It may surprise you to learn that I’m really not big on titles. I use “The BPI Squirrel” in public because my real name, Regis Phlyphytyphts Fluffytail III, sounds too stuffy even to me. (My middle name comes from the Welsh side of the family.) I call my wife “Mrs. Squirrel” because her real name is Catherine and the nickname we use at Árbol Squirrel would confuse Pootie the Precious. Your lowly mail room clerk refers to the rest of the staff by their titles and everyone seems to prefer that, so I do that too.
Yet while I’m usually more informal, I realize there are times when titles matter. President of the United States, for example. And with respect to the military, Commander-in-Chief.
So I was more than a bit upset to read that Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) dismissed President Obama’s trip to Afghanistan as “an attempt to shore up his national security credentials, because he has spent the past three years gutting our military.”
That fit the Republican narrative that has emerged over the past few days as the GOP pushed back against the anniversary of the Bin Laden raid. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey wrote this in Monday’s Wall Street Journal:
Consider the events surrounding the operation. A recently disclosed memorandum from then-CIA Director Leon Panetta shows that the president’s celebrated derring-do in authorizing the operation included a responsibility-escape clause: “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.”
Which is to say, if the mission went wrong, the fault would be Adm. McRaven’s, not the president’s. Moreover, the president does not seem to have addressed at all the possibility of seizing material with intelligence value – which may explain his disclosure immediately following the event not only that bin Laden was killed, but also that a valuable trove of intelligence had been seized, including even the location of al Qaeda safe-houses. That disclosure infuriated the intelligence community because it squandered the opportunity to exploit the intelligence that was the subject of the boast.
In fact no sensible president would insist on personal control over “the timing and operational decision making” of such a raid. President Obama is not trained in special operations practices, and he quite reasonably left the planning and control of the mission in the hands of a military commander who was. Mukasey goes to cite speeches by President Lincoln accepting responsibility for military mistakes and praising the military for any successes.
The subtext of Sen. Inhofe’s and Mukasey’s arguments is clear: President Obama should accept the blame for anything that goes wrong, and credit anything that goes right to someone else. So while President Obama reviewed the operational plan for the Bin Laden raid and ordered a change that proved essential to the mission’s success, he should give all of the credit to the Navy SEALs.
Yet Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) said President Obama should be held accountable for the misdeeds of Secret Service agents in Colombia. He is the Chief Executive, after all. Just not the Commander-in-Chief … unless things go wrong.
Of course their objections are partisan political hackery. President Bush’s 2004 campaign was strewn with mentions of the 9/11 attacks, and then Sen. Joe Biden quipped that 2008 Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani’s typical sentence consisted of “a noun, a verb, and 9/11.” Interestingly, neither President Bush nor Mayor Giuliani talked about the failures on their watch that made the 9/11 attacks possible. And GOP presidential nominee John McCain’s 9/11 tribute video at the 2008 Republican National Convention bordered on terror porn.
But there’s more than a single election at stake here. Senator Inhofe claims President Obama has spent his entire term “gutting the military,” despite a series of military successes including the rescue of hostages from Somali pirates, providing air support that helped Libyans overthrow dictator Muamar Gaddafi, and dismantling Al Qaeda. Acknowledging these successes would not only harm Republicans in 2012, but undermine the long-standing meme that Democrats are weak on foreign policy.
President Obama has earned the title of Commander-in-Chief of America’s military, both by winning the 2008 election and by what he has accomplished since. And like any incumbent, he should run on those successes … even if it angers Republicans.
Good day and good nuts.