Presidents are supposed to make tough calls

President Obama, other officials, and national security advisers are updated on the mission against Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011. PETE SOUZA / The White House
President Obama, other officials, and national security advisers are updated on the mission against Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011. PETE SOUZA / The White House
Posted: May 07, 2012

It’s hard to believe that a whole year has elapsed since Osama bin Laden was killed. Though memories may fade with the passage of time, who can forget the stark drama of that daring nighttime raid in far away Pakistan?

Stunned by the crash of one of their helicopters, the Navy SEALs muddled about in fear and confusion. Seeing that the mission had stalled, President Obama fast-roped from his hovering Blackhawk into OBL’s secret compound to take charge.

Fixing the hapless, disoriented SEALs with his flinty gaze, he used his mellifluous baritone to calm and rally them to action. “Follow me!” he commanded, as he set his assault rifle on full auto and led them into the terrorist’s lair.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened. But, after witnessing Obama’s self-congratulatory marathon observance of the first anniversary of the OBL hit, you might think it had.

OK. I get it. Obama approved the mission to kill OBL. Good for him. But how much longer does he plan to gyrate in the end zone blowing himself kisses for doing his job?

To put this unseemly spectacle into perspective, compare Obama’s squirm-inducing narcissism to the self-effacing modesty of two of his predecessors.

When Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe, launched the Normandy invasion in June 1944, Western civilization hung in the balance as he set in motion the largest and riskiest amphibious military operation in history. In all of his public statements, not once did Eisenhower take credit for the invasion’s success or point out that it was he who had made the monumentally difficult and fateful decision to attack. Instead, he gave all praise and credit to the Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen who had done the actual fighting.

Even more impressively, in the event the landings had failed, Eisenhower intended to issue the following statement:

“My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

A finer example of true, courageous, and noble leadership cannot be had.

Similarly, to hasten the end of World War II, President Harry Truman made the controversial and world-altering decision to use atomic weapons against the Japanese. He did so without fanfare or self-aggrandizement. After the war, when he staunchly defended his use of the atomic bomb as a necessary measure to save American lives, he never so much as hinted that he deserved credit or praise for making such a historic and tough call.

After all, that’s what presidents do. They make tough calls.

Now, compare those self-effacing leaders and their enormously consequential decisions with Obama’s bizarre bragfest over his much less momentous and relatively easy and popular decision to sanction the assassination of America’s most hated villain.

As I said, Obama made the right call when he approved the OBL job. But just how much credit does he deserve for this? What choice did he have but to green-light the mission? If it had ever leaked that he had passed up a clear opportunity to take out OBL — whatever the potential embarrassment of failure — there would have been a fearsome public backlash, if not calls for impeachment. No, it was clearly in Obama’s overwhelming political interest to push the kill button.

Given those facts, it would behoove our self-regarding president to turn off the calliope, dim the spotlight, and give his war-hero narrative a rest. For in his efforts to mine the OBL killing for votes, Obama has only made himself look silly, small, and transparently manipulative as he attempts to bestow on himself the SEALs’ mantle of valor.

George Parry is a former state and federal prosecutor practicing law in Philadelphia. E-mail him at LGParry@dpt-law.

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