A White House official’s rational exuberance–and its implications for understanding the Pacquiao-Mosley fight. Published on May 10, 2011.
Buyer beware—that’s the thought bubble that pops up in my head these days when I come across the name of John Brennan, US President Barack Obama’s advisor on counter-terrorism. By my reckoning, the most egregious errors in the first White House account of the daring raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden were attributable to Brennan. The assertion, for instance, that Bin Laden used his wife as a human shield.
Immediately after Obama announced Bin Laden’s death before midnight of May 1 (before noon the following day in Manila), the White House conducted the first conference call with reporters. I believe Brennan was one of the two or three “senior administration officials” who served as unnamed sources, at least as I base it on the language one such official used during the call and the details that official provided. In particular, I am convinced it was Brennan who made the following statement: “There were several women and children at the compound. One woman was killed when she was used as a shield by a male combatant. Two other women were injured.”
Several hours after that conference call, Brennan addressed reporters on the record. Among other details, he said: “Thinking about that from a visual perspective, here is Bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks, living in this million-dollar-plus compound, living in an area that is far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield.”
While in this press briefing Brennan sought to qualify the limits of his knowledge (“She served as a shield; again, this is my understanding.” And also: “That’s again my understanding, that she met her demise, and my understanding is that she was one of Bin Laden’s wives”), he nevertheless impressed upon the reporters that he and the rest of Obama’s national security team were able to “monitor in a real-time basis the progress of the operation”—effectively negating his subtle qualifications.
He was categorical about the use of the human shield: “She fought back when there was an opportunity [for the US Navy Seals] to get to Bin Laden; she was positioned in a way that indicated that she was being used as a shield …”
As it turns out, Brennan misspoke. The woman who died was not Bin Laden’s wife; killed on the first floor in a crossfire, she was not even with Bin Laden when she died. Bin Laden’s youngest wife was shot, but only in the leg, and survived.
How could Brennan make such a fundamental mistake (and in the process muddle what was a clear victory for the Obama White House)? Press Secretary Jay Carney blamed the fog of war. If true, Brennan’s “real-time” monitoring (in the video of that press conference, you can glimpse a hint of pride or self-satisfaction in his eyes when Brennan described it) is not what he may have led the world to expect.
The real problem, however, lay in Brennan’s need to advance the official White House interpretation, its theory, even though it ran well ahead of the facts. After describing Bin Laden as a coward hiding behind his wife’s skirt, Brennan said: “I think it really just speaks to just how false his narrative has been over the years.”
Bin Laden’s narrative is false, but not for the reasons Brennan felt compelled to make.
* * *
Much the same thing can be said about boxing promoter Bob Arum’s latest statement, after Manny Pacquiao decisioned a lackluster Shane Mosley in Las Vegas last Sunday. “You’re watching a phenomenon. At least since I’ve been around for 45 years. He’s the greatest fighter that I’ve ever seen. Nobody can compete with him. Nobody. He’ll take every fighter out of his game plan.”
Not every fighter. The reason Juan Manuel Marquez came so close to beating Pacquiao twice was precisely because he was able to stick to his game plan. Marco Antonio Barrera didn’t come close in the second fight, but Pacquiao couldn’t deliver the KO, because the world’s best boxer could not completely impose his own game plan on Barrera.
In the Mosley fight, the Pacman tried his best to get the KO; as the Associated Press reports, he was under express instructions from coach Freddie Roach to knock Mosley out in the 12th round. Mosley, however, was able to stick to his game plan. It didn’t amount to much; the idea, put simply, was to avoid getting hurt. But except for a few exchanges, Pacquiao couldn’t take Mosley, a future Hall of Famer like Marquez and Barrera and like Pacquiao himself, out of his plan.
As I see it, Arum’s every-fighter-out-of-his-game-plan theory is based on a central principle: Get Floyd Mayweather to come out and fight. I do not mean to say that Arum is insincere in his praise for his prize ward, only that piquing Mayweather’s pride (“think about that from a visual perspective”) may be one way to make him risk his unbeaten record and fight Pacquiao. The theory, however, is a few paces ahead of the facts.
* * *
RIZAL 150 NEWS. There is a terrific online resource that allows anyone interested to read Rizal in the original: Several years ago, Dr. Vasco Caini, the Italian Rizalist scholar, uploaded PDF files of Rizal’s works to http://www.xeniaeditrice.it/ The best place to start, in my view, is “Epistolario Rizalino,” the collection of Rizal’s letters edited by Teodoro M. Kalaw. (This indispensable five-part series does not contain the family correspondence printed in “One Hundred Letters.” Perhaps the Lopez Museum can find its way to reprint this wonderful book sometime during Rizal’s anniversary year?)
The good news: Caini will be one of the special guests at the University of the Philippines international conference on the Rizal sesquicentennary, to be held from June 22 to 24.