Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Democracy at work, when the going gets tough at the White House

The White House has released a picture from the situation room during the operation to take on Osama bin Laden.  I am sure that there are many pictures and that this one was not released without a purpose, and yet I think it is very worthwhile commenting because it shows a lot on how a great democracy operates, what team works really. 

Without any particular order:

- Bi partisanship: let's remind folks that for all the partisan politics, the Secretary of Defense is inherited from a Republican administration and will have served more than half Obama's term once he leaves office in a few weeks.  It is the hallmark of a working democracy when some can serve the state without regard of who holds the political majority.

- Respect for who is in charge: two observations here.  First, Obama is sitting in a corner, the military in charge is in charge at the end of the table.  Also, the secretary of state is the one carrying papers and folders and agenda.  She could have been the one sitting in the corner today but yet she is just one worker at the table. Thus, if it is true that if Obama is the one that signed the papers to proceed, it is also true that he is letting the people do the work they are supposed to do, even if he does not have the best seat in the room to watch whatever it is that they are watching.  Guess where Chavez would be sitting.....

- True team work and team solidarity: I may push it a little bit here but there is a genuine uniform concern in all assistants.  All of them, no exception.  No one is wondering whether they are sitting close enough to Obama, or Biden, or X.  All are transfixed.  True, I am sure that whatever they were watching was fabulous, but I can assure you that today at Miraflores palace if such a major development were to take place, some in the attendance would want to make sure that Chavez would see them....

Why civilians should always be in charge of defense: this, I admit, is my favorite part.  Hillary might have her hand over her mouth to contain some gasp but if you ask me Barack does look hardly anymore at ease than her.  On the other hand Gates is clearly more composed, having witnessed more of such situations.  And yet his tightly crossed arms betray uneasiness.  That is why we should always have civilians ultimately in charge of such situations because no matter what, and at least for their first years in office, they do not lose that sense of fear, no matter how much courage they are able to muster to watch whatever it is blown away in front of them.  Someone like Chavez would enjoy that probably much more and take the mic to say something like "throw a few more gas y del bueno on that escualido".

I can assure you, and I am willing to bet anything on it, that under Bush, with all appropriate nuances respected, the situation in time of major feats would have been quite similar.  I am sure that soemwhere there is also a picture where Bush seats in a corner.

Such scenes happen only in real democracies, where the nasty job must be done and where no one enjoys it.  And that is what makes US democracy so great, if you ask me, no matter how many flaws I could also list next if I wanted too.


  1. Excellent essay on a nicely composed photograph. Photographer knows his stuff.

  2. Juan Cristobal7:18 PM

    I loved your analysis. Great picture of an historic day. Gives you a peek at the inner workings of power.

  3. Good stuff. But "Guess where Chavez would be sitting"? He'd have his very own screen up front, so everyone could be watching him all the time. Might even push the real action aside, just so he could be at the center and anything else be in the periphery.

  4. Actually, just to clarify, the
    Air Force Lieutenant Colonel sitting at the table was not the military guy in charge; most likely, he was a communications liaison with the Pentagon and the SEAL team on the ground in Abbottabad. The real military guy in charge is the guy with the four stars on his collar, standing behind and to the left Obama. That's Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest ranking uniformed officer in the military. Mullen standing, without a seat at the table, only serves to reinforce your points, Daniel...


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