If you aired a movie -- one watched by millions of people across America -- two days before a presidential election, could it change the outcome of the election? If the election is going to be as tight as predicted, could the retelling of one of the highlights of the president's first term capture enough undecided voters to have a real impact?
It has been suggested that my upcoming film Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden, which will air on National Geographic Channel on Nov. 4, could tip the election in the president's favor. It's been written that the film is "a political object," even an "in-kind contribution" to Obama's re-election campaign. Suspicions have been raised and accusations made.
Here's what I can tell you: the origins of Seal Team Six were not political. Producer and financier Nicolas Chartier, who also produced the film The Hurt Locker, is French and decidedly apolitical. His only agenda was to get a tense, taut insider look at the mission that ended the longest manhunt in U.S. history. When Harvey Weinstein came into the edit room to look at a very early, very rough cut with me, he was entirely concerned with the veracity and honesty of the depictions of the military and intelligence community. He brought in an archivist and documentary producer to help us get extraordinary access to news and archival footage that gave the movie context and helped root it in reality. We never discussed politics. He was just concerned with getting the details right.
The truth is, in researching the film, I was struck by what a terrible "political" decision Obama made in green-lighting the mission. The risk/reward ratio was not weighted in his favor. A failed raid would have almost certainly made a second term highly improbable, if not impossible. Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue American embassy hostages in Iran in April 1980, all but derailed Carter's presidency, and Obama didn't need to give the Republicans any more help in linking him to the last one-term Democratic president. But a successful raid -- and no one can dispute that the raid was a success -- would not necessarily guarantee him a second term. Recent polls and pundits tell us that. And the politicization of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, are proof that making the decision to go after bin Laden didn't shield the president from accusations of being "soft on terrorists."
The raid certainly wasn't a "slam dunk." We all know the ultimate outcome of Operation Neptune Spear, but the movie highlights all the potential disastrous outcomes that made many in the intelligence and political communities question the decision to send our best special forces into a sovereign country and our ostensible allies in the war on terror. Mitt Romney says today of the president's decision to green-light the raid, "Any thinking American would have ordered exactly the same thing," but in 2007 he had a different view. "I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours," he said then. "It's not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." This was one of the rare things on which Romney, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Robert Gates agreed on. They all had good reasons for advising against the president's decision to green-light the raid.
The crash of one of the Blackhawks was a flashback to Operation Eagle Claw, and could have crippled the mission before it even started. But what if bin Laden had fled the compound when he heard the approaching choppers? Would we have pursued him through the streets of Abbottabad? What if the Pakistan military had shot down one of our helicopters? Engaged in a firefight with our troops? Took hostages? Engaged our aircraft with their fighter jets that we had sold them? There were suspicions that the house was rigged to explode, or that the occupants had a cache of Stinger missiles and the enclosed rooftop patio was the perfect launching pad to take down the vulnerable hovering Blackhawks. What if large numbers of the women and children in the compound had been injured or killed? What if there had been American casualties? And the most potentially disastrous outcome -- what if any of the above had happened, and the intended target of the raid wasn't even there?
But like a coach who makes the call to go for it on fourth down, it's only a "gutsy" call when it works. When it doesn't, you lose your job.
This movie is about the behind-the-scenes wrangling that went into that decision; the amazing work of the intelligence community; the largely unheralded work of the local nationals in Pakistan who aided the mission; and our extraordinary special forces who demonstrated their skills by holding their fire in a chaotic, dangerous environment and saving many lives while seeking out America's number-one target and enemy.