Yesterday, in response to the news that jihadi savages had killed an American journalist on YouTube, the Obama administration revealed that there had been a special forces operation that attempted and failed to rescue James Foley. For the life of me, I can't figure out why this was necessary information to reveal, beyond the fact that it was a cheap way of convincing the American people that Obama had been concerned about Foley's plight. Providing political cover for the president so he can get back to hitting the links even as the personification of evil is about to seize control of a country the size of California, does not strike me as a good reason to reveal what would have otherwise been secret special forces operational details.
I am no foreign policy or military expert, and given that the world is on fire at the moment, my admission of humility here makes me perhaps more qualified to discuss these matters than anyone in the White House. I also understand that as a matter of statemanship what you don't say is as important as what you do say. And what you do is more important still.
The United States military is the greatest fighting force the world has ever known and has truly awesome capabilities. They are not infallible, of course, but it is to our benefit that we cultivate the image of our military as filled with omnipotent ranks of ghost soldiers who can instantly rain death from above or put boots on the ground that effortlessly slink into the spider holes and encampments of our enemies, killing them en masse before they know what's happening.
Certainly, there is a place for heroic tales of American soldiers and the public must be informed about some basic things. But Zero Dark Thirty was up for a slew of Oscars while Osama Bin Laden's body was still cooling, and the film was made with extensive cooperation by the Obama administration presumably because it was deemed politically helpful. Publicizing the details of Special Operations Forces to score political points has become an irksome and hazardous habit with this administration. Indeed, anonymous Defense department officials expressed anger at to the New York Times that the mission had been revealed and the National Security Council spokesman admitted, “We never intended to disclose this operation. An overriding concern for the safety of the hostages and for operational security made it imperative that we preserve as much secrecy as possible.”
The proper response to Foley's death is not to announce we tried and failed to rescue him, accompanied by a sad trombone sound from the Washington press corps. The President should have condemned Foley's death in terse but emphatic terms and then waited until he could announce at some point in the near future his barbaric captors had been held responsible or that we'd struck a definitive blow against ISIS in response. That response is both good politics and good foreign policy. Instead, the Obama administration telegraphed the weakness of the American military so the president could get back to his August vacation ASAP. The American people, and especially the American military, deserve better.