They were the Republicans' best chance at swift-boating President Obama, but they're unraveling at the seams. The four-month assault by former Navy SEALs and Special Forces operatives against President Obama's handling of the Osama bin Laden raid had the potential to discredit the president's signature foreign policy achievement, but the veterans' partisan excesses and absurd public remarks are turning them into a laughingstock within the special forces community.
The attacks on Obama began surfacing in April when Ryan Zinke, a former Navy commander and Republican state senator, aired his grievances to The Daily Mail. "The President and his administration are positioning him as a war president using the SEALs as ammunition," he said. "I would not overly pat myself on the back for making the right call." At the time, BuzzFeed's Michael Hastings began hearing similar grumblings from other SEALs and identified the sentiment as a highly dangerous threat to Obama's re-election platform. "The frustration—or, even anger—within the SEAL community is real, and has been brewing for months," he wrote in May. He compared the situation to 2004's Swift Boats Veterans for Truth campaign, which succeeded in raising doubts about Sen. John Kerry's war hero status. "Like Kerry’s war record, the vulnerability to the president’s Bin Laden story isn’t so much from [Republicans], as it from those who can claim the mantle of veteran." In Obama's case, many former SEALs claimed that mantle, but they're doing a terrible job carrying it.
The fall from grace began with Larry Bailey, a retired 27-year veteran of the Navy SEALs who founded the anti-Obama political group Special Operations Speaks. Bailey's military career placed him in a unique position to attack the president, but it didn't take him very long to get off message, as Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin found out. "I have to admit that I'm a Birther," Bailey told Rogin. "If there were a jury of 12 good men and women and the evidence were placed before them, there would be absolutely no question Barack Obama was not born where he said he was and is not who he says he is." In the interview, he also said Obama was a socialist who was raised by communists, which caught the attention of Obama campaign official Ben LaBolt who gleefully distributed the article to Washington reporters.
Then came former Navy SEAL Ben Smith, a spokesman for the OPSEC Education Fund, which has taken out ads and a 22-minute film to attack the president. Smith rather likes posting remarks on his Facebook page calling the president inflammatory nicknames like "Heir Communist-in-Chief Hussein Mao-bama." But it gets worse:
"You are an Imposter, You are a Muslim (Cassius Clay, Lew Alcindor, Barry Soetoro), You are the Manchurian President and may you go back to the country you were born in when you are deposed you little, little man (and take all your communist sympathizers with you)," Smith wrote. "You insult everything that was considered American. May you and your administration be a lesson to history and your posterity be lost to the rebirth of AMERICAN PATRIOTISM!"
Other Special Ops OPSEC members such as ret. Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely have also publicly questioned Obama's Hawaiian birth, creating a situation where retired members of the special forces community felt compelled to renounce the group, something The Associated Press' Kimberly Dozier picked up on last night:
Some special operations officers say the activist veterans are breaking a sacred military creed: respect for the commander in chief. "This is an unprofessional, shameful action on the part of the operators that appear in the video, period," U.S. Army Special Forces Maj. Fernando Lujan wrote on his Facebook page, to a chorus of approval from colleagues.
A Green Beret who returned last year from Afghanistan, Lujan says that attaching the title of special operator with any political campaign is "in violation of everything we've been taught, and the opposite of what we should be doing, which is being quiet professionals."
Others echoed that same sentiment, such as retired Navy SEAL Capt. Rick Woolard. "I would prefer that SEALs and other special operators would sit down and shut the hell up." The naked partisanship and tendentious nature of the attacks on Obama eventually made something incredibly risky for a president—attacking former Navy SEALs—into something pretty safe. "I don't take these folks too seriously," Obama told The Virginian-Pilot on Monday. "One of their members is a birther who denies I was born here, despite evidence to the contrary." As a result, it's difficult to see how this attack line can maintain credibility unless other former SEALs with less inflammatory rhetoric step forward. Until then, this Swift Boat has been sunk.