I’ll say this: if the Obama administration had to get one of two things wrong, the raid or the post-raid PR, America should be incredibly grateful it’s the latter.
No sooner did the relief and euphoria over Bin Laden’s demise begin to subside, than a cacophony of voices began deconstructing the events at Bin Laden’s compound, the administration’s recounting of those events, the president’s decision-making process, the role of torture in obtaining leads, the legality of Bin Laden’s killing, the wisdom of burying him at sea, the release (or not) of gruesome death photos, and on and on.
Some of these questions are legitimate and necessary. Whenever we take lives, we should be certain of our moral justification. It is the right thing to do to examine the operation to make sure we complied with fundamental norms of law, ethics and justice. It is also judicious to make sure we don’t inflame passions around the world by appearing to gloat in the gory details of the killing.
Perhaps most importantly, we should avoid the despicable urge by people like John Yoo to use Bin Laden’s death as a means to advance their civil-liberties-busting, pro-torture agenda. [Incidentally, Yoo also took a swipe at the brave Navy SEALs who conducted the raid.]
But the conversation over the past 24 hours has devolved into an avalanche of questions that threatens to turn President Obama’s well-deserved victory lap into a nitpicking fest that overshadows the operation’s success. And of course, the president’s critics love it. What better way to deny him the political benefits of a military success than to portray him as the bungler-in-chief who can’t get his story straight?
Unfortunately, the administration has been surprisingly flat-footed in its response to these attacks and questions. Just as with the health care debate, the Obama team seems paralyzed by the chaos and speed of the online news cycle. Clarity of messaging and clarity of purpose are the only way to quell this growing PR mess.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to engage in a debate about morality and justice, war and terrorism. The president’s detractors are seizing on an opportunity to poke holes in a brilliantly successful operation, one where Obama accomplished what his predecessor only pretended he could do.
Let’s hope the White House gets focused on what they achieved (and rightfully deserve credit for) and that they stop trying to spin the spinners.