Politics

Rhinestone Cowboy

Killing Osama bin Laden had as much to do with Barack Obama getting close to Osama bin Laden as it did with Barack Obama getting away from Barack Obama. A President Obama faithful to the campaign promises of Candidate Obama would never have issued the kill order. 

A fierce critic of unilateralism not only decided to go-it-alone, but he violated Pakistan’s sovereignty in doing so. One whose administration investigates the CIA for such interrogation techniques as face-slapping, the lapel-grasping “attention grab,” and the use of bugs and creepy crawlies actually authorized the assassination of an unarmed man. A president so eager to scale down the war on terrorism that he avoids the phrase expanded it into another venue.

Like Glen Campbell, Barack Obama made a load of compromising on the road to darkening bin Laden’s horizons. The American people should be grateful rather than resentful. Stubborn adherence to unworkable principles is better suited to theorists than men of action.

The president’s past words do not make his bold action wrong. They merely make him a hypocrite.

He hopefully is a happy hypocrite. Bin Laden had orchestrated murder from Manhattan skyscrapers to a Bali nightclub to the London Underground. The al Qaeda founder reportedly had the president himself on his hit list. In the Wild West that is the war on terrorism, it is kill or be killed.

Obama deserves our high fives. Another man deserves his apology.

George W. Bush was often described as embracing “cowboy diplomacy,” a good-guys-versus-bad-guys, my-way-or-the-highway, shoot-first-and-ask questions later foreign policy. This perhaps better described the caricature than the character of it. After all, the last president waited a month after 9/11 before striking Afghanistan, organized a coalition of several dozen nations before invading Iraq, and sought Congressional and United Nations approval before undertaking both actions.

He hailed from Texas. He owned a ranch. He sometimes donned if not a ten-gallon hat then at least a two-gallon hat. But he wasn’t a cowboy, at least not in the sense imagined by his antagonists.

President Obama, on the other hand, is a cowboy, albeit a Rhinestone Cowboy. The world gets distracted by the glimmering talk of multilateralism, ending “torture,” and ushering in the era when “our planet began to heal.” But underneath the rhinestone rhetoric is a wide-brimmed Marshall Dillon hat, indicating the willingness to, when necessary, ditch the posse and ride alone, differentiate between black hats and white hats, and draw first and save the hangman his rope.

It would have been nice had the president, a la spaghetti-western Clint Eastwood, kept his mouth shut long enough to more effectively act on the intelligence gathered in the raid. But we are talking about a Rhinestone Cowboy here. The bling is as important as the bang.

The Rhinestone Cowboy wins a Nobel Peace Prize (that’s rhinestone) while escalating one war and overseeing another (that’s cowboy). The Rhinestone Cowboy takes the nation to a third war in Libya after consulting France (that’s rhinestone) but not Congress (that’s cowboy). The Rhinestone Cowboy denigrates “enhanced-interrogation techniques” and the Guantanamo Bay detention center (that’s rhinestone) but uses information gleaned from the methods and prison he vilifies to track down bin Laden (that’s cowboy).

The rhinestone isn’t uniformly bad and the cowboy isn’t unequivocally good. The former stems from the president’s love of the smart set’s adulation. The latter derives from his belief that there are no limitations on his power. This combination worked out well in Operation Neptune Spear. It’s still a dangerous formula.

So how did the critic of cowboy diplomacy become a cowboy of sorts?

Presidents learn that “hustle is the name of the game and nice guys get washed away like the snow and the rain.” It’s better publicity to go after al Qaeda’s leader than CIA underlings. Like a Rhinestone Cowboy, Barack Obama resolved: “I’m gonna be where the lights are shining on me.”


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