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Newly Disclosed Memo Proves Ben Shapiro’s a Partisan Hack

April 27, 2012

The assassination of Osama bin Laden by US special forces certainly has created a political problem for the Republican party. They spent years demagoguing the war on terror, but now the symbol of that struggle is dead. The man who green-lighted the operation wasn’t George W. Bush or John McCain, but Barack Obama. And you can bet that the Democrats are going to beat that drum from now until November. For example (via):

My own view is kind of “meh.” The death of Osama bin Laden resulted from years of intelligence and military activities; the President’s approval of the operation marked a culmination of a great deal of work, no small measure of which was done under the prior administration. But this is the way American politics work — the President gets credit and blame for what happens under the President’s watch — and the video pretty much sums up the rationale for why Obama can claim a share of the spoils. 
Regardless, conservative opinion-leaders have plenty of options for minimizing or otherwise handling the political difficulties created by bin Laden’s death. But the one being peddled by Ben Shapiro at Breitbart is… well… read on.

It starts with a memo recently published in Time magazine:

Received phone call from Tom Donilon who stated that the President made a decision with regard to AC1 [Abbottabad Compound 1]. The decision is to proceed with the assault.

The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven’s hands. The approval is provided on the risk profile presented to the President. Any additional risks are to be brought back to the President for his consideration. The direction is to go in and get bin Laden and if he is not there, to get out. Those instructions were conveyed to Admiral McRaven at approximately 10:45 am.

Seems pretty straightforward, right? The President approves the operation based on the “risk profile” he was presented. If new risks emerge, he wants to be made aware of them and given the opportunity to reconsider the operation. In other words, Obama didn’t take himself out of the decision loop. Sounds like the kind of thing that a hands-on-this-is-my-call-and-it-remains-my-call executive would do, right?

Well, thank goodness Shaprio is here to correct such an obvious misreading. What the memo really shows is that Obama is a weasely weasel who most certainly can’t claim a smidgen of credit for authorizing a high-risk operation.

Only the memo doesn’t show a gutsy call. It doesn’t show a president willing to take the blame for a mission gone wrong. It shows a CYA maneuver by the White House. 

The memo puts all control in the hands of Admiral McRaven – the “timing, operational decision making and control” are all up to McRaven. So the notion that Obama and his team were walking through every stage of the operation is incorrect. The hero here was McRaven, not Obama. And had the mission gone wrong, McRaven surely would have been thrown under the bus. 

The memo is crystal clear on that point. It says that the decision has been made based solely on the “risk profile presented to the President.” If any other risks – no matter how minute – arose, they were “to be brought back to the President for his consideration.” This is ludicrous. It is wiggle room. It was Obama’s way of carving out space for himself in case the mission went bad. If it did, he’d say that there were additional risks of which he hadn’t been informed; he’d been kept in the dark by his military leaders.

You see, if Obama were a real leader he would green-lighted McRaven and then retired to the White House den to watch a baseball game. Or better yet, he would not only have taken operational command of the mission, but been the first into the compound. Hell, he would have killed Obama himself. With his bare hands! That’s what George W. Bush would have done. Now that man was a real decider.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.