In a dazzling demonstration of pure coincidence, President Obama landed in Afghanistan this week on the one year anniversary of Usama bin Laden’s death.
I say coincidence because only a hardened cynic would think that the White House political team cooked up an opportunity to give a campaign speech from Bagram Airbase to the American public, ostensibly to celebrate the signing of the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement.
The Agreement no doubt deserves a prime time national address. Most Americans, keen to better understand how we’ll entangle ourselves with the Afghans for a few more decades, have been clamoring for a national speech on the partnering arrangement.
Thank God we’ve been able to reach an agreement with Afghan President Karzai, a corrupt and conniving leader with no ability to cling to power once the screen door hits the backside of the last departing US soldier.
Mind you, the Afghan Agreement doesn’t do anything to address the more serious matters impacting our future relationship with Afghanistan, namely troop levels and financial assistance. Nor does it answer the question of how our continued presence in Afghanistan serves our critical interests.
It does, however, politely suggest that the Afghan government attempt to do something about their corruption. So that’s nice.
The fact that Tuesday night’s speech was scheduled to remind Americans of that dramatic moment when Obama announced UBL’s passing is, I believe, not a staged effort to spike the football into a big pile of see what I did there. Then again, in many circles I’m known as an idiot.
Frankly, and anytime you start a sentence off with “frankly” it means you’re about to make a serious point, I believe Obama certainly deserves credit for making the call to let slip the dogs of war. Anybody who thinks that pulling the trigger on the UBL operation was an easy call is naïve or rabidly partisan. The intelligence was sufficiently actionable but not conclusive and there were dissenting opinions.
But let’s once again remind ourselves that the only reason he got to make that call in the first place was because of the laborious, painstaking, dangerous work carried out over a nine year period by the CIA, intel community, military and others in pursuit of bin Laden. They, and of course the team that took care of business that night a year ago in Pakistan, get the lion’s share of credit.
President Bush gets credit to be sure…as do senior members of his cabinet and military during his time in office who persisted in the war on terror when Democrats, including then Senator Obama, were decrying the work that would eventually lead to UBL’s death.
Point being, there’s plenty of credit to go round. Feel free to take some yourself.
The current posturing over who gets that credit, who would’ve made the decision to go after UBL and how or if to incorporate the success of the Bin Laden takedown into the campaign is pathetic and demeaning to the heroic efforts of the SEALs, the CIA and all those who actually accomplished the task. The excuse that it’s the election season and this sort of thing is to be expected doesn’t make it right.
I was inclined to not be churlish about the White House’s use of UBL as a campaign tool, right up until Air Force One touched down in Afghanistan. Attempting to pin the trip and speech on the Afghan Partnership Agreement (OMG, we’ve got to get this signed before the NATO meeting in Chicago on 20 May, it is seriously so important…) is such a sad little move.
I would’ve had more respect for the administration if they sold the trip for what it was… a campaign rally with the military backdrop of Afghanistan designed to remind us all of Obama’s national security credentials on the one year anniversary of UBL going to hell. Put that on a T-shirt.
Instead, we got yet another Obama event that blurred the line between real work and campaigning.
The Afghan Agreement provided top cover for the not so subliminal message that Obama adviser David Axelrod and his troops really wanted out there…we got bin Laden.
Given the state of the economy, the inconsistencies in our foreign policy and rising gas prices, it’s understandable that the administration would use UBL as a campaign talking point. Taking him out was definitely the high point of the past three plus years. Any administration, Democratic or Republican, would do the same in these circumstances.
But judiciously referring to the UBL killing as a highlight and then moving on is one thing… propping him up and putting him front and center on the campaign stage like some version of 'Weekend at Usama's' is, perhaps, overkill.
Mike Baker is a former CIA covert operations officer and President of Diligence LLC, a global intelligence and security firm. Follow Mike on Twitter@MBCompanyMan.