Former president Bill Clinton just appeared in a reelection television commercial for President Barack Obama. At one point, Clinton weighs in on the potential consequences of Obama’s decision to go ahead with the planned assassination of Osama bin Laden. He smiles and then pontificates, “Suppose the Navy SEALs had gone in there . . . suppose they had been captured or killed. The downside would have been horrible for him [Obama].”
There is a lot that is disturbing about Clinton’s commentary — and about the fact that such an embarrassment was not deleted by the Obama campaign. Clinton offers unintended self-incrimination as to why in the 1990s he did not order the capture of bin Laden when it might well have been in his power to do so — was it fear of something “horrible” that might have happened to his fortunes rather than to our troops? And, of course, such crass politicization of national security and the war on terror is exactly what Barack Obama accused the two Clintons of in the 2008 Democratic primaries. We also remember that Obama on several occasions chastised George W. Bush for supposedly making reference to the war on terror for political advantage, though he never did so in as creepy a fashion as Clinton. And aside from the fact that Barack Obama promised never to “spike the football” by using the SEAL mission to score campaign points, only a narcissistic Bill Clinton could have envisioned the death or capture of Navy SEALs not in terms of those men’s own horrible fates, but only as political “downside” for an equally narcissistic Barack Obama.
In Clinton’s defense, he spoke not just from his own selfish instinct to see presidential survival as more important than the fates of those who actually took the physical risk. Rather, a year ago Obama himself had already hijacked the mission with a flurry of self-referential pronouns: “Tonight, I can report . . . And so, shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta . . . I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden . . . I met repeatedly with my national security team . . . I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action. . . . Today, at my direction . . . I’ve made clear . . . Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear . . . Tonight, I called President Zardari . . . and my team has also spoken . . .These efforts weigh on me every time I, as commander-in-chief . . . Finally, let me say to the families . . . I know that it has, at times, frayed . . .”