Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Five Things We Have Learned About President Obama

The daring raid that resulted in the U.S. putting a bullet in the head of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden will be analyzed and re-analyzed, hashed over in newspaper columns, written about in books, studied in the military academies, and made into movies. In coming days, its political significance will be debated as well. But based on what we know right now, we have learned at least five key things about President Obama's governing style and leadership abilities.

1. President Obama is not afraid to take huge risks. Success on a mission such as this is no guarantee, no matter how precise the intelligence, how skilled the combatants, how careful the planning. Failure could have taken many forms -- many Pakistani civilians killed by accident, a leak that tipped off Pakistani military who might have fired on U.S. helicoptors, an escape by bin Laden, the shooting down of U.S. helicoptors even as they made their escape. Look at what happened to President Carter's image in 1979 after a helicoptor sent to rescue Iranian hostages crashed. Despite the high stakes, Obama was willing to take that gamble, knowing the future of his presidency, the prestige of the United States, and the lives of American military personnel were on the line. That takes guts.

2. President Obama can multi-task. Over the last several months, President Obama has participated in nine secret meetings reviewing the intelligence that made the raid possible and deciding on the exact plan for the raid. At the same time, he was negotiating over the budget, trying to prevent Republican extremists from shutting down the government, reviewing tornado damage in the southeastern United States, attending a planned shuttle launch with Tucson shooting victim U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and answering critics about his birth certificate. Yet he remained focused on this key goal without waivering from it.

3. President Obama and his administration can keep a secret. Nobody outside a handful of people had any inkling this was going on. Such secrecy was crucial to the mission's success and Obama and his people kept a really big secret for a long time, no small feat in this age of instaneous communication in a town full of journalists dedicated to ferreting out secrets.

4. President Obama is one cool customer. The president authorized this mission on Friday. On Saturday night, he went to the White House Correspondents Association dinner and cracked jokes about his birth certificate and Donald Trump's decision-making. What must have been going through the president's mind when he delivered the dig to Trump about the heavy decisions Trump makes on "Celebrity Apprentice," such as whom to fire when the steaks aren't cooked right? Those are the decisions that keep me awake at night, Obama said without a hint of irony, a day after making a decision that would bring a mass-murderer of Americans to justice at last.

5. President Obama is very patient. In 2009 President Obama made getting Osama bin Laden the nation's top national security priority. He did not bluster about it and make idle threats, but just kept the focus on a top priority. Nor did he strike back at critics who called him weak, but merely bided his time and let the professionals do their planning.

This is a set of leadership traits that has served Michiganians and all Americans well.

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