Rich Lowry: The vanity leaks

BY RICH LOWRY Published: June 19, 2012

Among all the words in the press airing the Obama administration's secret national security programs, one sentence stands out. Appearing in The New York Times, it explains why President Barack Obama personally approves drone strikes: “A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions.”

Now, who would know that Obama is a student of Augustine and Aquinas — or to put a finer point on it, that Obama considers himself a student of Augustine and Aquinas? It's hard to see the president interrupting deliberations with his generals and top intelligence officials to parse the finer points of great Christian authors from centuries ago. And who would take care to tell a reporter that the president's wide-ranging reading of works dating from the fifth and 13th centuries informs his work as commander in chief?

The detail reeks of the sycophancy of a White House insider who wants his boss to get credit for all of his prodigious talents and enviable qualities. Leaks in Washington are nothing new, and they have many purposes — to undercut rivals, to float preliminary proposals, to blow the whistle on potential wrongdoing. The Obama national security leaks are overwhelmingly the product of vanity. They show off the president's exquisitely thoughtful tough-mindedness and, above all, his killer instinct.

Obama insists that “the notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive,” before in the next breath saying that “the writers of these articles have all stated unequivocally that they did not come from this White House.” He must have been thinking of some other writers.

In its report about Obama's “kill list,” The New York Times cited “three dozen of his current and former advisers.” Another Times story on cyberattacks on Iran's nuclear program relied on “officials involved in the program.” Both of the Times articles, as well as one in Newsweek on the “kill list,” describe meetings in the White House Situation Room in you-are-there detail. In one “tense” meeting described by the Times, the president asked whether the Stuxnet computer worm should be shut down after it escaped into the wider world, “according to members of the president's national security team who were in the room.”

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