Conservatives have rightly applauded President Obama for the successful operation that finally ended the murderous ambitions of Osama bin Laden. How could we not? Any American with any misgiving about Osama’s status as Public Enemy #1 probably needs to find a more arid residential zone.

But there’s “rightly applauded” — and there’s “Rightly applauded, with carping.” President Obama’s speech announcing the successful operation, according to some commentators, was entirely too self-aggrandizing, taking too much personal credit, making fat with the first-person singular.

Victor Davis Hanson at National Review Online, in a well-written carp about Senator and candidate Obama’s (then) opposition to all the policies that made the final operation against Osama possible, catalogued all of the president’s first-person references:

“Tonight, I can report … And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta … I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden … I met repeatedly with my national security team … I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action. … Today, at my direction … I’ve made clear … Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear … Tonight, I called President Zardari … and my team has also spoken. … These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief . … Finally, let me say to the families … I know that it has, at times, frayed…”

Other commentators take it a step further and contrast President Obama’s speech with President Bush’s speech upon the capture of Saddam Hussein. The speech was a gem. “All Iraqis who take the side of freedom have taken the winning side. The goals of our coalition are the same as your goals — sovereignty for your country, dignity for your great culture, and for every Iraqi citizen, the opportunity for a better life.” The president was gracious in his praise of others, sparing in the first-person singular.

But the contrast is unfair.

Republicans and Democrats have different things to prove to the American people. As to their military bona fides, their commitment to American security, their willingness to take controversial measures to save American lives, Democrats have much to prove — and naturally trumpet every initiative assisting that proof.

The corollary, the great maxim of world politics: liberals can do great conservative things, and conservatives can do great liberal things. Conservative Likudnik Menachim Begin could give away half of what was then Israel in exchange for peace with Egypt. No Labor prime minister could have done that. Labor prime minister Tony Blair could make a case for cleaning out the Middle Eastern cesspools of tyranny and oppression. No Tory prime minister could have done that.

That is why American wars have historically been prosecuted by Democrats. (Who can forget vice-presidential candidate Bob Dole’s snarling reference to “Democrat wars” in the 1976 vice presidential debate?) George W. Bush was a 21st-century Republican exception because of the shock of 9-11 and the seriousness with which America finally took its enemy. But Bush had no bona fides to prove. He could well afford to be (indeed, was well-advised to be) gracious and self-effacing at the moments of triumph.

But President Obama, being a Democrat who did in fact vocally embrace an ideological “humanist”/pacifist line in opposition to tribunals, renditions, Guantanamo, preventive detention, Predator-drone attacks, the Iraq War, wiretaps, and intercepts, yes, he had something to prove to Americans. And, wow, did he. One number: 180. And for gravy, on his own, without the advice or consent of Congress, he launched a military assault on Libya, with a NATO directive to kill the Qaddafi family. Now this is a president who timely figured out “whose ass to kick.”

The left isn’t calling him Hitler, as they did with the frankly kinder, gentler Bush, and the right is obliged to harrumph and say, okay, um, yes, well done. Most excellent 2012 plan.

So was there a bit of gloating, a tad too much self-aggrandizement in the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death? Yes, but that’s because a liberal was doing a great conservative thing.

Remember the shocker of the early 70s — President Nixon’s outreach to the Communist enemy China, still then governed tyrannically by the butcher Mao? The conservative Nixon was doing a great liberal thing. He was pretty proud of it.

Here’s how he announced it on July 15, 1971 — and if ever a thing spoke for itself, side-by-side with President Obama’s Osama speech, this Nixon speech surely does:

I have requested this television time tonight to announce a major development in our efforts to build a lasting peace in the world.

As I have pointed out on a number of occasions over the past three years, there can be no stable and enduring peace without the participation of the People’s Republic of China and its 750 million people.

That is why I have undertaken initiatives in several areas to open the door for more normal relations between our two countries.

In pursuance of that goal, I sent Dr. Kissinger, my Assistant for National Security Affairs, to Peking during his recent world trip for the purpose of having talks with Premier Chou En-lai.

The announcement I shall now read is being issued simultaneously in Peking and in the United States:


Premier Chou En-lai and Dr. Henry Kissinger, President Nixon’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, held talks in Peking from July 9 to 11, 1971.

Knowing of President Nixon’s expressed desire to visit the People’s Republic of China, Premier Chou En-lai, on behalf of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, has extended an invitation to President Nixon to visit China at an appropriate date before May 1972. President Nixon has accepted the invitation with pleasure.

The meeting between the leaders of China and the United States is to seek the normalization of relations between the two countries and also to exchange views on questions of concern to the two sides.


In anticipation of the inevitable speculation which will follow this announcement, I want to put our policy in the clearest possible context.

Our action in seeking a new relationship with the People’s Republic of China will not be at the expense of our old friends.

It is not directed against any other nation. We seek friendly relations with all nations. Any nation can be our friend without being any other nation’s enemy.

I have taken this action because of my profound conviction that all nations will gain from a reduction of tensions and a better relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

It is in this spirit that I will undertake what I deeply hope will become a journey for peace, not just for our generation but for future generations on this earth we share together.

Of course, there are huge teams behind the “I” of presidential politics — but the “I” is nowhere more conspicuous than when presidents do things that should please their most virulent opposition.


16 Responses to Obama-Osama-Bush-Hussein-Nixon-China

  1. Terrance H. says:

    President Obama was intensely liberal before he took office. Then he realized it “takes two wings to fly,” as Jesse Jackson once put it. I wonder how many on the hard left are upset that the Great Hope has turned rather moderate.

  2. lbwoodgate says:

    I think the only ones guilty of carping on this are those who continue to claim that Obama is continuing to carp on this. Perhaps I have missed something other than his initial comments he made by his own initiative shortly after the operation was a success.

    You may be guilty too of attributing too much to candidate Obama that was expected of him from many anti-war protestors who eventually wound up voting for him. Their hope wasn’t necessarily his credo, or that was my assessment of him throughout his campaign.

    As for what you see as an excess of the possessive term “I”, it seems clear that as POTUS he and other commander-in chiefs have made some choices that we expect him to make but which some always berate them for not being up to the task of making. Leaders do that that and all reasonable know it was not them personally who carried out the difficult tasks. It was cheesy when Bush’s critics did it then. It’s cheesy for Obama’s adversaries to do it now.

    I say, give it a rest lest you come out looking like someone who splits hairs to fine.

    Just a friendly rebuke Kendall.

    • It appears you may have missed my point, or perhaps the point was too obscure. I noted some conservative carping about the president’s excessive self-aggrandizement (contrasted with Bush’s self-effacement and graciousness upon the capture of Saddam Hussein) — and then said, but wait, a conservative Republican (Nixon) had a speech with very nearly identical “self-aggrandizement.” I thought it a pretty effective use of history. In one case, a liberal did something conservative, and crowed a bit. In the other, a conservative did something liberal, and crowed a bit. The message appears not to have penetrated.

  3. William says:

    You have to hand it to Obama — he’s a uniter.

    Had this mission been carried out identically during George Bush’s presidency, half of the U.S. — and most of the world — would be calling for Bush’s head.

    Killed an unarmed man! Bush is a criminal! Lost vital interrogation information! Bush is stupid! Of course, had Bush had an alive bin Laden to Gitmo, Bush might have had a washcloth put on bin Laden and had water poured on the washcloth. That Bush, such a savage.

    Anyway, it’s quite possible that only Obama could have killed bin Laden…

  4. Paul Grubbs says:

    No good deed goes unpunished. MacDowell’s editorial was more than fair towards Obama, yet he is criticized for splitting hairs to (sic) fine. I find it interesting that no comment was made about comparing BO to Nixon!

    Folks in the Obama camp would like for us to enjoy the president’s successful (and gutsy) call to ILLEGALLY invade a sovereign country and assassinate a war criminal without due process. Clinton wouldn’t do it. Bush wouldn’t do it. But BO conjures the spirit of Tricky Dick and we are all dancing in the streets because UBL is dead. Let us not pause to consider what we have just done, try to see what we may have done differently or even better. Or ponder how we might react if our enemies decide to fight fire with fire and also “take out” our leaders by illegal excursions to America. Let’s move on while the iron is hot and go get the rest of them!

    Apparently it is OK to do this while the Oval Office is occupied by a liberal, peace loving black man who by the way has some Muslim ties (tip the hat to Sheryl Crow) but would not be all right if the president was a white, cold hearted rich brat with allegiance to big oil. I am beginning to see the silver lining in the clouds! Yes the US killed UBL but only after we got our hearts and minds right through a kind and loving chief executive. At this rate I might vote re-elect Barack Obama! Look at how much (and how many) we could get “done”.

  5. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    I’m reading a lot of rewriting of history in these comments – and assumptions that seem a bit far out. After 9/11, if Bush had managed to kill OBL right away, I can hardly believe there wouldn’t have been rallies throughout the U.S. on the level of spectacular World Series wins. I very much doubt that OBL’s assassination wasn’t on Bush’s bucket list before he left office. Do you have anything, Paul, to back up that statement about Bush? Clinton – yeah, I believe he wouldn’t have had the guts to do a thing.

    From what I read, the majority of people weren’t gleeful and fulfilled on a spiritual level that OBL was killed – quite the contrary – it was not OK to do this because Obama is in the WH – I resent that characterization of us liberals a bit. Most of us liberals have some ability to be discerning, have strong moral beliefs that don’t flutter in the breeze, and can take a rational view of things.

    lb – I don’t recall what anti-war protestors demanded of Obama, but don’t you think they were not too much enthralled with what he did? But I do agree with some of your points – Obama can always do wrong when it comes to many conservatives.

    Oh, and BTW – the blogger’s name is Kendrick – quite a lovely, Scottish name, right?

    • Thanks SDS — for the solid points, and the name clarification! 🙂

    • jeff veazey says:

      Uh, as I recall, there was the Cruise missile into Somalia that supposedly barely missed OBL, launched under Clinton’s watch, pre-9/11, because Clinton and those on his security team wanted him dead for crimes already committed.

  6. jeff veazey says:

    Looks like the “I”s have it. Not sure how the speech below contributes one way or the other, except for the I – rony of the belief that is a device for the self-egranizing. This I -examination is worse than splitting hairs, surpassing the ridiculous, “It depends on what your definition of “is” is.”

    “Late yesterday, I cancelled a carefully planned operation which was underway in Iran to position our rescue team for later withdrawal of American hostages, who have been held captive there since November 4. Equipment failure in the rescue helicopters made it necessary to end the mission.

    As our team was withdrawing, after my order to do so, two of our American aircraft collided on the ground following a refueling operation in a remote desert location in Iran. Other information about this rescue mission will be made available to the American people when it is appropriate to do so.

    There was no fighting; there was no combat. But to my deep regret, eight of the crewmen of the two aircraft which collided were killed, and several other Americans were hurt in the accident. Our people were immediately airlifted from Iran. Those who were injured have gotten medical treatment, and all of them are expected to recover.

    No knowledge of this operation by any Iranian officials or authorities was evident to us until several hours after all Americans were withdrawn from Iran.

    Our rescue team knew and I knew that the operation was certain to be difficult and it was certain to be dangerous. We were all convinced that if and when the rescue operation had been commenced that it had an excellent chance of success. They were all volunteers; they were all highly trained. I met with their leaders before they went on this operation. They knew then what hopes of mine and of all Americans they carried with them.

    To the families of those who died and who were wounded, I want to express the admiration I feel for the courage of their loved ones and the sorrow that I feel personally for their sacrifice.

    The mission on which they were embarked was a humanitarian mission. It was not directed against Iran; it was not directed against the people of Iran. It was not undertaken with any feeling of hostility toward Iran or its people. It has caused no Iranian casualties.

    Planning for this rescue effort began shortly after our Embassy was seized, but for a number of reasons, I waited until now to put those rescue plans into effect. To be feasible, this complex operation had to be the product of intensive planning and intensive training and repeated rehearsal. However, a resolution of this crisis through negotiations and with voluntary action on the part of the Iranian officials was obviously then, has been, and will be preferable.

    This rescue attempt had to await my judgment that the Iranian authorities could not or would not resolve this crisis on their own initiative. With the steady unraveling of authority in Iran and the mounting dangers that were posed to the safety of the hostages themselves and the growing realization that their early release was highly unlikely, I made a decision to commence the rescue operations plans.

    This attempt became a necessity and a duty. The readiness of our team to undertake the rescue made it completely practicable. Accordingly, I made the decision to set our long-developed plans into operation. I ordered this rescue mission prepared in order to safeguard American lives, to protect America’s national interests, and to reduce the tensions in the world that have been caused among many nations as this crisis has continued.

    It was my decision to attempt the rescue operation. It was my decision to cancel it when problems developed in the placement of our rescue team for a future rescue operation. The responsibility is fully my own.

    In the aftermath of the attempt, we continue to hold the Government of Iran responsible for the safety and for the early release of the American hostages, who have been held so long. The United States remains determined to bring about their safe release at the earliest date possible.

    As President, I know that our entire Nation feels the deep gratitude I feel for the brave men who were prepared to rescue their fellow Americans from captivity. And as President, I also know that the Nation shares not only my disappointment that the rescue effort could not be mounted, because of mechanical difficulties, but also my determination to persevere and to bring all of our hostages home to freedom.

    We have been disappointed before. We will not give up in our efforts. Throughout this extraordinarily difficult period, we have pursued and will continue to pursue every possible avenue to secure the release of the hostages. In these efforts, the support of the American people and of our friends throughout the world has been a most crucial element. That support of other nations is even more important now.

    We will seek to continue, along with other nations and with the officials of Iran, a prompt resolution of the crisis without any loss of life and through peaceful and diplomatic means. “

    • I think you may have missed my point as well Jeff. I’m not sure I understand the re-posting of Carter’s speech.

      • jeff veazey says:

        Sometimes a President speaks for the American people and the first person narrative is a perfectly appropriate way of expressing that the will of our collective values has compelled us upon a certain course of action. There are moments when we need to know that our leader is leading.There are also moments when we need to know the President is thinking deeply and considering the depth of moral decisions, as President Obama expressed in his “just war” speech at the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. Despite the first person domination of the two speeches cited, I recall clearly the Nixon speech as well, I recollect both Presidents as delegating all credit where it was due. Carter used many “I” and “my” references, in that speech where he was taking blame not credit. My point is that the inference of self-promotion or ego-driven subtext on the part of the Presidential speaker is in the ear and pre-determined biases of the beholder. If we don’t like the President and he uses I a lot, he is arrogant. If we like the President we take his failure to take responsibility in any form (as a draft dodger or as a drunk or as a poor student or as a politician) as humility. Could be President Bush knew just enough to fairly evaluate his passive role among his more forceful cronies and couldn’t use I with a straight face.

        • Very nicely stated. I disagree with the pointedly ungenerous supposition of your last two sentences, but you frame the larger point persuasively. We’re converging on the same point — that a president’s rhetorical “I” is not evidence of character, one way or the other — though we’re drawing different conclusions about what it could mean.

  7. jeff veazey says:

    The reason President’s get to use the “I’ good or bad, without being questioned for being an uppity so-and-so? “The Buck Stops Here”, as the sign on Truman’s desk said.

    • The issue in my post, and thereafter, has never been the president being an “uppity so-and-so,” whatever that is. It is a question of presidential rhetoric — and no person’s use of language is more abundantly dissected for meaning, subtext, and implication than the president of the United States. That’s just what is, unsurprisingly. President Bush — perhaps the most “Buck-Stops-Here” president since Truman — opted for very sparing use of I in announcing the capture of Saddam Hussein. Nixon didn’t when he announced the outreach to China. I tried to explain these differences in political rhetoric with an historical framework of liberals doing conservative things, and conservatives doing liberal things. I think that essential point was lost, and I take responsibility as the writer for failing to make clear what I intended.

  8. Paul Grubbs says:

    To clarify the point in question, SDS, the fact that
    Bush did not do it should be enough evidence. There are unsubstantiated stories that UBL was in the “cross hairs” (is it PC to use this term?) of American forces but was not taken out because the perverted bastard constantly surrounded himself with innocent women and children who were likely collateral damage. Clinton had opportunities as well. In comparison, I believe that if I were commander in chief (scary huh?), I would have leaned more to BO’s tact to do it and ask for forgiveness later if necessary. So far our AG has not even hinted that he would consider filing charges, hence no apology.

    • Terrance H. says:


      You do realize that Bush made a secret deal with Pakistan that should we get wind of Osama’s whereabouts in Pakistan, we were going in to get him. You do know that, right? And if so, then surely you realize the deal was still on the table after Obama took office.

      Guess where I learned that? The Nation. LOL. A liberal magazine taught this conservative something pretty important.

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