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On May 2, 2011, at 4:18 p.m., Washington time, the Navy SEALs came face to face for the first time with Osama bin Laden. By 4:20 p.m., Osama was no more. He had ceased to be. He had expired and gone to meet his maker.
What happened in the hours subsequent to the killing mystifies everyone who has reviewed the data, most thoughtfully Richard Miniter in his excellent new book, “Leading from Behind.”
A little more than seven hours after bin Laden’s demise, Miniter writes, Obama “told the world that bin Laden was dead” and, by doing so, “shocked the intelligence community.”
The shock came in the form of a lengthy speech that was written with Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, posted on the teleprompter and rehearsed. There was nothing spontaneous about it.
“The strangest thing about the speech is that Obama delivered it at all,” writes Miniter. “Why tell the world that bin Laden was gone and take away the element of surprise that would have allowed Special Forces to swoop in on other al-Qaida leaders around the world?”
Although all of the intelligence analysts Miniter contacted share his puzzlement, none can answer the question of why Obama would “throw away the military advantages of secrecy and surprise.”
If political considerations motivated Obama, one former White House official mused, “I don’t know why we didn’t hold on to the news until October 2012.”
The hasty announcement also led to many misstatements of fact. So many of these errors had to be modified or retracted that they diminished the power of the speech and the glory that accrued to Obama.
For all that, however, Miniter comes to no firm understanding as to why Obama made the announcement when he did. In the absence of hard evidence, let me suggest a likely rationale.
I remember the timing well. I was bummed. Earlier that same day I had sent an email to my contact person at the British Daily Mail to express my frustration:
“Payment due: 2500 pounds. If we make the kill fee the contracted price, I will be more inclined to forget the many rewrites, the implied promises broken, and the factually challenged, reputation-damaging final product.
“I suspect that this was not your doing and, in re-reading the early emails, I am reminded anew of hopes dashed. Our own press lacks the courage to tackle this subject. I was hoping the British would come to the rescue. Great wedding though, can’t deny that.”
The Daily Mail had contracted with me to write an extensive piece on my then-new book, “Deconstructing Obama.” Although not a “birther” book per se, its thesis would prove too close for the Daily Mail.
Specifically, I argued that Obama did not actually write his own memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” and that the story he told therein was not true.
The Daily Mail had gotten cold feet after a specific event of a few days prior. On April 27, Obama shocked most Americans by producing a certificate of live birth that, up until that day, the media had been assuring us all they had already seen.
“I have the president’s certificate right here,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos told Rep. Michelle Bachmann a week before Obama presented it for the first time.
“It’s certified,” he continued foolishly. “It’s got a certification number. It’s got the registrar of the state signed. It’s got a seal on it.” Stephanopoulos, of course, did not have the birth certificate or even a copy of it.
Although Obama’s presentation put a lie to the cover story spun by Stephanopoulos and others, the media quickly shifted gear and started ridiculing those who challenged the party line. Chief among the victims was Donald Trump, who had been a major source of pressure on the White House.
More pressure still was emanating from the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth, the temporary home of Lt. Col. Lakin. The intrepid flight surgeon resisted deployment to Afghanistan when asked to produce five copies of his birth certificate.
If he needed a birth certificate to go to Afghanistan, he figured that the commander in chief should need one to send him. (The whole story is told in Lakin’s new book, “Officer’s Oath.”)
Lakin’s principled resistance netted him five months at Fort Leavenworth. He was scheduled to be released on May 11. That release could have generated additional unwelcome publicity.
The Drudge Report had generated its own fair share on April 20. This was the day Drudge featured Jerome Corsi’s book “Where’s the Birth Certificate?” Although not due to be released until May 17, the book shot to the top of the Amazon best-seller list.
On the following day, April 21, White House Counsel Robert Bauer claims to have initiated the process that resulted in the presentation of the birth certificate.
Obama had to have been worried when he presented the birth certificate. As the Arpaio Report suggests, it gives all the appearances of being a forgery.
On May 2, however, Obama covered himself with sufficient glory that he need not worry about anyone in the respectable media – left, right, or center – even daring to question him about the birth certificate.
That issue was as dead as bin Laden, as dead as all the intelligence that might have been gathered had Obama only waited even a month or two. “Obama’s handling of the bin Laden mission,” Miniter concludes, “may be the single biggest blunder of his presidency.”
That Obama is still a candidate for president suggests that, strategically at least, it may not have been a blunder at all.