“Gentlemen, I want you to know that I am seriously considering an attempt to rescue the hostages.”
According to media reports, President Obama had three options once American intelligence uncovered Osama bin Laden’s suspected location.
The first option was to bomb the position with thirty-two 2,000-pound bombs using a B-2 stealth bomber. Option two was to assault the position with a joint American-Pakistani raid. The final option was to conduct a heliborne assault of the compound before notifying the Pakistanis.
All the options had risks, but the one that President Obama executed was by far the riskiest. Not only did U.S. forces face the prospect of being stranded deep inside Pakistan, but they also faced threats from a Pakistani military on a hair-trigger alert from possible Indian military incursions from the East.
The outcome could just as easily have turned sour.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter, tried a similar operation in Iran to rescue 52 American hostages.
If President Obama’s Operation Geronimo exceeded all expectations, President Carter’s Desert One was a disaster and likely a major contributor to his losing the 1980 presidential election.
The mission ended as a debacle deep inside Iranian territory. The military lost eight men, seven helicopters, and a C-130 aircraft without even making contact with the Iranians.
Like President Carter before him, President Obama essentially gambled his presidency on this mission.
The success of this operation will do much to help the American public the naiveté that underlined President Obama’s foreign policy in his first two years, and is likely one of his greatest military achievements. Another accomplishment might have been his decision to use a cyber-weapon, which was likely developed during the last years of the Bush Administration, against Iran’s nuclear program.
The United States government is unlikely to disclose whether it was responsible for infecting Iranian nuclear systems with the highly sophisticated Stuxnet virus. However, if the United States was, Obama deserves credit for deciding to employ the cyber weapon.
For what it is worth, President Obama made a gutsy decision that may turn out to be the high water mark of his presidency.