SEALs. But the whole operation would never have happened without the determination and the leadership of President Obama.
He never talked about it. He never bragged about it. He never boasted, like George Bush, he was going to bring bin Laden back “dead or alive.” He never said, like Dick Cheney, he would welcome the terrorist’s “head on a platter.” He just quietly went out and got the job done.
Soon after taking office, Obama told CIA Director Leon Panetta to make finding Osama bin Laden his top priority. Once the CIA zeroed in on the Abbottabad compound, he gave the military 30 days to come up with a plan of action. He rejected the option of bombing the compound because it might destroy any chance of finding bin Laden’s body. He opted, instead, for the much more dangerous mission of sending in the Navy SEALs.
What’s amazing is that, even at this point, the CIA did not know for sure they had the right location. According to Panetta, they were only 60 percent to 80 percent sure bin Laden was there. Counterintelligence Chief John Brennan told us at the White House they had nothing but “circumstantial evidence” to go on. Nevertheless, President Obama, trusting both his instincts and the Navy SEALs, gave the green light. It was, Brennan said, “one of the most gutsiest (sic) calls of any president in recent memory.”
Indeed, it was. Imagine how risky that operation was and how many things could have gone wrong. What if the Navy SEALs had showed up to find no bin Laden? Or if the compound had been wired with explosives? Or if the Navy SEALs had been killed in a firefight? Obama would have been ridiculed as the next Jimmy Carter. His presidency would have been over.
It was a case of all or nothing. Yet, knowing the danger, Obama risked his entire presidency on a high-wire act to rid the world of Osama bin Laden. He put it all on the line for a daring, 40-minute operation that could easily have ended in disaster.
That’s why his nickname in the Pentagon is “Cool Hand Luke.” Turns out Obama has more backbone than we thought.
© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.