I’ve written before about Mitt Romney and the GOP’s strange, outdated fascination with linking popular former President Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama. Now, on the anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Mitt Romney faces questions about his prior statements that he would not hunt down Osama bin Laden and he has responded by fixating on Jimmy Carter again.
“Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.”
While I continue to believe that Mitt Romney and other Republicans are playing a losing game to continue trying to link Barack Obama to the faded memories of Jimmy Carter who left office almost 32 years ago, I think the more interesting dimension of this attack is that it actually reinforces how courageous it was for Barack Obama to order the bin Laden raid. And it’s all about something called Operation Eagle Claw.
In April 1980, with 52 Americans held hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Iran, Jimmy Carter ordered a daring military operation to free the hostages. Operation Eagle Claw sent transport planes and helicopters carrying Delta Force special operations troops into Iran. After a number of technical difficulties, the mission was aborted. Unfortunately, after abandoning the mission, the helicopters were involved in an accident that killed 8 service members and resulted in 5 helicopters being left behind intact (unlike the damaged helicopter in the bin Laden raid, which was scuttled before the team departed) for the Iranians to capture.
The devastating political fallout Carter faced from the failure of Operation Eagle Claw played a major role in his defeat in November. In ordering the raid on the bin Laden compound, President Barack Obama took this extraordinary risk. Had the mission failed and cost American lives, triggered a more intense diplomatic crisis, or failed by killing the wrong man, the Obama presidency would be over. Fully aware of what happened to Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama still went forward with investing the resources in seeking out bin Laden even though he knew it would inexorably lead to a crucible moment where he would either take the risk of a daring raid, ignoring the intelligence or launching a drone that could have failed and left no guaranteed closure to the mission. This Mitt Romney statement should cause the media to revisit Operation Eagle Claw and remember just how risky Obama’s decision was in light of history.
Jimmy Carter exhibited steely resolve in ordering this rescue mission. In other words, this Mitt Romney “attack” is true, Jimmy Carter would order a daring military raid like Operation Eagle Claw that feckless GOP chicken hawks (like his GOP successor, who sold weapons to Iran in an effort to free U.S. hostages) never would.