Don’t the would be pundits watch “The West Wing”?

This picture has prompted many comments, at least here in Sweden. In the Swedish version of “Thought for the Day”, the radio program with religious commentary, one person denounced President Obama and Hillary Clinton for watching the killing of Osama bin Laden as if it were a TV thriller. There have been similar comments in the media.

Somehow one has to wonder if these people have ever seen the TV series “The West Wing”? It was pretty popular here in Sweden, and certainly gave a viewers a good picture of what working in the White House is like. The environments were very realistic. Anyone interested in how the top levels of American government work had a lot to learn from the series.

This photo released by the White House, the object of criticism in the Swedish “Thought for the Day”, is of President Obama and his national security advisors sitting in the Situation Room, the very secure room in the White House where international actions are discussed and followed. They released another photo as well, from behind everyone’s back, looking towards the computer/video monitor on the wall. What I found amazing from these photos is how well the TV producers replicated the actual room. The one on TV looks just like the real one.

If the critics had watched the TV series they might have gotten a better idea of what goes on in the Situation Room. Because one wonders how they expect the commander-in-chief and other top officials to follow actually a mission abroad? Saving hostages from guerillas in Colombia, protecting the people of Kosovo from Serb attacks, implementing the no-fly zone over Libya. Now would those who just have ordered people into harm’s way just go back to their desks and wait for a telegram or a telephone call afterwards from an officer in the field to say had it had gone? Would they listen to a shortwave radio signal fading in and out from the other side of the planet describing the action? Doesn’t sound very responsible in the 21st century.

Or would they have the best possible technology, including satellite or Internet relayed video to follow as closely as possible the mission they have ordered? That’s what viewers to “The West Wing” saw during the series seven seasons. At least once or twice a year the Situation Room was in action against the backdrop of an serious international situation. Not always benighnly, in one episide a high government official of another country who is responsible for terrorist killings is flown to an obscure airstrip in Bermuda by the CIA and killed. Ultimately this also leads to a major scandal within the series. But the people watching this play out in the Situation Room are certainly not experiencing it as if they were watching a TV thriller.

The suggestion that this is what President Obama and his officials were up to during the killing of Osama bin Laden obviously reveals that those makking the comment have never seen “The West Wing”. But it also sort of reveals a not insignificant lack of understanding for the way such missions are carried out and monitored. What would they be doing instead?