Credit Where Credit Is Also Due
Posted 06:44 PM ET
National Security: The decidedly non-multilateral killing of Osama bin Laden came after a long hunt. President Obama took credit, but it was George W. Bush's detainment and interrogation policies that provided the big break.
The courier was the key. He goes into the history books with the prothonotary warbler, the rare bird that exposed Alger Hiss as a communist spy.
And with Iraq's Tikriti tribe, the source of the breakthrough that led to the capture of Saddam Hussein.
And with David Kaczynski, the brother of the Unabomber, whose tip led the FBI to a remote Montana cabin where the convicted mass murderer had a live bomb ready to mail to another unsuspecting victim.
It was in 2007 during the Bush presidency that the U.S. discovered the real name of bin Laden's secret courier. We originally knew of him from captured terrorists held in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, who told U.S. interrogators his nom de guerre earlier in Bush's term.
Interrogations revealed the courier to be a protege of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Indeed, it might be that KSM himself, the admitted mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was the source of the information — perhaps after being waterboarded.
What was Barack Obama doing in 2007? He was complaining in campaign speeches that the Bush administration had failed "to take out an al-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005."
As it turns out, the Bush administration in 2007 was gathering information that would be used less than four years later to eliminate bin Laden during the Obama presidency.
Then-Sen. Obama promised that "if we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and (then-Pakistani) President Musharraf won't act, we will."
But it was Bush's policies that facilitated the gathering of the actionable intelligence President Obama used.
Gitmo — which candidate Obama vowed to close within a year of taking office — came in pretty handy. So have the much-condemned interrogation methods authorized during the Bush administration — methods for which Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, was all set to prosecute U.S. personnel.
Bush used an executive order to allow broad legal boundaries for tough interrogations; Obama on his first day in office revoked that order and restricted interrogators to outdated Army Field Manual procedures.
Bush suspended terrorist detainees' habeas corpus rights; the Obama administration read the Christmas Day underwear bomber his Miranda rights.
Turning to the spectacular Navy SEALs operation itself, Obama administration officials made a point of saying that the U.S. didn't share intelligence with any other country, and alerted the Pakistani government only after the operation was completed — no multilateralism here.
Candidate Obama might have promised in his much-celebrated 2007 Foreign Affairs magazine article that "I will join with our allies in insisting — not simply requesting — that Pakistan crack down on the Taliban, pursue Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, and end its relationship with all terrorist groups."
But getting bin Laden ended up having nothing to do with cooperation with Pakistan and everything to do with the U.S. doing things its own way, and alone — from the Gitmo interrogation condemned by much of the world to unleashing the SEALs and letting them work unilaterally, and without interference.
Democrats, Obama chief among them, for years blasted Bush for not bagging bin Laden.
"We cannot finish the fight in Afghanistan and focus on Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida's core leadership unless we end this war that should've never been authorized," candidate Obama said.
But the Bush administration was conducting the surge in Iraq at the time the bin Laden courier's identity was discovered. So much for that theory.
As well as uncovering the information that led to bin Laden's capture, Bush presided over two-thirds of al-Qaida's leaders being captured or killed within three years after 9/11. Just as winning World War II didn't entail capturing or killing Hitler or Tojo, winning the global war on terrorism hasn't been accomplished by the killing of a man who for years has functioned as a seldom-seen figurehead.
In announcing bin Laden's demise — in which he inexcusably failed to thank Bush — Obama said "America can do whatever we set our mind to."
This great victory for U.S. military and intelligence personnel happened because we let them set their minds to it. We let them do their jobs over the course of years — without other countries or Justice Department lawyers interfering.
In other words, America did it Bush's way.