Tuesday, April 14, 2009

President handles his first crisis perfectly.

So much for the naysayers.

The far right was wondering, even salivating over the day when President Obama would face a significant international crisis. They were excited about having an opportunity to paint him as 'weak' or a 'wimp' (the kind of language you hear bandied about if you have the stomach to listen to right wing radio or read righty blogs, which I sometimes do so I can chuckle at the idiocy.) They even ginned up the non-crisis of the recent North Korean missile launch (which we've known was going to happen for months) as proof that the President wasn't up to the task of protecting the American people (apparently thinking that if he'd just shot the thing down then we'd all be much safer-- of course if he had they'd say that was still too tepid and yell that he should have ordered an all out attack on North Korea.)

Well, there isn't much they can say right now. The President did face an international challenge, received regular briefings on it, tried as hard as he could to defuse the situation diplomatically (though without budging on American policy to never pay ransom-- although some righties were taking guesses on how much ransom he would pay and how soon) and then when the time came to use force he gave the commanders on the scene (because they can see all that is happening much better than he can from Washington) authorization to use lethal force against the Somali pirates if the hostage was in 'imminent danger.' The commander of the SEAL team stationed on the rear of the U.S.S. Bainbridge concluded that he was and used lethal force. Against the three pirates who were constituting the imminent danger, and not against anyone else. Granted no one else was around but this stands in sharp contrast to the testosterone soaked trail of bodies that the right defines as 'foreign policy success.'

The final moment was handled perfectly by the military, but the whole crisis leading up to that conclusion was handled perfectly by the President of the United States.

However, in another stark contrast with his predecessor, this President didn't try to hog the glory. He praised the navy SEAL team that carried out the assault, but didn't try to play it up. In fact, there are five men who deserve the 'hero' label for this (Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, Bainbridge commander Frank Costellano who made the call at the scene, and the three team members who each made a perfect shot in rolling seas in a situation where a miss of even a fraction of an inch could have resulted in a much different outcome) and the President isn't pretending to be one of them.

As Gloria Borger succinctly noted,

Obama "didn't wrap himself around the bravery of those military seals."

Indeed, he commended the captain, the SEALs, called for multilateral efforts to stop piracy -- and went on the next day to give an economic speech. Indeed, this aide adds, "He's not about to put on a flight suit on an aircraft carrier and declare mission accomplished."

Message accomplished.

Borger then goes on to contrast this with a typical 'leader' of the right:

But what about the style of say, Newt Gingrich? The former House Speaker -- often mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2012 -- decided to Twitter his inner thoughts on the pirates in real-time.

Last Saturday: "Obama is making a major mistake in not forcefully outlining the rules of civilization for dealing with pirates. We look weak."

By Monday, after the safe rescue of the captain, Gingrich was, er, a tad more laudatory: "The Navy seals did exactly the right thing in rescuing the American captain. President Obama did the right thing in allowing the Navy to act."

A grudging kudo, if there ever was one.

I guess Newt would have rushed in on Saturday when the mission would likely have been much riskier because there were still four, rather than three pirates on the boat and when the ideal moment when all the pirates and the hostage (Phillips) were all in plain sight had not yet come. I'm glad he's not the President in that case.

The message is clear. Unlike his predecessor this is not a President who goes looking for a fight. But if someone picks a fight with the U.S.A. while he is the President then he won't shirk from the need to do what is necessary to protect American lives.

OK, the right got their wish. President Obama was challenged with an international crisis. Adage to think about-- be careful what you wish for, you might get it.

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