Monday, April 30, 2012

Risky or Not: Here We Come

The topic du jour is whether Obama was risking his political career by sending the SEALs to hunt down Osama Bin Laden.  Micah Zenko looks at the past and argues that Presidents have not been punished for launching failed raids.  The social science on starting wars pretty clear--democratic initiators who lose tend not to get re-elected, but raids/short-term missions like Abbotland and Desert 1 might be different.

However, as James Joyner notes:  "In fairness, Jimmy Carter didn't have to deal with the 24/7/365 outrage machine that exists today. There was no Rush Limbaugh, no Fox News, no blogs, and no Twitter. "  This much I agree with.  But the next sentence not so much: "But even in today’s toxic political climate, most Americans would have applauded a SEAL raid to get the man behind 9/11 even if it had ended in catastrophe."

No, I disagree most vehemently.  "Most Americans"??  Given that a solid minority (what 30% these days) have big questions about Obama's background despite the evidence that exists that he is an American-born Christian, I am pretty sure that a failed mission would not be applauded by most Americans.  The most popular news network would be quite gleeful in ripping apart the President and finding random retired military officers to ponder how the President could send soldiers to their deaths for a political stunt.  Yes, the public has a short memory, but failure in this mission would have been played by Fox day-in and day-out until election night. 

Indeed, I often think that it might have been a good thing for Bush to be President on 9/11 and not Gore.  Why?  Because I am not sure the Republicans would have rallied around the President but instead would have launched impeachment efforts.  The country might have been torn apart at a time where unity was kind of important. 

Whether Obama did the social science or not on past missions is not clear, but it would seem to be the case that he probably believed that his presidency might ride on the mission.  Would a Republican have made the same decision?  Some of them certainly.  Others?  Who knows.  We do know that a President Biden would not have done it.

It is interesting that this is being discussed much since Obama's foreign policy record is not a weakness but a strength, so attacking this piece of it seems like a waste of firepower.  But I guess if you are running against Obama, you have to attack the entire record.  Good thing Romney does not have a record to run against.   Oops.

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