The political benefits of a “gutsy” call

    Even John McCain has joined the praise for Barack Obama. It took him 24 hours, but here’s what he said last night on Fox News: “The president gets high marks. And obviously the president was heavily engaged…And everything didn’t go as planned in that operation but they adjusted and it is an amazing accomplishment.”It speaks volumes about our feel-good interregnum that the president is now getting props from the Republican who repeatedly ridiculed him as a naive Bambi during the 2008 campaign. If even McCain is willing to make nice right now, in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s slaying, then maybe this non-partisan moment can be extended for, oh, a whole week or more.After all, it’s hard to see how the usual anti-Obama chorus can impugn the president’s American credentials now that he has successfully overseen the most American of missions. Indeed, it must be downright upsetting for them to hear Obama being praised in high places as a “gutsy” commander in chief. Granted, one of the lauders yesterday was Obama counterrorism adviser John Brennan – he said that Obama made “one of the gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory” – but remember, Brennan is a 25-year CIA alumnus who worked in various high capacities for George W. Bush. Another lauder is John Ullyot, a former Marine intelligence officer and ex-Republican spokesman for the Senate Armed Services Committee, who pointed out yesterday that Obama rejected more cautious options (a bombing attack, or a joint attack with the Pakistanis) in favor of the “gutsy call” – a helicopter assault that could have ended badly, much the way Jimmy Carter was politically damaged in 1980 by those three charred rescue choppers in the desert.Moreover, Obama’s call was the fulfillment of a gutsy campaign promise. In a foreign policy speech during the summer of 2007, Obama said that if America felt the need to target terrorists in Pakistan, then it should be prepared to act uniliaterally, without permission from Pakistan; in his words, “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.”Six months later, John McCain was still stewing. He dismissed Obama’s promise as “naive,” as “the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate.” He scoffed at the notion of taking action on the sovereign territory of an ally “without their permission and without consulting them.” Gaining permission in advance, McCain lectured, “is just fundamental to the conduct of national security policy.”President Obama put out a hit order on Osama based on actionable intelligence without seeking permission from the Pakistanis, with the goal of completing the mission and extracting all our fighters before the Pakistani military could scramble in response. His high-risk decision paid off. McCain, to his credit, has now acknowledges this. But others on the Republican right remain hesitant – even though it was such a Republican-style operation, given that its subliminal message was, “We’re the U.S.A., we don’t need no permission from nobody to get a tough job done.”The anti-Obama chorus has been laboring hard to deride the president about something, anything, but the pickings have been pitifully slim. For instance, a lot of conservatives apparently detested Obama’s Sunday night announcement. Specifically, they didn’t like his use of the first-person singular (“…shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority…Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden…I met repeatedly with my national security team…And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action…Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation).” How arrogant, they complained. Obama made it all about himself, they complained. Right-wing novelist Stephen Hunter assailed “Obama’s malignant narcissism.” Ex-Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson huffed that “the man’s self-absorption diminishes him.”Wait a second: Don’t Republicans and conservatives always insist that a president, by his words as well as his actions, should show the world who’s in charge? Don’t they routinely preach the importance of strong presidential leadership? When Bush called himself The Decider, or donned a flight suit, did they ever knock him for “narcissism” or “self-absorption?” You can rest assured that if a Republican president had made the gutsy, high-risk decision to kill Osama, and had subsequently informed the nation by making frequent use of the first-person singular, they would be beating their chests in praise for the decisive commander in chief.I could also detail some of the conspiracy theories being circulated at the moment by members of the American idiotocracy – namely, that Osama has actually been dead and frozen for “nearly a decade,” and that we should assume the whole operation was faked because no actual body is available for public inspection – but that’s a waste of valuable cyberspace. Here’s the bottom line:David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter who helped coin the term “axis of evil,” had the grace yesterday to state the obvious on his blog, free of partisan cant. In his words, “President Obama has performed the first job of an American president. He has used the power of the nation well to defeat the nation’s enemies and defend the nation’s people.” In fact, in the aftermath of Obama’s gutsy call, “here’s hoping that we have at last seen the end of this ugly insinuation that there is something less than fully American about the black president with the exotic name.”As I mentioned yesterday, nothing about this welcome episode guarantees the president a smooth ride in 2012. But he has clearly earned the right to a rhetorical reprieve, however fleeting it may prove to be.

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