New Frontiers in Neo-Swiftboating: Obama Was Ready to Blame the Troops!

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 7 2012 10:44 AM

New Frontiers in Neo-Swiftboating: Obama Was Ready to Blame the Troops!

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President Barack Obama

Getty Images.

In the last week of April, Time magazine published a long Peter Bergen take-out on the Osama bin Laden raid, complete with key documents -- including the memo that then-CIA Director Leon Panetta wrote after the president ordered the raid.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

Received phone call from Tom Donilon who stated that the President made a decision with regard to AC1 [Abbottabad Compound 1]. The decision is to proceed with the assault.
The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven’s hands. The approval is provided on the risk profile presented to the President. Any additional risks are to be brought back to the President for his consideration. The direction is to go in and get bin Laden and if he is not there, to get out. Those instructions were conveyed to Admiral McRaven at approximately 10:45 am.
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Most news outlets, aping Time (and jealous of the scoop), merely reprinted the memo. Ben Shapiro, one of the new editors of the Breitbart empire, saw another angle. "The memo doesn’t show a gutsy call," wrote Shapiro. "It doesn’t show a president willing to take the blame for a mission gone wrong. It shows a CYA maneuver by the White House... the hero here was McRaven, not Obama. And had the mission gone wrong, McRaven surely would have been thrown under the bus."

That's one opinion. It might be hard to square with lines like "any additional risks are to be brought back to the President for his consideration." But the Shapiro Theory got around the world faster than the swine-bird flu in Contagion. His post has been tweeted more than 160,000 times and shared on Facebook nearly 25,000 times. Time's original story has been shared on Facebook fewer than 100 times.

On April 30, three days after the memo was released, the Shapiro Theory became Michael Mukasey's theory. "A recently disclosed memorandum from then-CIA Director Leon Panetta shows that the president's celebrated derring-do in authorizing the operation included a responsibility-escape clause," wrote Mukasey. Four days later, Sean Hannity invited Mukasey onto his Fox News show to share the theory.

HANNITY: So in other words, here, the approximate (sic) president's now, everything worked out in this case. But he had put in place a CYA [cover your ass] that if it went wrong, McCraven would have been the fall guy. 
MUKASEY: That was a highly lawyered memo. 
HANNITY: Wow. So you are saying this was designed to protect the president politically. 
MUKASEY: I think there is going to be more that comes tumbling out about that escapade. But so far that, memo is enough.

To paraphrase Newt Gingrich: These are dispatches from Cloudcuckooland. If the bin Laden raid had gone wrong, how would the White House have avoided blame? It would have waved around a memo which mentioned that "additional risks are to be brought back to the President"? Seriously? In the Hannity interview, Mukasey compares this memo to Dwight Eisenhower's pre-D-Day "message to be given in the event the invasion failed." That's the sort of comparison that reveals how weak an argument this is. But this must be why the Obama campaign celebrates Christmas every day that the media discusses OBL -- it drives Bush loyalists absolutely insane when they realize Obama gets the credit.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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