Mak­ing a mess of it: Obama, aides strug­gle with post-raid mis­cues

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

In ret­ro­spect, killing the world’s most dan­ger­ous man was easy. The hard part has been fig­ur­ing out what to do next.

From the chang­ing de­tails of the raid and the con­tro­versy over the re­lease of Osama bin Laden pic­tures to the use of the code name “Geronimo,” Pres­i­dent Obama has faced a host of nag­ging ques­tions from the left and the right in the days fol­low­ing what was widely hailed as the big­gest vic­tory of his pres­i­dency.

“The Obama peo­ple seem de­ter­mined to snatch a pro­pa­ganda de­feat from the arms of vic­tory,” said con­ser­va­tive ra­dio talk­show host Rush Lim­baugh on his May 5 pro­gram. “This is chaos.”

Most of the crit­i­cism has cen­tered on the White House’s shift­ing ver­sions of what hap­pened dur­ing the May 1 raid. The first ac­count the fol­low­ing day from coun­tert­er­ror­ism chief John O. Bren­nan said that bin Laden en­gaged U.S. forces “in a fire­fight.” The next day, White House spokesman Jay Car­ney amended the story to say that bin Laden “re­sisted” but did not ac­tu­ally shoot at the Navy SEALs.

The “fire­fight” at the com­pound has since been de­graded to shots fired at the start of the op­er­a­tion by bin Laden’s courier, ac­cord­ing to ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials cited by the New York Times.

The role of the women at the scene also has been sub­ject to ex­ten­sive edit­ing. Mr. Bren­nan orig­i­nally said one of bin Laden’s wives was killed when the ter­ror­ist leader tried to use her as a hu­man shield. Since then, the White House has stated that the wife was only shot in the leg and not killed; that it’s not clear whether she was be­ing used as a shield, and that an­other woman was in fact killed at the com­pound.

Mr. Car­ney has chalked up the dis­crep­an­cies to the “fog of war” at­mos­phere that re­sults when of­fi­cials have only a few hours to fig­ure out what hap­pened dur­ing the con­fu­sion of a mil­i­tary raid con­ducted un­der cover of night thou­sands of miles away.

That hasn’t stopped the White House from be­com­ing em­broiled in a battle over whether to re­lease the pho­tos of bin Laden’s body. Pub­lic fig­ures as dis­parate as for­mer Repub­li­can vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Sarah Palin to lib­eral Har­vard Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Alan Der­showitz have called on the pres­i­dent to re­verse his de­ci­sion to keep the pho­tos un­der wraps.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have said that re­leas­ing the pho­tos risks in­flam­ing anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ment in the Mid­dle East and jeop­ar­diz­ing na­tional se­cu­rity. They also say that the pho­tos are dis­turb­ing in that they show the ter­ror­ist leader with a gun­shot wound to the fore­head.

Crit­ics counter that the pho­tos are needed to help es­tab­lish how bin Laden was killed, es­pe­cially given the ques­tions sur­round­ing whether he was shot in the front or from the back.

“We need to have those pho­to­graphs, not to prove that it’s him but to prove that the cir­cum­stances un­der which he was killed to al­lay any doubt about those cir­cum­stances,” said Mr. Der­showitz on CNNTV. “I think we will rue the day when we tried to sup­press this in­for­ma­tion.”

Given the re­cent gov­ern­ment leaks to web­sites such as Wik­iLeaks, he said, the pho­tos are bound to find their way onto the In­ter­net even­tu­ally.

“They will be leaked at some point by some­body, and it will be em­bar­rass­ing to the U.S.,” said Mr. Der­showitz.

Repub­li­cans were di­vided on how to han­dle the sen­si­tive pho­tos. Some con­ser­va­tives ar­gue the pho­tos should be re­leased to send a mes­sage to al Qaeda and other ter­ror­ist groups.

“Show photo as warn­ing to oth­ers seek­ing Amer­ica’s de­struc­tion. No pussy-foot­ing around, no pol­i­tick­ing, no drama; it’s part of the mis­sion,” said Mrs. Palin in a May 5 tweet.

Sen. Lind­sey Graham, South Carolina Repub­li­can, said with­hold­ing the pho­tos will “un­nec­es­sar­ily pro­long” the de­bate over whether bin Laden is dead. But Rep. Mike Rogers, the Michi­gan Repub­li­can who chairs the Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, agreed with the pres­i­dent that the pho­tos would only serve as a “tro­phy.”

There also was grum­bling over the de­ci­sion about “Geronimo,” the mil­i­tary code word as­signed to bin Laden for the op­er­a­tion. Loretta Tuell, staff di­rec­tor and chief coun­sel for the Se­nate In­dian Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, called it “in­ap­pro­pri­ate” to link the Apache leader Geronimo to the world’s dead­li­est ter­ror­ist, the Associated Press re­ported.

For all the ku­dos Mr. Obama has re­ceived for elim­i­nat­ing bin Laden, it hasn’t trans­lated to a huge bounce in the polls. A Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity poll of reg­is­tered vot­ers con­ducted af­ter the raid and re­leased May 5 showed the pres­i­dent’s ap­proval rat­ing at 52 per­cent, up 6 points from a sur­vey con­ducted the pre­vi­ous week.

His dis­ap­proval rat­ing also dropped 8 points to 40 per­cent. Other sur­veys showed his ap­proval rat­ing up any­where from 9 to 11 points.

But vot­ers are still un­happy with his per­for­mance on the econ­omy. The same Quin­nip­iac poll showed 42 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers fa­vored his ap­proach to the deficit, while 44 per­cent pre­fer the Repub­li­can plan. A week ear­lier, 42 per­cent sup­ported the pres­i­dent and 46 per­cent sup­ported the GOP.

“The killing of Osama bin Laden has helped Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s pop­u­lar­ity but not mas­sively,” said Peter A. Brown, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of the Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity Polling In­sti­tute. “Vot­ers have upped their opin­ion of the pres­i­dent’s han­dling of na­tional se­cu­rity mat­ters. But they have not changed their minds about his stew­ard­ship of the econ­omy.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.