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Amateur hour at the White House - Again

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Feb 10, 2005
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10 ways Barack Obama botched the aftermath of the masterful operation to kill Osama bin Laden

By Toby Harnden World Last updated: May 5th, 2011

The past few days have seemed like an extended amateur hour in the White House as unforced error after unforced error has been made in the handling of the US Government's message about the killing of bin Laden.

We should not forget the bottom line in this: bin Laden was justifiably and legally killed by brave and skilled US Navy SEALs. The operation was audacious and meticulous in its planning and execution. President Barack Obama made the call to carry out the raid and his decision was vindicated in spades.

Having said that, the messiness since then has taken much of the sheen off this success, temporarily at least. Here's a summary of what went wrong once the most difficult bit had been achieved:

1. It took nearly three days to decide not to release the photographs. I think there was a case for not releasing the pictures, though on balance I think disclosure would have been best. But whichever way Obama went on this, the decision should have been made quickly, on Monday. By letting the world and his dog debate the issue for so long and then say no made the administration look indecisive and appear that it had something to hide. It will fuel the conspiracy theories. And the pictures will surely be leaked anyway.

2. To say that bin Laden was armed and hiding behind a wife being used as a human shield was an unforgiveable embellishment. The way it was expressed by John Brennan was to mock bin Laden as being unmanly and cowardly. It turned out to be incorrect and gave fuel, again, to conspiracy theories as well as accusations of cover-ups and illegality. Of all the mistakes of the week, this was by far the biggest.

3. It was a kill mission and no one should have been afraid to admit that. Bin Laden was a dead man as soon as the SEAL Team landed. There's nothing wrong with that but the Obama administration should have been honest about it rather than spinning tales about bin Laden having a gun, reaching for a gun (the latest) and resisting (without saying how he resisted).

4. Too much information was released, too quickly and a lot of it was wrong. When it made the administration look good, the information flowed freely. When the tide turned, Jay Carney, Obama's spokesman, clammed up completely. I'm a journalist; I like it when people talk about things. But from the administration's perspective, it would have been much better to have given a very sparse, accurate description of what happened without going into too much detail, especially about the intelligence that led to the compound (an account which is necessarily suspect).

5. Obama tried to claim too much credit. Don't get me wrong, he was entitled to a lot of credit. but sometimes less is more and it's better to let facts speak for themselves. We didn't need official after official to say how "gutsy" Obama was. Far better to have heaped praise on the CIA and SEALs (which, to be fair, was done most of the time) and talked less about Obama's decision-making. And a nod to President George W. Bush would have been classy – and good politics for Obama.

6. Proof of death was needed. The whole point of the SEAL operation, rather than a B2 bombing that levelled the compound, was to achieve certainty. The administration has DNA evidence, facial recognition evidence and photographic evidence. Some combination of that evidence should have been collated and released swiftly. It's not enough to say, effectively, "Trust me, I'm Obama" – especially given all the misinformation that was put out.

7. The mission should have been a 'capture' one. Notwithstanding 3. above and the legitimacy of killing bin Laden, I think a capture of bin Laden was probably possible and, in the long term, would have been better – not least because of the intelligence that could have been gleaned from interrogating him and the couriers. My hunch is that Obama didn't want him alive because there would have been uncomfortable issues to address like whether he should be tried, where he should be held (it would have been Guantanamo – obviously) and the techniques for questioning him.

8. Obama's rhetoric lurched from jingoistic to moralistic. During the initial announcement, Obama said that by killing bin Laden "we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to". If Bush had said that, he would have been mocked and laughed at, with some justification. But by today Obama was all preachy and holier than thou saying: "It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool. That's not who we are. We don't trot out this stuff as trophies."

9. Triggering a torture debate was an avoidable own goal. Following on from 3. by discussing the intelligence, the administration walked into the issue of whether enhanced interrogation techniques yielded important information. That was certainly something they could have done without. Politically, it gave something for Republicans to use against Obama.

10. The muddle over Pakistan. Everyone I talk to with knowledge of these things tells me that Pakistan had to have given the green light for the raid in some form. But the Pakistanis, for good reasons, would not want this made public. Rather than say it would not comment on whether Pakistan had harboured bin Laden or was playing a double game, the White House poured petrol on the flames by encouraging criticism of Pakistan. That might have been deserved, but in terms of managing the region it was impolitic. The Pakistanis are clearly riled and the contradictions between the US and Pakistani accounts, again, fuel the conspiracy theories.

All this has meant that this week's media story has become one about Obama and the White House more than one about the SEALs, the CIA and what killing bin Laden means. That's exactly the wrong way round.

Will this guy ever learn? The lack of leadership displayed by President Obama continues to amaze me. This is what happens when you elevate somebody to a job that they aren't qualified for. We told you so!

Unfortunately - both for himself and for the country he continues to embarrass - he turned what should have been one of his finest moments into a freakin' mess. All due to his lies and embellishment to try to make himself and his administration look good. Disgusting. Does this fiasco represent the "transparency" you Obama supporters voted for?

And where are you people that wanted to see President Bush tried for war crimes in foreign countries? I seem to recall some of you that were almost orgasmic over the threats of arrest that he received from foreign countries if he were to travel abroad. Where do you stand on this issue now? Do you think President Obama should be tried for war crimes?

Do you no longer care about our military 'invading sovereign countries' that 'don't represent a threat to us' and 'murdering' an unarmed man? Then making up 'lies' to explain it? Those were some of your favorite terms under the Bush Administration, but I haven't read any of that from you recently. Where are all of you?

Personally, I'm glad the murdering SOB is dead. But the double standards that you Obama supporters continue to display by your silence has become disgusting.
Nobody could make the bonehead tricks that the WH did unless they tried. I don't believe anyone is that stupid.
Come on Larry, look around you just in this forum alone there are a few liberals that are just like obama.
Not to mention our tinfoil wearing space cadet :D :eek: :eek: :eek:
The problem with those on this board is that if they removed their nose from it's location it would show that it is brown, and thats the last thing they want to do. Even if its the downfall of the US
well they now have a new recruiting poster...

ironic how the lack of a "proper" burial is the larger insult,

Muslim leaders query killing of unarmed bin Laden, 'Islamic' burial


The killing of Osama bin Laden when he was unarmed has raised concerns the US may have gone too far in acting as policeman, judge and executioner of the world's most wanted man.

A senior Muslim cleric in New Delhi, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, said US troops could have easily captured bin Laden.

"America is promoting jungle rule everywhere, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan or Libya. People have remained silent for long but now it has crossed all limits."

But for several Muslim leaders, the more unsettling issue is whether the al Qaeda leader's burial at sea was contrary to Islamic practice.

"That is not the Islamic way. The Islamic way is to bury the person in land [if he has died on land] like all other people."

"If the US can't explain that, then it appears just like dumping an animal and that means there is no respect for the man ... and what they did can incite more resentment among Osama's supporters."

:lol: :lol: :lol:

seems you can't please everyone...

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