The Unknown Celebrity
WASHINGTON -- The squabbling between political campaigns and the harrumphing of pundits were put in proper perspective at, of all places, the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) dinner -- the annual Prom on the Potomac where 2,000 or so media members and movie stars gather to honor the president and admire one another.
It is customary at this "exclusive" congregation for media organizations to compete for the celebrity "get." Thus, this year, all were abuzz over the stars, including among the many, George Clooney, Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Steven Spielberg and, of course, Kim Kardashian, without whom no shallow occasion would be complete -- and finally, Lindsay Lohan.
Then there was Table 46, one of The Washington Post's tables, to which I was fortuitously assigned. We were the un-celebrities -- writers, editors, Undersecretary of State Bob Hormats, and a military officer who introduced himself as "Bill."
He was obviously important. His dress uniformÂ was festooned with medals and ribbons -- lots of them. And he had that bearing we recognize in military elites that betrays another kind of space, a private zone where intelligence and readiness keep each other quiet company.
Bill ... who did he say?
Turns out this humble, polite man was Adm. William McRaven, leader of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that oversaw the raid to kill Osama bin Laden. In a recounting of the eight-month lead-up to the raid, Time magazine features McRaven as part of President Obama's highly secret, and secretive, inner circle. He's the guy to whom CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell was referring when he turned to then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in the early planning stages and said, "It's time to call in the pros."
The Obama administration has been taking some flak for touting bin Laden's killing in a campaign ad, including a barb this week from former Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen. I do worry a great deal that this time of year that somehow this gets spun into election politics, Mullen said in an interview with NBCs Brian Williams. I can assure you that those individuals who risk their lives -- the last thing in the world that they want is to be spun into that."
By Time's telling, Obama clearly deserves enormous credit for the execution of the bin Laden hit. His measured approach to the exercise was key. There were a hundred ways things could go wrong, and waiting for just the right moment was crucial. Whether it is appropriate for Obama to turn the operation into a political instrument is another matter. One Special Forces officer summed it up to me this way: "A good leader lets his people shine and that reflects on him without him having to beat his own drum."
Reading the Time story, one is reminded that the business of the executive office is far graver than what tends to nourish the daily news cycle. Serious business gets done without notice, thanks in part to the lack of notice. The bin Laden raid was successful largely because no one leaked. Secrets were kept. Highly trained men did their jobs without fanfare.
"This is what we do," McRaven told the president, according to Time. "We fly in by helicopters, we assault compounds, we grab the bad guy or whatever is required, and we get out."