President Barack Obama should get credit for Osama bin Laden’s death since bin Laden was killed on his watch. However, I was struck by two things during Obama’s speech on Sunday night. First, had the policies that Obama championed during his campaign and his time in office actually been followed, bin Laden would still be alive today. Second, it was stunning how frequently Obama used the words “I,” “me” and “my” in his speech. He made it all about himself.
The first point is rather obvious — if America had the policies that Obama campaigned on — shutting down Gitmo, not allowing enhanced interrogation techniques, etc. — bin Laden and many others would be free to plan their next attack on America. This is relevant because part of being a good leader is knowing what should be done. Obama’s lack of experience has been on display since the day he took office.
Obama’s speech was self-absorbed, misleading, and marks the beginning of his effort to rehabilitate his leadership image for the 2012 campaign. He used the words “I,” “me” and “my” a combined 13 times in his approximately 1,300-word speech. And more often than not, he used those words to exaggerate his role, portray himself as central to the success, and build himself up. It wasn’t as if Obama said 13 times, “I want to thank our armed forces and our intelligence officers for their courage, devotion and bravery.” Rather, Obama’s speech was almost over before he got around to thanking those who made the operation possible and carried it out.
Early in the speech, Obama made a point of telling us that, “[S]hortly after taking office, I directed … the director of the CIA to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority,” as if prior to his direction, the U.S. wasn’t doing much to find bin Laden. Then he told us, “I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden.” This overstates Obama’s role. He met repeatedly with national security advisers so they could brief him and tell him of new developments that they had discovered. Obama played no role in developing more information about bin Laden. Obama developed zero intelligence. He merely sat there and listened to the experts. But Obama wants you to believe that he was behind it all.
Then Obama took two sentences to emphasize how important he was — telling us that “last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.” Then, to make sure we understood what a great and impressive leader he is, he told us, “Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.”
Obama apologists argue that Reagan and both Bushes spoke to the American people about American military actions that they had authorized. But the difference is that Reagan and the Bushes announced major military actions as they were beginning to happen — before it became clear that those actions would be successful. Obama’s announcement came after the fact. The operation went well, so he took credit for it. Had it not gone well, is there any doubt that Obama would have distanced himself from it? While Obama could not have announced this action beforehand, it is unseemly that he was so self-absorbed and self-congratulatory afterwards.
Obama has blamed Bush for virtually every problem and misstep — even his own deficits and out-of-control spending. In contrast, as his recent speech demonstrates, whenever there is good news, Obama is quick to jump in front of it to make it appear that he was its originator.
In his speech Sunday night, Obama spent far more time telling us how important he was to the success of the operation (about seven paragraphs in all) than he did thanking those who made the success possible (about two paragraphs). Had Obama been sincerely magnanimous rather than engaging in shameless self-promotion, he would have come across more like a leader and a statesman. As it was, he came across as self-serving, self-important, self-absorbed and petty.
Obama will receive a temporary bounce in the polls because Americans will rightly be happy about the military’s success in Pakistan. But as the fiasco in Libya continues, and as the American public is reminded of Obama’s utter lack of leadership abroad and on the economy, the deficit and jobs, Obama’s poll numbers will slip back down into the Jimmy Carter range. But at least Carter didn’t blame Gerald Ford for all of his problems or try to take credit for every success that happened on his watch. Sadly, Obama has become the “it’s all about me” president.
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George Landrith is the president of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. Mr. Landrith is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was Business Editor of the Virginia Journal of Law and Politics. In 1994 and 1996, Mr. Landrith was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District. You can follow George on Twitter @GLandrith.