The Ongoing Mission to Shame Obama Out of Mentioning the OBL Raid

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 1 2012 9:27 AM

The Ongoing Mission to Shame Obama Out of Mentioning the OBL Raid

On Sunday night, the Daily Caller went live with an excerpt from Richard Miniter's upcoming national security book. The scoop: "At the urging of Valerie Jarrett, President Barack Obama canceled the operation to kill Osama bin Laden on three separate occasions before finally approving the May 2, 2011 Navy SEAL mission." The source: An un-named administration official. The reaction: Lots of people pointing out that the single source contradicts plenty of reportage on the mission.

But you can't look at this story on its own. Operation: Fickle President is the third aggressive attempt to re-shape the "gutsy call" story.

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April 26. Operation: CYA. Time magazine runs a well-sourced story about the OBL raid, one year later, with newly released documents from the commanders. Breitbart.com's Ben Shapiro focuses on a line in a memo from then-CIA Director Leon Panetta: "The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven’s hands." Shapiro reads this as Obama preparing to "blame the troops" if the raid went pear-shaped -- which it almost did, as a helicopter was damaged on the descent. MISSION STATUS: Ongoing success. The "CYA" theory was picked up by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey almost immediately. You can still hear references to the theory that, somehow, the commander-in-chief would have dodged responsibility for failed raid by saying the troops screwed up.

May 1. Operation: Swift Boat. Veterans for a Strong America, a heretofore sleepy group, puts up a pulse-pounding web ad accusing the president of "spiking the football." (That was the cliche Republicans had started using to gripe about the White House running its own video about the OBL raid.) Its chairman tells Michael Hastings that more is coming. "I’ve been talking to operators in the community," he says. "There is palatable discontent." MISSION STATUS: Uncertain. VfaSA swore to run more ads but hasn't gone live with them.

It's a series of stories, not one scoop, and the goal is to bring the president back down from Olympus on national security.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.