Report: Obama waited a month before ordering the James Foley rescue attempt

Via Dan Riehl, who wonders if any of the seven rounds of golf O played during that month were less relaxing than usual. Toby Harnden has the scoop:

According to locals, some of the [U.S.] commandos were wearing Jordanian insignia, perhaps to mask their nationality. They entered the buildings and found the prison. But the hostages were not there. The special forces troops had found what they term a “dry hole”…

For President Barack Obama the decision to send in the Night Stalkers was an agonising one. The audacious bin Laden raid in Pakistan had been a success but also preying on his mind was the failed 1980 Delta Force operation to rescue American hostages in Tehran…

Pentagon sources said Foley and the others might well have been rescued but Obama, concerned about the ramifications of US troops being killed or captured in Syria, took too long to authorise the mission.

Anthony Shaffer, a former lieutenant-colonel in US military intelligence who worked on covert operations, said: “I’m told it was almost a 30-day delay from when they said they wanted to go to when he finally gave the green light. They were ready to go in June to grab the guy [Foley] and they weren’t permitted.”

According to a Defense source who spoke to the NYT last week, the Pentagon knew that the hostages were being moved periodically. Another Defense source claimed that it may have been “a matter of hours, perhaps a day or two” by which the the troops had missed Foley when they finally arrived at the prison in Syria. Time was obviously of the essence, yet if you believe Harnden’s source, it took 30 days for a green light. How come? The White House’s fears of a debacle a la Desert One or Mogadishu are understandable, but less understandable now than they were before the Bin Laden raid. Even if the Foley raid had fallen apart, what would the knock on Obama have been? That he had too much faith in the capabilities of soldiers who scalped the head of Al Qaeda and then exfiltrated without a single American casualty? The foot-dragging is also hard to explain. He took his time in ordering the Bin Laden raid, with internal deliberations extending over several months, but extra prudence was warranted in that case: Pakistan is (nominally) an ally, there were no innocent lives directly in the balance, and the White House had no reason to believe that Bin Laden would flee the scene before they got there. As I recall, intelligence showed he’d been at the Abbottabad compound for years. With Foley, that equation changed. The raid was aimed at enemy territory, the prisoners were being moved, and they could have been killed at any time. Why wait?

Maybe Obama thought he simply didn’t have the political capital needed on foreign policy anymore to make this call at the time. Scroll through his job approval ratings on foreign policy over the past six months. Starting in March, around the time that Putin began bullying Ukraine, his approval goes from single digits negative to double digits. If he had ordered the Foley raid quickly and it failed, it would have reinforced the image of a guy who’s at sea in dealing with bad actors abroad. So he waited, probably hoping things would turn around a bit before giving the order. Unfortunate.

Speaking of dealing with bad actors abroad, if you believe the Independent, we’re now handing over intelligence to the same guy we almost bombed a year ago.