Monday, April 30, 2012

Catch of the Day

Goes to James Fallows, who takes on Mitt Romney's claim that "even Jimmy Carter" would have made the same call Barack Obama did with regard to the raid on bin Laden.

Fallows, who worked for Carter, is nevertheless far from a Carter apologist. On the other hand, I think it's fair to say that Fallows likes to give Carter the benefit of the doubt. That's not true about me! I'm a confirmed Carter-basher; I've even had any patience with his post-presidency, which I've mostly read as a long, selfish effort to rehab his reputation. But, fortunately, it's not necessary to defend Carter to appreciate the point Fallows makes, which is that Romney's reference is very much not apt. As Greg Sargent said in a similar point earlier, the historical reference Romney made underscores not what an easy decision it was, but what a difficult one.

There's also the associated point, pushed by the Obama campaign, that Romney specifically criticized Obama in 2007 for suggesting that this kind of raid was a good idea. I doubt the press will buy it, but they really should. One of the oddball outcomes of what was mostly historical happenstance has been to blur a real difference between the two parties over the last 20 years or so over the terrorist threat, with Democrats far more aggressive about going after al Qaeda and bin Laden in particular, while Republicans have focused on state actors. Leading to, for example, the incoming Bush administration in 2001 paying less attention to terrorist threats, and switching resources from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2002-2003.

Hmmm...I'm drifting a bit here. Anyway, it'll be interesting whether Mitt Romney's lack of foreign policy credentials means that the press will punish him for minor foreign policy gaffes, or, as Greg suggests in another (interesting) post that Republicans are automatically assumed to have national security competence by the press.

Back to Fallows: nice catch!

5 comments:

  1. Fallows misses the fact that the Eagle Claw raid Carter ordered was orders of magnitude more dangerous and difficult than the mission to kill OBL. The former involved extracting nearly 70 hostages from a hostile country, the later involved killing a single person in an officially friendly country.

    And a failure of the OBL mission would not have had anything like the same political consequences for Obama as the Eagle Claw failure did for Carter. OBL had already survived for 8 years under Bush, so the GOP couldn't credibly argue that the failure to kill him was due to Obama's incompetence/weakness. And even in a worst-case scenario where SEALS were killed in a helicopter crash, I doubt the public would have blamed Obama for making the attempt.

    OTOH, there was a huge political risk for Obama if he chose not to order the raid, and that information was leaked before the election.

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  2. Jon,
    I'm not buying it when you say "OBL had already survived for 8 years under Bush, so the GOP couldn't credibly argue that the failure to kill him was due to Obama's incompetence/weakness." and then close with "there was a huge political risk for Obama if he chose not to order the raid, and that information was leaked before the election."

    Choose one or the other.

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  3. The difference is that Bush never had good intelligence that OBL was living in a particular house, and failed to act on that information. It would have been very hard for Obama to explain that (also, Obama didn't know that al-Queda wouldn't carry out another successful attack before the election, which would make his not taking the shot at OBL look even worse). I don't think it would have been hard for the GOP to convince Americans that given the same intelligence, a GOP president would have given the kill order.

    And again, suppose the worst case scenario- a fatal helicopter crash- had happened on the OBL raid. Hundreds of US troops have been killed since Obama escalated in Afghanistan, on a mission that the US public doesn't support, and Obama hasn't paid much of a political price for that. I just don't buy this idea that a failed OBL raid would have seriously damaged Obama.

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  4. Jon,
    your point seems to be that Obama took the easy road, because "no raid" would have hurt him more than "a failed raid". And that's what I'm just not buying.

    The troops killed in Afghanistan aren't hurting Obama so much because in that case, Republicans can't point out a different route on which those troops wouldn't have died. (There is such a route - bringing the soldiers home - but Republicans would regard it as defeatism)

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  5. The political calculus didn't just involve which decision- raid or no raid- presented more of a political risk. Even if there was no significant political risk to not ordering the raid, as long as a) the political downside of a failed raid wasn't that great, and b) there was a huge political upside to a successful raid, Obama still has a strong incentive to order the raid. Throw in the fact that there certainly was at least *some* non-trivial potential downside to not ordering the raid, and it seems pretty clear that the incentives are to err on the side of action.

    Re: The Afghanistan analogy, in the event of a failed OBL raid ending in troops' deaths, the GOP likewise might not have been able to point out a different route in which those troops wouldn't have died. They would not have attacked Obama from the left for ordering the raid, any more than they attacked him from the left for ordering the escalation in Afghanistan.

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