[The following memo to the President from a key political advisor is dated April 30, 2011, the day before the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.]
Dear Mr. President,
Following are some strategies from your political team for handling the aftermath of a successful operation to eliminate Osama bin Laden. If the operation is not successful, please refer to the “Operation Back Nine” memo issued by this office yesterday.
First and foremost, it is vitally important that your Administration flood our national media space with information immediately. Don’t worry too much about getting your stories straight – just get some stories out there. Your media allies are so loyal that they’ll be publishing breathless stories about your calm and decisive leadership, even as key members of your national security operation are directly contradicting each other and walking back countless details of the operation. Just go with whatever sounds good.
My team thinks the public hates bin Laden so much that they will eagerly believe any scurrilous rumors you choose to float about him, and will not hold it against you later during the “walkback” stage. None of this is likely to feed into the general public impression of your Administration as a band of confused incompetents. Put out anything and everything about the al-Qaeda leader that sounds bad. We suggest assigning one of your top national security advisors to claim that bin Laden used one of his wives as a body shield.
We’ve received a few phone calls from people in the White House who worry that you’re taking too long to make a decision about launching the attack. That’s nonsense. This is a big decision that carries a lot of political risk for you. Your worshipful media allies won’t hammer you as “indecisive” – instead, they’ll praise the awesome power of your Vulcan intellect, and congratulate you for pondering the situation at length. We expect the dimmer bulbs in the media chandelier to speak of you in positively Biblical terms. If it takes you sixteen hours to make up your mind, and you want to get some sleep first, so be it. The military brass can be “stunned” all they want. They’re not going anywhere. Neither is bin Laden, right?
We’ve been given to understand that our commando teams usually record video of these operations, and of course there will be forensic evidence from a successful kill. There will be immense public pressure for you to release this evidence. Ignore it. Spend a few days mulling over the public’s desire to see photos or videos from the raid, then say no.
You don’t want to circulate images that would inflame the Islamic world. Also, you don’t want to feed the bloodlust of those vulgar boobs out in flyover country. Take a lofty and superior tone when you educate the masses about why they’re wrong for wanting to see photographic evidence of bin Laden’s death. Directly compare the body of bin Laden to the corpses of our soldiers, which have been repeatedly defiled by terrorist savages, and remind the Osama bin Lady is not a “trophy.” The public loves being reminded of your moral superiority, Mr. President!
It will be important to quickly write a historical narrative that gives you exclusive credit for the elimination of bin Laden. Ignore those in your orbit who say a brief, dignified statement about the successful operation would be best. Use the words “I” and “me” as much as possible, and be sure to include a brief history lesson about who bin Laden was, for the benefit of your vital youth constituency.
Of course, many in the media will be eager to give you full credit anyway, but we don’t want anyone thinking back to the role played by Bush policies you vigorously opposed in locating bin Laden. We suggest making someone like Leon Panetta your point man on this. He’s certainly not going to crack under pressure and let anything slip to some network reporter during a brief televised interview!
My staff is confident that if you follow these directives, you can come out of this thing as a huge political winner. Let’s be frank: the American electorate is full of deeply stupid people, who will vote to re-elect you next year based on this event alone. Nobody will think about anything you did before or after this. Manage the political aftermath of a bin Laden kill with your usual focus, discipline, competence, and transparency, and you can do as you please for the remainder of your first term, because a second term is in the bag, sir!
White House Political Director