Mitt Romney today demonstrated that he doesn’t understand presidential decision-making—and that he should read my book, Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party, or at least Chapter 10.
While campaigning in New Hampshire Monday—a day before the one-year anniversary of the Osama bin Laden raid—Romney was asked whether he would have ordered that operation. “Of course,” he huffed. He then added, “Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.”
Romney made it seem that this had been a slam-dunk, no-brainer decision. But it wasn’t.
As I recount in the book—and an article adapted from it and posted at The Daily Beast makes this point—Obama’s decision to launch the raid was a case study in tough presidential decision-making. It was not a simple go/no-go order. The few national security advisers who knew about the potential mission were divided on what to do. Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Bob Gates urged Obama to wait for more definitive intelligence. Several advisers favored a missile strike. Only a handful supported a unilateral secret US raid. There was so much that could wrong with such a mission, and Obama’s presidency would probably be over if a commando raid went bad. A majority of his national security team members did not back a commando assault.
Obama had to choose first between a missile strike and a raid (and doing nothing until more intelligence came in). He rejected the missile strike due to concerns over collateral damage and the possibility that it would be difficult (if not impossible) to determine if Bin Laden had been killed in this attack. (David Frum understands the importance of this decision.) Then Obama raised crucial questions about the helicopter raid that shaped the mission in a way that contributed to its success. (For details, see the aforementioned extract.) Finally, Obama had to issue the green light, knowing that he was placing his presidency on the line.
This was an episode in which Obama acted deliberately and decisively. It was a test of presidential leadership, as Kevin Drum notes. And Obama’s performance in this instance is highly relevant when it comes to determining whether he ought to keep the job for another four years—just as Romney’s experiences building (or destroying) businesses is relevant. Republicans who accuse the White House of politicizing this decision have little ground on which to stand, particularly after GOPers have long claimed Ds are weak on terrorism (and after W. put on a flight suit and cockily strode across a flight deck underneath a “Mission Accomplished” banner). More important, Romney’s dismissal of this decision as no-big-deal indicates he hasn’t thought much about one of the most crucial decisions that had to be made in the Oval Office—and that he may not be ready for the job himself.