High Risk. High Reward. Low Confidence?

By now I’m fairly confident you’ll have heard at least one account of the rather unexpected news that Usama bin Laden has been killed by American special forces deep within Pakistan. Odds are just about as good that you’ll have heard at least one pundit, analyst, or commentator wax eloquent on the significance of this story.

What few will discuss, I expect, is just how little faith in success the United States appears to have had in this effort succeeding.

What struck me most as I watched the President’s address live on television late last night is this:

Obama’s address – at 11:30 at night on a Sunday, remember – was… not a great piece of oratory. That’s unusual for Obama, who is usually an eloquent public speaker supported by some very skilled speechwriters. The announcement of Usama’s death was as close to unscripted as the President ever gets; brief, B-grade stuff clearly whipped up on the spur of the moment.

It’s only the, arguably, most significant achievement of Obama’s presidency, as various commentators were quick to point out. It’s only something that caused spontaneous celebratory gatherings outside the White House (and at ground zero in NYC) at, you know, midnight, on a Sunday. You’d think they’d have been better prepared.

They weren’t.

To me, that says that nobody had high confidence of success in what was clearly a high-risk, high-reward plan.

Had they tried before, and failed? Maybe we’ll find out. Maybe we won’t.

But for all the discussions that are sure to ensue in coming weeks and months of the “intelligence victory” – which will, believe me, be a quite welcome change from a decade of discussion of “intelligence failures” – in Usama’s location and killing, I think it’s worth keeping in mind that the administration was pessimistic enough about the whole thing that they prepared no remarks in advance.

I’m not trying to detract from the accomplishment in any way, mind you. I just think the nature and the character of the announcement in and of itself tells an extremely interesting aspect of the story which is going to go largely overlooked, is all.

Published in: General, History, Security | on May 2nd, 2011| 1 Comment »

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Comment

  1. On 5/2/2011 at 7:30 am Nemo Said:

    On an unrelated note, I facepalm’d watching NBC’s special coverage last night. Richard Engel was breathlessly predicting that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was going to be much-mentioned in coming days due to their speculated involvement in killing bin Laden, and described the organization as a little-known body that essentially exists as “the fifth branch of the military”, after the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines.

    JSOC isn’t the fifth branch of the military. Not literally. Not even figuratively. There’s already a fifth branch, and that’s… the Coast Guard. (Remember them?)

    Good job, NBC. Good job.