Thursday, May 5, 2011

Obama's Halo

Commenting on Barack Obama’s success in executing Osama bin Laden, Stephen Dubner suggested that an executive who succeeds is often seen to have gained a halo. Link here.

Thanks to this halo effect, the leader will be seen as competent and capable in other areas of responsibility. Being the captain of the winning football team induces other people to assume that you are great in math and history.

Unfortunately, the halo effect have very little staying power. If you assume that the quarterback is great at math, you assumptions will be affirmed or denied by his next math test.

Similarly, when an administration succeeds in executing Osama bin Laden, we naturally assume that it has gotten its act together. We assume that its communications and messaging operations will operate as efficiently as a platoon of Navy SEALS.

Yet, when someone who has never shown any exception leadership skills finally manages to display some, we will also be asking whether his success was an accident or whether it will be repeated.

Was success a singular occurrence, a mix of happenstance and good luck, or was it a sign of a high level of a hitherto unrecognized competence?

If the execution of bin Laden shows American resolve and was intended as a warning to future jihadis, then the question will be: If the leader had to do it over again, would he have.

Was the operation an accident or a policy?

Thus, people must pay close attention to further evidence that would tell us and the world what to expect in the future.

Everyone wants to know, when the next crisis hits, who is going to show up: the intrepid commander or the bumbler.

Everyone agrees that Obama made a courageous and correct decision when he order the Navy SEALS to invade Osama bin Laden’s compound and execute the terrorist mastermind.

It was more risky than sending in a few bombs, but it provided us with a body, thus, with proof that bin Laden had been killed.

Shooting bin Laden in the face was a great touch, a loss of face, an extra humiliation. It is far better than shooting a man in the back.

At the least, you do not want your enemies to be able to save face.

I also agreed that disposing of the body in the sea was a fitting end to the episode.

I questioned whether or not bin Laden ought to have been accorded the respect involved in a memorial service. Some have suggested that the service was minimal, but others have countered that a man who was considered by our government to have hijacked Islam, thus, who was not a true Muslim, should not have been treated as one.

One commenter on this blog suggested that the funeral service on the SS Vinson was minimal, which may well be the case. Others have taken a position closer to my original position, namely, that bin Laden did not deserve a proper funeral at all.

Some members of the Obama administration seem to feel that bin Laden deserved this respect. I find the assertion questionable.

Today Alan Dershowitz argued that the body should have been preserved for an autopsy so that we can best know what happened. Dershowitz recommended that we should have followed the procedure used in murder cases. Link here.

Here I disagree. Bin Laden was not a criminal; he was not going to be brought to trial, even by the Obama administration. Autopsy results might have been used to collect evidence against the SEALS who executed him.

American guilt culture does not need more fodder.

Obama was also correct to go on national television Sunday night to announce the operation’s success.

He erred, however, in drawing too much attention to himself and his role.

A great leader takes responsibility for errors and credits others for his successes. It’s a basic principle of leadership.

Obama had no real need to draw attention to himself. No one could have failed to notice that he was in charge. To say so was mildly insulting, too close to gloating.

Perhaps Obama felt that since he finally had gotten something right, he needed to pat himself on the back.

I think it right that Obama is traveling to Ground Zero today to lay a commemorative wreath. Ceremonial closure feels to me like the proper gesture.

And Obama did well to invite George W. Bush to attend the ceremony. From a man known for a singular lack of grace and respect toward his predecessor, this was clearly a step in the right direction.

I trust that this represents a fair appraisal of everything that the Obama administration got right.

Now, for the other side.

As Neil Munro just explained on The Daily Caller, the White House seems to have lost control of the public relations aspect of Obama’s most singular achievement. Link here.

Let us count the ways:

I do not think that Obama should have accepted to go on 60 Minutes this Sunday. It was bad enough, but excusable, for him to claim a large amount of the credit for the success of the operation last Sunday. Appearing on 60 Minutes feels like gloating, like what he called, in an unfortunate metaphor, “a victory lap.”

In the same interview Obama claimed that he could not release the photo of bin Laden’s corpse because: “We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.”

As John Podhoretz pointed out, these metaphors are strikingly inappropriate. Link here.

Sports metaphors, even mixed sports metaphors, do not fit the occasion. We are not dealing with NASCAR; we are talking about a war.

The sports metaphors detract from the seriousness and solemnity of the occasion. Executing bin Laden was not entertainment.

It sounds as though Obama was indulging in what he must have thought was cool adolescent argot. In so doing he made himself seem less a commander, more a spectator.

And then, Obama announced on 60 Minutes that he would not release photos of the dead Osama bin Laden.

One does understand that there are two sides to this question. Still and all, as many commentators have noted, if we sent in the SEALS in order to bring out a corpse, why hide its image?

Keeping the pictures secret has nothing to do with convincing the doubters who believe that Obama is still alive. Al Qaeda operatives have already declared that bin Laden is dead. Those who fail to believe now will never believe.

Some have argued that we must hide the photos because Muslims are an especially sensitive, that is, thin-skinned people? But, since when do we compromise our principles because someone might take grievous offense? Do they believe that Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses should have been censored.

Some have suggested that humiliating photos would have incited Muslim violence. Others have countered that aspiring jihadis do not really need another motive to commit violence and mayhem. They have sufficient motivation in the death of bin Laden.

If Obama wasn’t worried about the “national security risk” in shooting Osama bin Laden in the face and dumping his body in the North Arabian Sea, why does he think that a photo will provoke a wave of Muslim violence?

If our government suspects it will, then Osama bin Laden must have been a respected figure in the Muslim community.

If bin Laden, as our government has been proclaiming for nearly a decade now, did not represent Islam, then moderate Muslims probably do not miss him. If they do not consider him to be one of them, they are not likely to be outraged by his ultimate humiliation and loss of face.

As Alan Dershowitz argued, there is no reason to believe that the image of the dead bin Laden would have incited any more violence than did the images of the dead Saddam Hussein.

Harold Evans suggested that showing the image of bin Laden would place us in the same moral universe as the Tudor monarchs who decapitated their enemies and place their heads and torsos around London.

Obviously, there’s a difference between visual images and suppurating body parts, but, as Evans notes, the picture of a dead and dishonored bin Laden might give some future jihadis pause.

It’s one thing to think that you can become a terrorist and be covered in honor and glory. Quite another to think that you are going to be publicly humiliated and that your mother will be exposed to a picture of you with half of your face shot off.

Now the administration has coupled the strong, courageous act of executing bin Laden with the weakfish, retiring action of refusing to release his last portrait. In so doing it has compromised the message sent by the SEALS.

Public relations executive Eric Dezenhall suggested that the administration was projecting the view that: “displays of strength are immoral, that it is somehow immoral to defend yourself or neutralize an enemy with force.”

Clearly, that is not the message we ought to be sending.

By hiding the photo Obama is projecting regret, embarrassment, an unwillingness to take full responsibility for the consequences of his actions.

Failing to release the photos risks compromising what should have been Obama’s greatest success.

You want your messaging to state that the action was purposeful, intentional, and that, if you had to do it over again, you would.

Obama has both bragged too much about his success and hid the evidence that would have shown his strength and power.

We are all willing to accord Obama the full measure of credit for his success. He himself seems to be projecting hesitation and embarrassment.


The Ghost said...

He took 16 hours to "decide" to say yes to the mission ...

I would suggest that the mission was already green lite by the military and the only thing that would have stopped it was a firm "No" from Obama at that point ...

There may be 3 Americans that would had said "No" at that point so his "courage" was on a par with breathing to stay alive ...

notice in the sit room picture he is wearing a windbreaker with what appears to be an Izod under it ... he didn't come from the WH residence in that outfit ... at least he wasn't actually on the golf course when the mission went down ... that kind of proves how serious he was ... I guess ...

Malcolm said...

I like this quote from Daniel Greenfield

"What a failure Obama is that even the one success to his name is a testament to the failure of his own ideas."

Stuart Schneiderman said...

The poor messaging does lead one to think that he was much less involved than the spinners would have us think.

And I agree with Malcolm that the operation is a living repudiation of most of what Obama believes and much of what he campaigned against.

Unfortunately, very few people will notice.

Dennis said...

The old saying that "Even a blind squirrel will find an acorn" covers this rather nicely. Every hour brings new revelations of just plain incompetence.
The desire to take credit caused the Obama administration to jump before they had enough information to speak cogently and act as one voice on the death of Osama. Even the preempting of television to make an announcement allowed other "media" sources to get the story out will they dithered.
I seriously doubt that, other than the SEALs and the military services involved, the ramifications of these actions and their accomplishment were well thought out.
If this is an example of competence and leadership then we are in real trouble.

Malcolm said...

Here is one Navy Seal opinion of these recent events.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Those are great articles, made greater by the fact that they come from someone within the community.

Thanks for linking them, Malcolm

Anonymous said...

I am confused in that the reason the high risk SEALs operation was undertaken was to produce evidence (a body), then that evidence was destroyed before the court of public opinion woke up the next day.

Now it doesn't seem to make sense in that a bombing would have done as much and destroyed the makeshift shrine of the compound now.

Malcolm said...

I thought you would enjoy this article.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

That's a great article, Malcolm. Thanks for linking it.

Susan said...

According to a recent Debkafile report (Israel), the Navy Seals' mission was pretty unexceptional and resembled hundreds of routine military operations carried out daily by US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and also by the Israeli Defense Forces around the Middle East. Also, Debka states that Bin Laden's whereabouts have been known since at least May of 2007 and so, they ask, why didn't Bush act on this information, and why did Obama act now? Although I don't always find Debka very convincing, and sometimes I find it downright hard to follow their analysis which proceeds by jerks and starts, I do think they've got excellent intelligence, and that they're on to something when they say that Obama's order to kill OBL is just part of his larger plan to try and distinguish Al Quaida (the bad guys )from the Muslim Brotherhood ( somehow, inexplicably, "the moderates") and to help bring this latter to to power in Egypt and in Gaza. Really scary stuff.

To me, there is something incredibly staged about this whole OBL episode.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I can't quite figure out how the Bush administration would have known the whereabouts of bin Laden and done nothing about it. The story sounds strange, but, as you say, Debka has very good sources. I guess that it could have happened.

As for the story of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, I agree that that is the more important story. I'm going to post something about it later today or tomorrow.

Whether intentional or not, the fall of al Qaeda does correspond to the rise of the MB in Egypt.

Susan said...

To follow up, it does seems puzzling. Yet Bret Stephens suggests in his most recent opinion piece "Obama's Finest Hour," that G W Bush simply didn't get how important vengeance was, symbolically, for the nation. He even said that he didn't know where Bin Laden was (at a cetain point)but that it didn't matter....

Susan said...

I think Obama would be none too happy about Stephens' characterization of him as getting revenge (Obama said that "justice" had been done, but as Stephens points out, "justice" involves a court trial etc. etc.)