Obama on 60 Minutes

Pretty much nailed it. It’s like having Bogart as President; if the economy comes back, he might manage to make calm and sanity fashionable again.

Pretty much nailed it, I thought. If the economy comes back, Obama may manage to make calm and sanity fashionable again.

The thing about gut instinct is if it works then you think, “Boy, I have good instincts.” If it doesn’t, then you’re gonna be running back in your mind all the things that told you maybe you shouldn’t have done it.

It’s like having Bogart as President. (To be sure, the interviewer didn’t push very hard.)

My favorite moments all involved the President’s almost preternatural self-restraint. When the interviewer asked about how he felt when he saw the pictures of bin Laden dead, Obama resisted the invitation to introspect; he just said, “It was him.” Asked “Were you nervous?” he said – without any trace of a smile – “Yes.” And when he was asked about releasing the photos to quell conspiracy theories, he made no reference to his birth certificate. Better yet, he didn’t even look tempted to do so.

I still disagree with Obama about framing this as “justice.” Bin Laden’s history of mass murder made his death not only unlamentable but heartily to be desired. Yet he was still innocent in law. On the other hand, as the chief of al Qaeda he, and his HQ, were legitimate military targets. He was killed in action.  I don’t see anything here anywhere close to the line.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

10 thoughts on “Obama on 60 Minutes”

  1. This exchange clears up one question:

    KROFT: Is this the first time that you’ve ever ordered someone killed?
    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind that, you know, every time I make a decision about launching a missile, every time I make a decision about sending troops into battle, you know, I understand that this will result in people being killed. And that is a sobering fact. But it is one that comes with the job.

    It’s clear from this that the orders to the SEALs were to kill bin Laden, not to “capture or kill” him. That would still leave some wiggle room about the counterfactual where bin Laden tried to surrender, freezing with his hands in the air, since it’s a crime to shoot an enemy soldier or suspect who surrenders (whether you pick the war or law enforcement framing). The deferential Kroft missed the opportunity to press Obama on the matter.
    [ Update 9 May, using blogger privileges
    There’s an NYT report today that they did plan for the contingency of capture, including an interrogation team on the aircraft carrier. This makes no sense if the orders were simply to kill OBL.]

  2. “I still disagree with Obama about framing this as “justice.” Bin Laden’s history of mass murder made his death not only unlamentable but heartily to be desired. Yet he was still innocent in law. On the other hand, as the chief of al Qaeda he, and his HQ, were legitimate military targets. He was killed in action. I don’t see anything here anywhere close to the line.”

    It’s easy to forget that justice is the aim of the law, (In theory, or regrettably often in pretext.) but justice is not defined as this, nor is law the only route to it.

  3. Brett,
    Your statement is quite defensible, but there are a number of procedural theories of justice out there, as well.

  4. The interview won’t stop the conservatives from saying that he was pounding his chest, but with any luck it will make that a harder sell.

    The self-restraint seems so obvious that there ought to be no need to point it out, but consider the meaning of his crediting “unprecedented cooperation between the CIA and our military in starting to shape an action plan that ultimately resulted in success.”

    Cooperation between people from different agencies and with sometimes conflicting agendas does not happen by itself; it happens only when a certain factor is present. That factor is called “leadership.” This is what leads to there being “not a lot of sniping or back-biting after the fact.”

    Having a president who values doubt just grates at the conservatives; they think it is wimpy to say “the fact that there were some who voiced doubts about this approach was invaluable, because it meant the plan was sharper, it meant that we had thought through all of our options.” So they run big headlines about his taking 16 hours to make a decision; this is, in their minds, evidence of weakness in the chief executive. One of the qualities of Senator Obama that caught my attention early on was his apparent ability to listen to what someone said, process it cerebrally, put it together with what someone else said, and arrive at a rational synthesis of the two inputs. This is why I supported the guy to begin with.

    “Collegial teams” do not arise spontaneously when large egos are brought together in a room. A chest-pounder would be calling attention to this fact, and to his own skills as a leader in making it all happen. Let’s find out if talk radio hosts can figure this out on their own.

  5. Wow, I can’t believe I’m agreeing with BB on something. (Though come to think of it, I might have once before.)

    We strive for just outcomes, and call the result “justice”. The law and its procedures are a “mass production” means to that end. But that’s not the only route. Accepting an outcome as just requires far more scrutiny if legal due process isn’t followed. In this case, I don’t think there can be much doubt.

  6. The fact that ObL might have been tried, convicted, and executed doesn’t make his killing the same as an execution. If – as I firmly believe – it was lawful, it was lawful as warfare, not as justice. Procedural niceties can seem trivial until you’re on the receiving end of frontier justice, but “due process of law” is the only thing between us and tyranny.

  7. Then we’re doomed. Because a tyranny and due process of law are perfectly capable of co-existing, merely given tyrannical laws. Due process, after all, doesn’t mean much more than going through the legal motions, instead of cutting directly to the chase. Eminent domain certainly demonstrates that.

  8. Brett is, this time, correct IMO. Due process, procedure… these are means to an end. The end is, hopefully, justice.

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