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President Obama, with first lady Michelle Obama, speaks to the father of an American by Navy SEALs from Somali pirates on Tuesday. (AP)

Obama SOTU Paean To Military Gains Deeper Meaning After Somalia News

Jan 25, 2012

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Frank James

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President Obama's paean during his State of the Union speech to the U.S. Navy SEAL team took on deeper meaning Wednesday morning with the news that Obama knew of the successful rescue by special forces members of an American and Danish citizen held hostage for months by Somali pirates.

Pointing to the Navy SEALs as examples of cooperation, effectiveness, courage and sacrifice much missing in Washington, Obama said:

"At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, they exceed all expectations. They're not consumed with personal ambition. They don't obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together."

The Somalia operation, with the killing of nine pirates, immediately recalled the killing of Osama bin Laden last year. Indeed, The Associated Press reported a U.S. official told the news agency the SEAL team that conducted the hostage rescue was the same one that killed the al-Qaida leader.

As with the bin Laden operation, the Somalia rescue of aid worker Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Hagen occurred as Obama had to carry out the schedule of high-profile appearances that comprise the White House calendar of any president.

While the president appeared before the White House Correspondents Association dinner on the last weekend of April 2011, the U.S. special forces operation against bin Laden operation was unfolding.

One difference worth noting, however, between the Somalia and Abbottabad, Pakistan raids was the White House's reaction afterward.

After the bin Laden operation, some government officials provided dramatic details of that raid and just as rapidly found themselves criticized by then Defense Secretary Robert Gates, among others, for providing too much operational information that might compromise future missions.

This time, they're not. In fact, on ABC News Wednesday morning, George Stephanopoulos asked Vice President Biden for additional details on Buchanan's medical condition, which had worsened, causing Obama to authorize the raid two days ago. Biden studiously avoided getting into details, saying the White House had learned its lesson.

BIDEN: "One of the things we know from before, George, from the bin Laden raid is the operational details are better not to be laid out. I'll let the Pentagon decide how to do that, OK?"

In other words, U.S. military officials, not White House aides, apparently will be doing all the talking about what happened in Somalia.

The successful Somalia operation also served as an exclamation point to Obama's message that "America's back." Somalia, of course, was the scene of the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu and Black Hawk Down, in which a raid into by U.S. troops early in the Clinton administration went disastrously wrong as Somali fighters pinned down Americans, infamously dragging the body of a fallen serviceman through the street.

The U.S. departed Somalia soon after that and bin Laden pointed to that episode as an example of U.S. weakness.

The dramatic rescue operation reported Wednesday, like the killing of bin Laden himself, could be seen as a rebuttal to that argument of a U.S. in decline.

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