By Bob Gaydos
There I was, sitting around Sunday night, contemplating my navel (a novel refuses to materialize) and trying to decide whether to write about the Royal Wedding (capitals are a must), a rather schizophrenic UFO festival in Pine Bush, the roasting of Donald Trump or the ongoing nuclear meltdown in Japan. This haphazard thought process reflects more than two decades of writing daily editorials, in which no event is ever out of bounds for some sort of comment -- constructive and cogent, of course.
And yet here I am, on Tuesday afternoon, once again feeling compelled to write about the thought processes of Barack Obama, forever more to be known, to the chagrin of Republicans, as the man who got Osama bin Laden.
George W. Bush, the man who made water board a verb and who leapt before ever looking for eight years in the White House, ordered bin Laden, the al Qaeda mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, brought to justice, dead or alive. It never happened on Bush’s watch.
Obama, his White House successor, the anti-Bush who sometimes drives friends and foes crazy by insisting on discussing, debating, compromising and cooperating on every important decision, delivered Osama’s head on a metaphorical platter. Actually, we’re told a Navy SEAL put a bullet in the terrorist’s head and his body was buried at sea within 24 hours, supposedly in accordance with Islamic religious beliefs. The fact that this makes it difficult to build a martyr’s memorial to him, is purely coincidental, we are also told. Besides, the White House said, no country would take bin Laden’s body
Of course. And who cares? There must be a watery entrance to hell as well. Beyond the national euphoria and celebration of the death of bin Laden, there was, of course, the usual political posturing in comments by potential rivals of Obama. Short version: A lot of Republicans managed to praise everyone involved in the mission, except for the commander-in-chief. It’s almost as if he were just a spectator, along for the ride.
Bush and Dick Cheney were not among them, perhaps because their time has come and gone and also perhaps because they know firsthand what it took to finally succeed. They congratulated Obama. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, known for his bluntness, was also direct: “I want to commend President Obama's Administration for its commitment and dedication to finally bringing Osama bin Laden to justice.” Perhaps coincidentally, Christie says he’s not running for president in 2012.
But it fell to the equally direct Rudy Giuliani, the politician most affected by the events of 9/11, to put Obama’s role in true perspective.
The former New York City mayor specifically praised Obama: “I feel a great deal of satisfaction that justice has been done, and I admire the courage of the president to make a decision like this because if something had gone wrong everyone would be blaming him,"
Oh my God, would they ever. For a president accused of dithering and dawdling and trying to be too nice to everybody, this was an incredibly gutsy call. Go into Pakistan, the hell with what their government thinks. Don’t bomb the compound -- too risky for civilian casualties. Send in a small, specially trained force. Capture or kill Osama and get out fast. Get evidence. Don’t leave anything behind.
And yet, we also know that this order did not come without months of intelligence gathering, many meetings, discussions, debates and probably arguments. Out of that had to come an overriding faith by the commander-in-chief in the plan of attack and in the men who would be chosen to carry out the mission. Yes, this is Osama bin Laden. Yes, we can get in and out. Yes, the risks are high. No, we can’t absolutely guarantee success.
Whew! Remember Jimmy Carter’s helicopters in the desert? Blackhawk down? Heck, Remember Ike and U-2 and JFK and the Bay of Pigs? Obama is a student of history. He knew what was at stake, for him and the country and he gave the order. Do it.
That decision immediately puts him in a much different category than any one of his potential opponents in 2012. Not that he wasn’t there already.
Consider first what it took for a junior senator, with little foreign policy experience, to decide to run for president against Hillary Clinton. Throw in the fact that the junior senator is black. Consider that in the two-plus years since his election, Obama, the ditherer and dawdler, has delivered a rescue package for a seriously ailing economy, a major reform of health care that contains new benefits for millions of Americans and also trims the deficit, overseen repeal of the military’s don’t ask/don’t tell policy on gays serving, gotten a budget passed with a GOP-controlled House of Representatives, all the while dealing with a Republican Party seemingly devoid of common sense or at least some leader willing to stand up and say the birthers and the persistent nay-sayers have no clothes, never mind evidence.
Presidents supposedly have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Gerald Ford was often mocked because of his difficulty mastering this challenge, but he was seen as a sincere, good man, so the joking was done in good humor. He never got elected president, however. Obama has no difficulty handling more than one problem at a time. Indeed, his intelligence, charm and rhetorical and oratorical skills are surely scary to some Americans, especially for a guy born in Kenya. (If there are any Fox News fans reading this, that’s a joke.)
Which, brings me back to Donald Trump. One of the most amazing things to me about Obama’s ability to carry on several projects at a high degree of excellence was his performance Saturday night at the White House Correspondents Dinner. As is custom, the president gave a 10-minute or so standup routine, aimed at members of the audience. Obama’s was spot-on perfect and hilarious, skewering a scowling Trump and plenty of other critics in the audience and, in my view, outshining the professional comedian who followed him, Seth Meyers of Saturday Night Live.
Yet Obama knew all the time he was mocking Trump that a decision on getting Osama was on his agenda in the morning. Pressure? Not so you’d notice. Obama was perfect Saturday night, leaving them laughing in the aisles. He didn’t miss a beat on Sunday either, bringing America cheering to its feet.
Some people are going to say he was lucky. Maybe so. But it takes a keen mind and a lot of careful thought and preparation -- not to mention a willingness to be criticized as indecisive -- to be as “lucky” as Barack Obama has been. He may still drive you (and me) crazy sometimes, but look around folks. So long as the wheels in that Occidental/Columbia/Harvard-educated brain keep churning, I’m sticking with the man who got Osama.