Commentary Magazine


Anger Over Obama Leaks Isn’t Swift Boat II

Democrats are trying to portray ex-intelligence officials who are publicly criticizing the Obama administration’s leaking of sensitive material in order to boost the president’s political standing as partisans. They think by merely saying the words “Swift Boat,” the group, which calls itself Special Operations Opsec Education Fund, will be ignored or reviled. But the comparison to those Navy veterans who blasted John Kerry’s record during the 2004 campaign is not apt. Whatever the motivation of the original Swift Boat veterans, their beef was a personal grudge against Kerry. The issue the Opsec group is highlighting is a serious problem that has already resulted in federal investigations of the White House’s behavior.

The White House is particularly unhappy because the group’s efforts threaten to tarnish the one tangible achievement of this administration: the killing of Osama bin Laden. The operation that ended the life of the arch terrorist was a brilliant military maneuver but it has become a political totem for the president. The killing has allowed him to pretend that a record of foreign policy failure has somehow been transformed into one of unadulterated success. While the president deserves credit for giving the okay for the strike (after reportedly refusing to do it three previous times), the shameless manner with which the administration blabbed classified information so as to portray Obama and his staff as fearless war leaders understandably angered the intelligence community. More importantly, it was just one more instance in which the White House leaked secrets for political gain. While the investigations of these leaks by two U.S. Attorneys may eventually lead to serious consequences for some individuals, the president shouldn’t be surprised that there is going to be some political damage as well.

The Swift Boat attacks on Kerry were controversial because they were seen as an unfair attempt to besmirch a decorated veteran who did face enemy fire. Kerry’s fellow veterans resented his portrayal as a hero and were bitter about his unconscionable attacks on fellow serviceman after he returned home from Vietnam. But whatever you may think about that dispute, there really is no comparison to criticism of Obama’s promiscuous leaking of classified material.

This is an administration that hasn’t hesitated to blab details about the most important covert operations and research, such as cyber warfare and the drone attacks on terrorists, so as to paint the president as a great man. The White House has clearly broken the law but it is unclear whether they will be made to pay for these violations since Obama appointees rather than an independent special prosecutor are conducting the investigations.

It should also be admitted that some of the anger about the leaks about the bin Laden operation are due to natural resentment by those who carry out such operations at the way the president’s team has used them as props in his re-election campaign. The president rarely makes a speech without mentioning bin Laden’s killing, and while he has given proper credit to those who actually risked their lives on this mission, there’s little doubt that the White House has worked hard to paint him as the true “hero” of the story.

While the election will not be won or lost on this issue, the blowback on the leaks is a lesson for all political leaders. Presidents who seek to take the lion’s share of the credit for the actions of those who serve in the military and who leak information to puff their own reputations will always be resented for doing so. Rather than blasting the Opsec veterans, what is needed from the administration is a little more humility from the commander-in-chief.