Conservatives Should Just Let Obama Spike the Football

With the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s eradication from the mortal sphere comes a swirl of political quarreling over President Obama’s spiking of the football. The other day, Obama chided Mitt Romney, in his typically peevish and unsubtle fashion, for opposing the policy he eventually pursued of unilateral action during the 2008 campaign:

“I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. That’s been at least my practice,” he said. “I said that I would go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him and I did. if there are others who said one thing and now suggest they would do something else, I’d go ahead and let them explain.”

But Romney’s response – a line about the fact that the decision to take out Osama bin Laden unilaterally was so obvious, of course he would’ve done it, even Jimmy Carter would’ve done it – strikes me as wrong-headed. So too do attempts by those on the right, such as by Ben Shapiro here, or John Bolton here, to argue that it wasn’t a “gutsy call” on the part of the president at all. I think this is inaccurate argument to advance, and I think it does no political service to the right to diminish Obama’s role in the OBL raid. In fact, I’d argue that Obama is accomplishing that himself. But let’s come back to that point.

First, for Shapiro: there are strategic, operational, and tactical levels of decision-making in times of war. Telling the commander of SOCOM to lead an operation, and him telling a SEAL commander to lead at a tactical level, is not passing the buck in any way, shape, or form from the strategic decision President Obama made. Even Ed Morrissey is skeptical. Those on the right need to realize that their best response to questions on this is simply saying they’re proud of the men and women who accomplished this aim, and move on before getting into disputes about the chain of command.

Second, for Bolton. The former U.N. ambassador’s continued revisionism regarding Osama bin Laden only makes him seem smaller. He says: 

“I understand the Obama administration is trying to make the argument that foreign policy is a strength of theirs, using the killing of Osama bin Laden. But the way I would look at it is this: Osama bin Laden was killed while Obama was president–he wasn’t killed because Obama was president.”

Well, look at it this way: thanks to our two party system, there were only two people who could possibly be president “while” Osama bin Laden was killed. President Obama’s opponent explicitly opposed the method used to kill him throughout the 2008 campaign — a unilateral attack within a sovereign nation and a purported ally. When asked this specific question during their 2008 debate, McCain said that he’d work with the Pakistanis, not go directly in to kill bin Laden unilaterally. From the videotape:

QUESTIONER: “Should the United States respect Pakistani sovereignty and not pursue al-Qaida terrorists who maintain bases there, or should we ignore their borders and pursue our enemies, like we did in Cambodia during the Vietnam War?”

OBAMA: …I do believe that we have to change our policies with Pakistan. We can’t coddle, as we did, a dictator, give him billions of dollars, and then he’s making peace treaties with the Taliban and militants. What I have said is we’re going encourage democracy in Pakistan, expand our non-military aid to Pakistan so that they have more of a stake in working with us, but insisting that they go after these militants.

And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act, and we will take them out.

MCCAIN: You know, my hero is a guy named Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt used to say walk softly – talk softly, but carry a big stick. Senator Obama likes to talk loudly. In fact, he said he wants to announce that he’s going to attack Pakistan. Remarkable. You know, if you are a country and you’re trying to gain the support of another country, then you want to do everything you can that they would act in a cooperative fashion. When you announce that you’re going to launch an attack into another country, it’s pretty obvious that you have the effect that it had in Pakistan: It turns public opinion against us… Now, our relations with Pakistan are critical, because the border areas are being used as safe havens by the Taliban and Al Qaida and other extremist organizations, and we have to get their support…. We need to help the Pakistani government go into Waziristan, where I visited, a very rough country, and – and get the support of the people, and get them to work with us and turn against the cruel Taliban and others. And by working and coordinating our efforts together, not threatening to attack them, but working with them, and where necessary use force, but talk softly, but carry a big stick.

Obama rebutted McCain by saying that wasn’t what he was suggesting at all:

OBAMA: I want to be very clear about what I said. Nobody called for the invasion of Pakistan. Sen. McCain continues to repeat this. What I said was the same thing that the audience here today heard me say, which is, if Pakistan is unable or unwilling to hunt down bin Laden and take him out, then we should. Now, that I think has to be our policy, because they are threatening to kill more Americans.

Now some might say this was more about McCain saying telegraphing the punch was unwise. But he made no such critique in other situations, instead demagoguing: “Will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested bombing our ally, Pakistan?” More McCain: “Pakistan is a sovereign nation… [they] want Bin Laden out of their hair and out of their country.” He criticized the lone fellow Republican candidate who took the same position as Obama. And when Sarah Palin went rogue and suggested she agreed with Obama’s policy that we should violate Pakistani borders if they didn’t hunt terrorists there at our behest, McCain quickly shut her down and suggested it was just idle talk.

This was not just a difference of saying what you were going to do, telegraphing a punch. It was a fundamental policy difference of strategic importance: whether we should act unilaterally to take out bin Laden, or whether cooperation with the Pakistanis was necessary or advisable. Given our numerous problems with intel leaks through the ISI and the unreliability of Pakistan’s Pervaiz Musharraf, it was not a small item of debate, but a very meaningful one. McCain gave us plenty of evidence he supported the latter view, which in retrospect looks as brazenly naïve as it always was, particularly considering where bin Laden was ultimately found.

Back to Bolton: saying Osama bin Laden was killed “while” Barack Obama was president ignores the fact that the very policy difference between the two men directly impacted how and why bin Laden was killed. (My own opinion is that when someone implements a policy that was the opposite of his opponents’, and the policy succeeds, you credit him.) Unless, of course, Bolton would have us believe McCain was lying all along, or would have changed his mind when confronted with facts as president (McCain, of course, being known as a man who is not at all stubborn and changes his mind with ease). And remember that McCain also opposed the exact same interrogation methods and facilities Obama did… methods and facilities that yes, despite the left’s best efforts to rebut the charge, led to bin Laden’s death.

Now to Romney. I think his error here was the smallest of the bunch, but he still shouldn’t have given the press the Carter-namecheck answer that ordering the strike was obvious. It seems, to a smaller degree than Bolton, to make the “gutsy call” into an obvious move. It wasn’t, and suggesting otherwise is historical revisionism. There are so many possible outcomes which could’ve hurt the U.S. effort, turning into an embarrassing international incident, that a cooperative move with the Pakistanis or a hands-off drone strike both seemed like more pragmatic, responsible decisions to many in Washington’s policy elite, and even some in his own administration. And that ignores Romney’s own weakness on this point, which provides the press another opportunity to bash him.

If those on the right would just leave well enough alone, I believe Obama would have done, and in fact is doing, his best to make himself seem smaller on the issue. He can’t help but repeatedly spike the football concerning bin Laden’s death, and he is going to keep on doing it this whole campaign. These repeated invocations about how important he was to the mission just make him seem egotistical and self-aggrandizing, lecturing us for not giving him enough credit. It is unbecoming and unpresidential of him to order the historians how to frame history – Obama, not content to be his own messiah, seems to forever be trying to write his own Bible as well – and such a performance would play poorly with independent voters, who eventually would tire of him acting like he shot the bullet through bin Laden’s skull himself.

Unfortunately, by disputing this so loudly and so publicly, the right takes the focus off of the economy or unemployment and makes the election talk focus on how much credit Obama should get for ridding the world of one of its most evil men. This is not, in my opinion, a “winning strategy.”

So those on the right should let Obama spike the football again and again like a petulant child. He won’t have the restraint to refrain from doing it so often that it grates. Instead, the right should realize that their best response to questions on this is simply saying: “I’m so proud of our men and women in uniform who eradicated Osama bin Laden from the face of the earth… and I’m glad that President Obama came around to our position that information gathered through enhanced interrogation can help us destroy our enemies.” Simple, classy, accurate, and then move on to talking about things people will actually vote about.

  1. flownover

    Spoils- Meet victor .

    Victor will be talking about you as much as he likes. 

    Get used to it

  2. David Williamson

    I agree – based on the fact that the more the voters hear from Mr Obama and see his true nature, the more his numbers sink. And he may well find himself being swift-boated by the Seals.

    But I liked Mr Bolton’s answer, and Mr Romney’s. Even Mr McCain’s.

    Sometimes we conservatives criticize ourselves too much.

  3. Tommy De Seno

    I don’t think it is historically accurate to say that any President would have made the call Obama did.

    Didn’t Billy Jeff Clinton have Osama in his sights and refuse to pull the trigger?

  4. DocJay

    McCain said last night that heroes don’t brag.  I get your point Ben and it may well be correct.

    What if Obama was concerned only with himself and had to be talked in to it, only agreeing after he realized how bad it would be for himself if he didn’t green light this?

    What if he took credit for increased oil production when in fact it was fracking that he opposed?

    What if he took credit for stopping global warming?

  5. flownover
    Tommy De Seno: I don’t think it is historically accurate to say that any President would have made the call Obama did.

    Didn’t Billy Jeff Clinton have Osama in his sights and refuse to pull the trigger? · 28 minutes ago

    Edited 26 minutes ago

    You mean that there aren’t any kudos for aspirin factories ? He did stop 

    any warlike attempts at over the counter healthcare in that region.

  6. thelonious

    If Obama makes the wrong call on the Bin Laden raid wrong he possibly losses an election and some esteem.  If the Navy Seals mess up the Bin Laden raid they lose their lives.  Obama made a courages decision but let’s not forget who the true heroes are.

  7. Tommy De Seno

    Tommy De Seno: I don’t think it is historically accurate to say that any President would have made the call Obama did.

    Didn’t Billy Jeff Clinton have Osama in his sights and refuse to pull the trigger? · 28 minutes ago

    Edited 26 minutes ago

    You mean that there aren’t any kudos for aspirin factories ? He did stop 

    any warlike attempts at over the counter healthcare in that region. · 15 minutes ago

    Forgot about that.

  8. Douglas

    We let him spike the football. What we’re not letting him do, is spike it over and over and over again, all while claiming that the spike gives him the right to tear the stadium down.

  9. KC Mulville

    Our unwillingness to let Obama crow about his courage is partly due to his obvious loathing to accept responsibility for anything that doesn’t go right. 

  10. ParisParamus

    Ben Domenech, I think you consistently overestimate the savvy of American voters.  If Obama’s moronic bragging went unchecked, many, if not most voters would think he was acting nobly.

  11. Sumomitch

    Spiking the football? I’d say we are we way past that, into a full blown choreographed end zone celebration: the Lambeau has been leaped, the cell phone pulled from the pads, and the opposition duly taunted.  I now fully expect Obama to enter the stadium in Charlotte next summer with UBL’s head on a pike, with Code Pink strewing carnations in his path, to the roar of  25,000 bloodthirsty Democrat delegates.

  12. I. raptus

    Very well said, Ben.  I agree completely.

  13. Charles Mark

    I flinched when I read the Carter reference, not because it was unfair to the former President, but because it was unworthy of a Presidential candidate. Romney needs to emphasise his measured persona, not come across as peevish, like the incumbent. Bush was re-elected in part because he is a gentleman. A bit of decency can go a long way.

  14. Commodore BTC

    Romney was content to praise Obama and the troops. It was Obama who started trying to attack Romney and forced Mitt to respond.

    If Obama keeps trying to score political points with this, he might anger ex-Seals enough to organize and speak out. A repeat of the Swift Boat scenario.

  15. Spin

    If there’s any criticism to be pointed out at all, I think it is that Obama argued against Bush-era policies as Candidate, then largely embraced them as President.  This actually not a criticism at all in the eyes of the center, the votes of whom we need.  It is a criticism in the eyes of the left, who will vote for Obama no matter what.  So I agree that we are likely best just to congratulate the President on the decision he made, because it was the right decision.  Then we look like the bigger men (and women).  Engaging him in the debate just brings us down to his level.  If its wrong for Obama to use the issue for electoral gain, then it is wrong of us to engage him on it.

  16. Last Outpost on the Right

    Obama has exactly one foreign-policy decision to his credit. His repeated gloating only serves to highlight his deficiencies in dealing with Israel, Iran, Syria, Africa, South America, Mexico, Canada, and the list goes on.

  17. Redneck Desi

    I loved Romney’s answer…but from here on out no more whining because I think that Obama is just diminishing himself. Is just me or is the supposed genius of axelrod and company extremely overrated?

  18. John Marzan

    Den Beste: Give Obama the Medal of Honor!

    We are honored to have such a valorous warrior as our Commander in Chief. The bravery, the self sacrifice, the sheer guts he demonstrated last year is without peer in the history of this nation. Lincoln’s steadfastness during the Civil War pales by comparison.

    Surely he deserves to be given the Medal of Honor for that act, don’t you think? It’s the highest honor this nation can bestow on a member of the military, and is granted for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.”

    Well! If that doesn’t describe President Obama, I don’t know who it does describe. So I say, give that man the Medal of Honor!

    He can keep it next to his Nobel Prize.

  19. dittoheadadt

    Seems to me the obvious retort is, “Mr. President, would you identify the tactics, strategies, and policies that led to bin Laden’s demise, and with regard to each one, state whether you supported or opposed it as Senator or President?”

    I might also ask him, “Why did it take you 18 hours and a good night’s sleep to decide whether to rub out bin Laden?  Most Americans would’ve taken about 18 seconds to decide.”

    I suspect this all is the gist of Bolton’s comments.

  20. John Marzan

    Let Obama spike the football? can’t we just make fun of him instead?

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