Conflicting statements cost Obama team public trust

So our old nemesis Osama has been sent to meet his maker for that long-delayed, post-life exit interview he so richly deserves. Afterward, President Barack Obama was able to talk about something most people agreed should’ve happened, unlike many of his other projects.

He did get a bump in the polls similar to the level George W. Bush had in December of 2003 after the capture of Saddam Hussein. However, we all remember that by November of the next year, Bush had trouble holding off John Kerry to keep his job, so these one-time events have a tendency to not last very long.

Obama might have done better if he hadn’t forcefully and repeatedly interjected himself into the story. After announcing that he didn’t want to “spike the football,” Obama conducted a virtual end-zone celebration, going to Ground Zero, for the first time as president, to Kentucky to talk to the troops and to the Obama-friendly “60 Minutes” television program to discuss his involvement.

Remember when Democrats were warning George Bush not to politicize 9/11?

What Obama and the rest of the Democrats must find troubling is that who the public trusts more to keep the nation secure has not changed much. Americans still seem to believe Republicans are going to do a better job than Democrats. The political newspaper, The Hill, found when likely voters were asked which party was most likely keep the nation safe from terrorism, 45 percent favor the GOP compared to 39 percent for the Democrats.

This seems an affront to many southpaw pundits, especially when The Hill also reported that 69 percent of likely voters want to keep Guantanamo Bay prison open with only 19 percent want it closed.

It’s important, since the president has been saying we need to close Guantanamo since before he was elected. That view is representative of why many Americans are not sold on the Democrats’ vision of national security.

It seems clear that at least some useful information for this latest raid came from Guantanamo, and Americans continue to hear stories about released prisoners turning up on battlefields fighting America. Consequently, if the facility is proving useful in preventing terrorists from returning to the battlefield and in obtaining information, why close it?

The standard answer to that question has been that enhanced interrogation techniques and detention at Guantanamo don’t reflect American values, but that leads to fascinating exchanges such as the one last Sunday during an interview by Fox News’ Chris Wallace of President Obama’s national security adviser Tom Donilon.

Wallace asked Donilon why it was all right to shoot bin Laden, but it wasn’t appropriate to use water-boarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques.

Donilon: “Our judgment is that it is not consistent with our values ...”

Wallace: “But shooting bin Laden in the head is consistent with our values?”

Donilon made some good points about why bin Laden had to be killed but could never resolve the discord between the two positions.

Then there’s the White House’s bizarre release of information about the bin Laden raid. Columnist Michelle Malkin has catalogued at least 20 different administration versions of the events.

The first was the president saying bin Laden was killed “after a firefight,” which the next day was enlarged upon by hapless deputy national security adviser John Brennan, who said bin Laden “was engaged in a firefight ... Whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don’t know… It was a firefight.”

Pretty specific stuff, yet the next day the White House had to announce that bin Laden “was not armed.”

One might think Brennan would be a good source, since he is in the now famous photo of administration officials watching the event — except we later learned the video was disengaged for over 25 minutes.

Presidential spokesman Jay Carney had said the president watched the video “minute by minute,” but CIA Director Leon Panetta said that during the break, (they) “didn’t know exactly what was going on.”

The embarrassment continued with conflicting stories about bin Laden’s wife being killed while being used as a human shield, then not a human shield and not killed.

Truth may be the first casualty of war, but it is also the first building block of trust. 

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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