Obama goes missing in action

The revelation that Barack Obama skipped his daily intelligence briefings in the week preceding the September 11 anniversary and the mid-East consulate attacks is everybody’s worry.

Much has been made by the president’s shills of his “gutsy” decision to green-light the Navy SEAL raid against Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistan hideout. And the White House released a now much-parodied photo of the president in the White House situation room with his national security team allegedly following the mission, Tom Clancy-like in real-time.

The White House narrative gave a strong impression of Obama as a commander in chief fully engaged in national security affairs and, in particular, counter-terrorism operations. Indeed, as the presidential campaign heats up, one could be forgiven for believing that the entire US national security apparatus, including those who go in harm’s way, were a mere footnote to the real West Wing’s I-made-that-happen – action hero.

The revelation in the Washington Post on the eve of the Cairo and Benghazi consulate attacks – which saw the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans murdered, by al-Qaeda it now appears – that Obama has in fact been playing hooky from his daily national intelligence briefings paints a very different picture.

Seemingly, Obama believes dispatching Bin Laden to the Prophet’s garden of virgins has made the world safe for ObamaCare and another round of mortgage-backed lending. The war on Islamist terror is so yesterday. Maybe the intelligence briefings are just too damn early in the morning or perhaps it’s due to the “president’s surprise at the sheer volume of business that crosses his desk”. Could it be his personal narrative had stilled the vast sea of Islamist resentment, as he promised it would, even if he had not yet got around to stopping the rise of the oceans?

Or is it that, as Marc Thiessen, who broke this story in the Washington Post, mordantly observed about the White House spin, “Obama is apparently so brilliant he can absorb the most complicated topics by himself in his study. He does not need to sit down for up to an hour a day with top intelligence officials, or hold more than 100 “deep dives” [as Bush and other presidents have] in which he invites CIA analysts into the Oval Office and gives them direct access to the commander in chief to discuss their areas of expertise.”

Whatever Obama’s real reasons – too busy, too lazy, too smart, too in tune with the Muslim street or all of the above – what would have been the fallout if in the days after 9/11 it had emerged that President Bush skipped all the previous week’s daily intelligence briefings and that he had taken a rain check on more than half of those sessions since taking the oath of office?

There was barely a shrug in Australia when it was leaked – by Kevin Rudd, it would seem – that Julia Gillard was a regular no-show at cabinet’s national security committee meetings. While some may well have believed that was not a bad thing, it is another matter when the truant is in the Oval Office. America’s close ally, Australia, should be concerned.

Obama’s most important job, other than to uphold the US Constitution, is to protect the nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic. He also quite literally holds the fate of the planet in his hands (actually the POTUS-trailing guy with the nuclear launch codes briefcase, known as the “football”, does that, but you get the idea).

As commander in chief, Obama earns his crust to be on deck with his crew keeping watch — not out on the links, where he is so often seen (more often than Bush, truth be told, who was criticised relentlessly for it). Instead of attending to national security, Obama taped a Letterman show and jetted off to raise campaign cash in Las Vegas, the smoke still billowing above Benghazi and more embassy attacks about to be launched elsewhere.

As the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States noted in its report on the September 11, 2001 massacres, the White House and the President play a unique role at the apex of the national security complex, not merely to sign-off on counter-terrorism efforts but to play an active role in synthesising intelligence and coordinating effective responses. It’s on that Oval Office desk where the buck stops.

What was missed or not followed up because Obama skipped his intelligence briefings? It has now been reported that “according to senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted.” Yet no warnings were given “for diplomats to go on high alert”.

A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence – the same mob that claimed the the Muslim Brotherhood is a “very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence” – has denied they had “any actionable intelligence indicating” the Benghazi attack was “planned or imminent.”  Given the date – September 11 and four recent attacks – a president of such intelligence and action might have taken a harder look with a view to beefing up security all the same. Evidently he did not.

Would the outcome have been different if Obama had been as engaged in his job as he should be? We will never know the answer. But the revelation that the single most important individual in the national security architecture of the US government is a skiver is more than troubling.

Then again, perhaps leading from behind requires little more.

Alan R.M. Jones, who recently cast a critical eye over Prime Minister Gillard’s account of her dealings with light-fingered former beau Bruce Wilson,  was an adviser to John Howard

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