CharacterAlways Counts or Why the Memo Matters
By: Annoyed With Things
8 May, 2012
I am referring to the widely reported memo from then CIA Director Leon Panetta to President Obama specifying the very narrow “risk profile” to be used by Admiral McRaven, the Commander of SOCOM, during operations to “get” Osama bin Laden. My annoyance with the memo is that rather than taking the burden of command as Commander in Chief and accepting responsibility for any outcome of the operation, it pre-emptively gives President Obama some wiggle room to deflect responsibility if things go badly. In other words, if things don’t go exactly as briefed Admiral McRaven (the operational commander) during the real time execution of this incredibly complex and dangerous operation, you are to check back with the President for further instruction. How incredibly unrealistic and risk averse is that restriction?
Assuming that the ambiguous direction to “get” OBL was previously defined or at least understood to mean capture or kill him, the memo essentially places all of the responsibility, the “…timing,operational decision making and control…” literally in Admiral McRaven’s hands. The scapegoat would have been McRaven, but the hero of the day is President Obama for having the fortitude to pull the trigger on the operation. Why not have a press conference and not mention yourself at all, express your deep admiration and gratitude to the finest military in the world and leave it at that. Way to step up and cover for your troops, give the commander the authority to run and execute the operation while having an out on hot stand-by to say McRaven deviated from the specific risk profile.
By comparison, Eisenhower, who took personal responsibility for any eventual outcome for the Normandy Invasion, and did so in advance of the outcome and in the most personal of terms. His memo, the text of which is provided below, clearly states that the troops did all they could but the failure was his alone. He was the supreme commander of all allied forces in Europe and the functional multi-national equivalent to our Commander in Chief. You could also add that a lot more people were at risk.
So why is the contrast important? It isimportant because it has to do with a fundamental personality trait –leadership. I was happily surprised when President Obama authorized the use of deadly force to take out the Somali Pirates. As an American, I was proud of my President when I heard about the operation to “get” OBL and I was thankful the operation was executed so well – No Desert One disasters. Frankly, I didn’t think President Obama had the stomach for such decisive action. Despite our fundamental disagreement on domestic policy and the role of government, I was beginning to revise my opinion of our Commander in Chief. Then I heard about the craven “McRaven memo” and all of my disappointments fell back into place. He just couldn’t do it without a safety net and for that he will always be a second tier President. My annoyance remains.
(Editorial note: I don’t know if President Obama personally authorized the use of deadly force against the Somali pirates in the Maersk Alabama/Capt. Phillips rescue, but by extension he is ultimately responsible for the Rules of Engagement, and I can’t believe he wasn’t briefed on the possibility.)
Eisenhower D-Day Failure draft memo of 5 July 1944:
“Our landings have failed and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”