Situation Room shots underline contrast between Obama and Trump presidencies

Situation Room shots underline contrast between Obama and Trump presidencies

Photos taken in the White House Situation Room during the killings of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Saturday and of al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden eight years earlier capture the vastly different styles of two American presidents.

The White House on Sunday 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 Mr Trump’s head.

President Donald Trump and aides in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington, monitoring developments as US Special Operations forces carried out the raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Shealah Craighead/The White House/AP)
President Donald Trump and aides in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington, monitoring developments as US Special Operations forces carried out the raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Shealah Craighead/The White House/AP)

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.

Mr Obama, wearing a polo shirt and light coat, is hunched forward and perched on a folding chair slightly off centre.

Then secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the most expressive face in the group, holds her hand over her mouth as defence Secretary Robert Gates sits next to her, his arms tightly crossed.

Barack Obama and his staff watch the raid that ended in the death of Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington (Pete Souza/AP)
Barack Obama and his staff watch the raid that ended in the death of Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington (Pete Souza/AP)

The Trump photo, with the president in the centre 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 defence secretary Mark Esper.

To his left are General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Brigadier General Marcus Evans, the Pentagon’s deputy director for special operations and counter-terrorism.

Osama Bin Laden (FBI/AP)
Osama Bin Laden (FBI/AP)

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 Mr Obama are Brigadier General Marshall Webb, who was communicating with the Seals commander Admiral William McRaven, who was in Afghanistan overseeing the covert special operations team that stormed the compound.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (AP)
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (AP)

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 Mr Obama’s more expansive team of advisers and his interest in receiving a broad array of opinions.

Mr 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.”

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