Mullen: Hey, maybe we shouldn't be making the bin Laden mission a political football

Last night, NBC’s Rock Center got an exclusive and unprecedented look at the Situation Room as part of the anniversary celebration over the death of Osama bin Laden — and as part of Barack Obama’s attempt to spike the football again over the success of the mission.  In the middle of all this congratulatory back-slapping,  former chair of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen told Brian Williams that it might be an insult to the men who actually carried out the mission for people to turn it into a political baseball bat for the upcoming election:

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“Well, I worry about it, just because it’s the political season,” Adm. Mullen tells Williams. “And from my perspective, the president’s support, the decision that he made, and obviously, the result stand alone in terms of the kind of call presidents have to make and he made it. I do worry a great deal that this time of year that somehow this gets spun into election politics. I can assure you that those individuals who risk their lives–the last thing in the world that they want is to be spun into that. So I’m hoping that that doesn’t happen.”

NBC News was given unprecedented access to the White House Situation Room for its interview with Adm. Mullen, President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary Clinton, and many of the other individuals who appear in the iconic photo taken the night bin Laden was killed.

But the interview comes amid criticism from many on the Republican side, in the media, and even among Navy SEALs that the Obama campaign has already overly politicized the president’s historic achievement. Earlier today, Mitt Romney rebuffed a recent Obama campaign ad suggesting that the former Massachusetts governor would not have given the order to execute bin Laden.

Ya think? The Daily Mail reports that other special forces are already annoyed on behalf of their brethren on that mission, and don’t believe it was all that tough a decision anyway:

Ryan Zinke, a former Commander in the US Navy who spent 23 years as a SEAL and led a SEAL Team 6 assault unit, said: ‘The decision was a no brainer. I applaud him for making it but I would not overly pat myself on the back for making the right call.

‘I think every president would have done the same. He is justified in saying it was his decision but the preparation, the sacrifice – it was a broader team effort.’

Mr Zinke, who is now a Republican state senator in Montana, added that MR Obama was exploiting bin Laden’s death for his re-election bid. ‘The President and his administration are positioning him as a war president using the SEALs as ammunition. It was predictable.’

Michael Ramirez picks up on the theme in his Investors Business Daily editorial cartoon today:

Obama would have been better served by taking Admiral Mullen’s advice.  Had he just stuck with “I got bin Laden,” there would have been no retort; it would have been an unanswerable argument in the election.  By pushing the accomplishment into the argument that no one else could have gotten bin Laden but himself — and with Joe Biden offering the ridiculous argument that it was the most audacious military plan in 500 years (D-Day? Pfft — pikers!) — it opens up not the issue of bin Laden, but of this president’s oversized ego and his need to make everything about himself.  Even the men who actually carried out the mission get left behind in service to Obama’s need to be the center of attention.  That’s not leadership, and it’s going to turn off a lot of voters.

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey agrees:

While contemplating how the killing of bin Laden reflects on the president, consider the way he emphasized his own role in the hazardous mission accomplished by SEAL Team 6:

“I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority . . . even as I continued our broader effort. . . . Then, after years of painstaking work by my intelligence community I was briefed . . . I met repeatedly with my national security team . . . And finally last week I determined that I had enough intelligence to take action. . . . Today, at my direction . . .”

That seems a jarring formulation coming from a man who, when first elected, was asked which president he would model himself on and replied, Lincoln. …

That is not to say that great leaders, including presidents, have not placed themselves at the center of great events. But generally it has been to accept responsibility for failure.

Lincoln took responsibility in August 1862 for failures that had been attributed to General George McClellan—eventually sacked for incompetence—and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Lincoln told a crowd that McClellan was not at fault for seeking more than Stanton could give, and “I stand here, as justice requires me to do, to take upon myself what has been charged upon the Secretary of War.”

Dwight Eisenhower is famous for having penned a statement to be issued in anticipation of the failure of the Normandy invasion that reads in relevant part: “My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

It’s bad enough that Obama personally bragged so much about it at the time.  On the one-year anniversary, shouldn’t the celebration be about the victory and the men who actually carried it out?  I’m curious as to whether Eisenhower ever spent the anniversary of D-Day — which really does qualify as one of the most audacious military plans in centuries — telling people how he’d personally beaten the Germans on that day.  Somehow, I doubt it … not even in an election year.

Update: I had identified Michael Mukasey as a former director of the CIA.  He was the former Attorney General.  First rule of blogging: check scorecards when writing prior to sufficient caffeination.  Thanks to Larry J for the correction.

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