Mullen Reminds Obama and Romney That SEALs Are Not Political Tools

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Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen made President Obama and Mitt Romney both appear petty, as he addressed the politicization of the Osama bin Laden raid on the eve of its one-year anniversary. 

On NBC Nightly News last night, Mullen told Brian Williams he was frightened about how the presidential election would warp the SEALTeam 6 raid. "I do worry a great deal that this time of year that somehow this gets spun into election politics," he said. "I can assure you that those individuals who risked their lives, the last thing in the world that they would want is to be spun into that." There's a lot of blame to go around on the politicking side but the message has extra heft coming from Mullen, who was involved in the mission, as you can see in the famous Situation Room photo.

The Obama campaign of course opened Pandora's box in an ad asking "Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?" suggesting he wouldn't have had the guts to green-light the raid. Romney then ceded the high road by yelping that "Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order," a slam on an elderly former president that was, as The Atlantic's James Fallows pointed out, both factually and logically spurious given that Carter is probably best known for sending the Army's Delta Force to free American hostages in Iran. (A disastrous mission, yes, but one he nevertheless green-lighted.) In any event, President Obama defended the fight he started yesterday, saying "I hardly think you've seen any excessive celebration taking place here" in wake of criticisms from reporters such as Peter Baker and Michael Shear, who in The New York Times wrote that Obama "is increasingly taking the unusual route of bragging about how he killed a man."

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Of course, Obama doesn't have to worry about Mullen making him look too bad. The two worked together before Mullen retired and in last night's interview Mullen made sure to credit the president's deft decision-making. However, Obama could have a problem with the Navy SEAL community. As the Drudge Report splashed last night, some current and former SEALs are criticizing the president for exploiting the May 2011 mission. Last night, a serving SEAL Team member told London's The Daily Mail "Obama wasn’t in the field, at risk, carrying a gun. As president, at every turn he should be thanking the guys who put their lives on the line to do this." Ryan Zinke, who led a SEAL Team 6 assault unit and is now a Republican state Senator, said: "The decision was a no brainer. I applaud him for making it but I would not overly pat myself on the back for making the right call." 

According to BuzzFeed's Michael Hastings, who interviewed current and former SEALs, this resentment all stems from a real place. "The frustration—or, even anger—within the SEAL community is real, and has been brewing for months," he writes. "It started immediately after the raid, with questions among the Special Forces and intelligence community of whether the president should have waited to announce the kill to exploit the intelligence cache at Osama’s compound. It simmered after a Chinook helicopter was shot down, killing 30 Americans, 22 of them Navy SEALs from Team Six." Hastings says there's a real risk for Obama of more SEALs coming out of the woodwork to chip away at one of his signature foreign policy achievements. "Like Kerry’s war record, the vulnerability to the president’s Bin Laden story isn’t so much from the other side, as it from those who can claim the mantle of veteran," Hastings writes. "It wouldn’t be surprising to see the website: sprout up soon."

Below is the entire Mullen Interview:

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This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.