June 4, 2012
"Stolen Valor" refers to charlatans who claim falsely to have served in the Armed Forces and/or who wear medals they have not earned. Barack Obama's sole claim on any role in the takedown of Osama bin Laden stems from the fact that it happened on his watch, as did the more recent loss of 22 SEALs and eight other service members in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
Let's make it very clear up front. Barack Obama did nothing more than to tell the Armed Forces to go ahead with a plan they developed. He did not, no matter what his campaign staff or the pre-election movie might suggest, take out bin Laden personally, as might be fantasized by Garry Trudeau's Red Rascal. Nor did he play any role in planning the mission like Tom Clancy's fictional hero Jack Ryan (a former Marine officer, not a community organizer). If he or his campaign staff engage in chest-pounding to the effect that Mr. Obama played some personal role in the mission's planning and execution, it would be entirely fair to accuse him of stolen valor.
It is already a matter of record that Mr. Obama has referred to our men and women in uniform as "photo opportunities," with the specific words "You guys make a pretty good photo op." Past presidents have doubtless praised our service members for defending the country, but it is doubtful that any president, especially one with his own service record (e.g., Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, or either Bush) ever called our troops a "photo op."
Mara Zebst has meanwhile provided evidence in the American Thinker that the Clancy-esque Situation Room photo in which Obama supervised the bin Laden takedown was Photoshopped. If this is proven, it will mean that the Obama administration disseminated propaganda in the manner of George Orwell's Ministry of Truth to reinforce the image of the Dear Leader as a godlike hero. A case could then be made to the effect that the Obama administration used government facilities and senior government officials for electioneering purposes, which is a felony. (This assumes that the prohibition on solicitation for political contributions includes the use of government property to support any campaign-related activities.)
The bottom line is, however, that anybody sitting in a bar with a bottle of beer in his or her hand could have taken a call from a Navy SEAL commander and heard, "We found out where the individual who orchestrated the murder of 3,000 American citizens lives, and it is my judgment as a military professional that we can put him down without significant risk of losing the men we send to do it. All I need is your approval, Sir/Madam."
A person who had actually served in the U.S. Navy, such as John McCain, would have replied, simply, "Make it so!," while a person of somewhat less refinement might have said, "Waste the SOB!" or "Smoke him!" Neither would have, however, taken credit for the job as if he had personally rappelled out of a helicopter and then fought his way Rambo-style through bin Laden's lair.
The bottom line is that a leader or commander in chief takes responsibility for a decision, but only the people who put their lives on the line to carry it out take the credit. Theodore Roosevelt accordingly took both the responsibility (as the decision maker) and the credit (because he led the attack) for the charge up San Juan Hill, but such cases are rare. President Harry Truman did not even think of taking credit for bombing Hiroshima because he did not fly the mission and he did not share any risks taken by the crew of the Enola Gay. All he took was responsibility for the mission's approval and its effectiveness in ending the war. Winston Churchill took credit for his role in the Battle of Omdurman (1898) because he fought there personally and killed the enemy with his own hand. All he took for the disaster of Gallipoli (1915) was the responsibility and the blame, which is what a leader of character should have done. Only a self-aggrandizing narcissist like Barack Obama steals the valor of genuine heroes and claims it as his own.
William A. Levinson is the author of several books on business management including content on organizational psychology, as well as manufacturing productivity and quality.