Two high-risk raids. Two dramatic moments in the White House.
Photos taken in the White House Situation Room during the killings of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadion Saturday and of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden eight years earlier capture the vastly different styles of two American presidents.
The White House recently released a photo of President Donald Trump with five of his senior national security advisers monitoring the Saturday night operation against al-Baghdadi in Syria.
The photo shows the six men, all in dark suits or military uniform, posing for the camera and staring straight forward with stern expressions as they sit around a table. The presidential seal gleams on the wall over Trump’s head.
The photo invites comparisons to the Situation Room photo released by President Barack Obama’s White House following the May 2011 operation in which Navy Seals killed bin Laden.
In this unposed scene, 13 faces are fully or partially visible in the crowded tableau.
Obama, wearing a polo shirt and light coat, is hunched forward and perched on a folding chair slightly off center. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the most expressive face in the group, holds her hand over her mouth as Defense Secretary Robert Gates sits next to her, his arms tightly crossed.
The Trump photo, with the president in the center and looking severe, is more formal and captures the current president’s interest in conveying the power and grandeur of his office. It also reflects the tight circle of advisers from whom he solicits advice.
To his right are national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary Mark Esper. To his left are Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Brig. Gen. Marcus Evans, the Pentagon’s deputy director for special operations and counterterrorism.
The jumble of ethernet cables, legal pads and computers covering the boardroom table stands in sharp contrast to the formality of the moment.
The less formal Obama photo from 2011 crackles with suspense as the president’s team monitors the raid where Navy Seals killed bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The room is so crowded the presidential seal on the wall is barely visible.
Seated next to Obama are Brig. Gen. Marshall Webb, who was communicating with the Seals commander Adm. William McRaven, who was in Afghanistan overseeing the covert special operations team that stormed the compound.
In the back of the room, Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken can be seen peeking around the taller White House chief of staff Bill Daley to get a better view of the scene unfolding on a video monitor.
The packed room seems to reflect Obama’s more expansive team of advisers and his interest in receiving a broad array of opinions.
Trump, in announcing Baghdadi’s death on Sunday, did not shy from making his own comparison to the bin Laden raid.
“This,” he said, is “the biggest there is.”