President Obama made a presidential decision, both to remain focused on the pursuit of Bin Laden and on the crucial decision to bend the rules to send Special Forces in on the ground and kill him. He deserves credit for the success of the mission.
Such operations demonstrate the incredible ability of our elite forces, but we should not lose awareness of the riskiness of such an operation. While so much went right there was much that could have gone wrong. We could have had more dead US soldiers, dead civilians, and another international crisis. It was the dramatic risk involved that made this decision presidential.
If it had gone bad the celebrations today would have been protests of presidential incompetence. But the decision would have been just as presidential. When Jimmy Carter decided to execute a rescue attempt in Iran that ended in humiliating failure he was deemed unfit for office. Yet, was his decision any less presidential than Obama’s?
The harsh reality in such circumstances is that important decisions commonly entail risks of failure? Such risks may be reduced by intelligence and experience but they are never eliminated and remain in the best of circumstances. Many fail to understand that good decisions can yield bad results.
While this decision worked well we should understand that failure is not necessarily synonymous with a bad result. And sometimes even a bad decision is better than no decision. Terrible losses in such situations are less likely to come from single failures than the ultimate failure- quitting.