To be really useful reporting here, rather than just meaningless "color," we'd need some context. Was the golf game's purpose to blow off steam at an especially tense time? Did Obama not think it important enough for him to be constantly present in the hours leading up to the raid? Is this typical of his schedule when huge things are happening? We desperately need a more realistic sense of what presidents do, how much they're really in charge, or, instead, figureheads for unnamed individuals who make most of the critical decisions.
Here's something just as strange: we are told the President took a commanding role in determining key operational tactics, but then didn't seem interested in important details, after the fact.
"Forty-five minutes after the Black Hawks departed, four MH-47 Chinooks launched from the same runway in Jalalabad. Two of them flew to the border, staying on the Afghan side; the other two proceeded into Pakistan. Deploying four Chinooks was a last-minute decision made after President Barack Obama said he wanted to feel assured that the Americans could 'fight their way out of Pakistan.'"
Now, consider the following climactic New Yorker account of Obama meeting with the squadron commander after it's all over, with bin Laden dead and the troops home and safe. Schmidle decides to call the commander "James...the names of all the covert operators mentioned in this story have been changed." The anecdote will feature a canine, one who, in true furry dog story fashion, had already been introduced early in the New Yorker piece, as "Cairo" (it's not clear whether the dog's name, too, was changed):
"As James talked about the raid, he mentioned Cairo's role. 'There was a dog?' Obama interrupted. James nodded and said that Cairo was in an adjoining room, muzzled, at the request of the Secret Service.- Advertisement -
"'I want to meet that dog,' Obama said.
"'If you want to meet the dog, Mr. President, I advise you to bring treats,' James joked. Obama went over to pet Cairo, but the dog's muzzle was left on."
Here's the ending:
"Before the President returned to Washington, he posed for photographs with each team member and spoke with many of them, but he left one thing unsaid. He never asked who fired the kill shot, and the SEALs never volunteered to tell him."
Why did the president not want to ask for specifics on the most important parts of the operation -- but seemed so interested in a dog that participated? While it is certainly plausible that this happened, we should be wary of one of the oldest p.r. tricks around -- get people cooing over an animal, while the real action is elsewhere.
Certainly, Obama's reaction differs dramatically from that of other previous presidents who always demanded detailed briefings and would have stayed on top of it all throughout -- including fellow Democrats JFK, Carter and Clinton. At minimum, it shows a degree of caution or ceremony based upon a desire not to know too much -- or an understanding that he may not ask. Does anyone doubt that Bill Clinton would have been on watch 24/7 during this operation, parsing legal, political and operational details throughout, and would have demanded to know who felled America's most wanted?
Summing up about the reliability of this account, which is now likely to become required reading for every student in America, long into the future:
*It is based on reporting by a man who fails to disclose that he never spoke to the people who conducted the raid, or that his father has a long background himself running such operations (this even suggests the possibility that Nicholas Schmidle's own father could have been one of those "unnamed sources.")
*It seems to have depended heavily on trusting second-hand accounts by people with a poor track record for accurate summations, and an incentive to spin.
*The alleged decisions on killing bin Laden and disposing of his body lack credibility.