Obama Spikes the bin Laden Football

After taking a low-key approach to the killing of Osama bin Laden for most of the past year, the Obama campaign released a video on Friday taking credit for green-lighting the operation and questioning whether Mitt Romney would have made the same call. Conservatives scoffed, claiming that the raid was a no-brainer that any president would have approved. I don’t know who’s right, but if you want to decide for yourself you probably ought to know just how the entire operation was planned and what part Obama played. David Corn explains in detail in Showdown, his recent book about the Obama presidency during 2011. Here’s a small piece:

Five months into his presidency, he sent a memo to Leon Panetta, then the new CIA chief, signaling that he considered finding bin Laden a high-priority task. He requested a detailed operation plan for locating and “bringing to justice” the mass-murderer. Yet for a year, Panetta did not have much to report to Obama on this front. Then in the summer of 2010, the agency informed Obama there was a lead: bin Laden might be in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, about 35 miles north of Islamabad. He could be within Obama’s reach.

….As the planning meetings proceeded—the president and his aides often had a model of the compound before them—a critical point about a unilateral U.S. assault caught Obama’s attention: How would these covert warriors return safely from the compound, especially if they were to encounter hostile Pakistani military forces?….McRaven had based the planning on an assumption that if his commandos were confronted by the Pakistanis, they would protect themselves without attempting to defeat the Pakistani forces, while waiting for the politicians in Washington and Islamabad to sort things out. He calculated that his team could hold off any Pakistani assault for one or two hours.

Obama nixed the idea of commandos hunkering down to await diplomatic rescue. He worried that the Navy SEALs conducting the mission could end up as hostages of the Pakistanis, and he told McRaven to ensure that the U.S. forces could escape the compound and return to safety, whether or not they encountered Pakistani resistance.

“Don’t worry about keeping things calm with Pakistan,” Obama said to McRaven. “Worry about getting out.”

The rest is at the link. I don’t know what Mitt Romney would have done in similar circumstances, but there’s not much question that Obama played an active and ultimately crucial role. Without his leadership, things might have turned out quite differently.

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