Bin Laden: Did Obama ignore Bush’s role?

Should some acknowledgment go to President Bush for creating the “intelligence architecture” that led to finding the al Qaida leader?

The death of Osama bin Laden last week was a glorious day for America, said Anneke Green in, but “it has been a little odd to see how eager President Obama is to take credit for it.” From Obama’s first announcement of bin Laden’s death—in a speech generously sprinkled with “I”s and “me”s—to his subsequent victory lap of triumphant appearances at Ground Zero, with the Navy SEALs in Fort Campbell, Ky., and on CBS’s 60 Minutes last weekend, you’d think the president had actually stormed the compound and pulled the trigger himself. What makes the president’s first-person preening so objectionable, said Victor Davis Hanson in, is that it was President Bush who began the manhunt that led to bin Laden’s eventual demise, through warrantless wiretaps and harsh interrogation at CIA sites abroad and at Guantánamo. Yet Obama has repeatedly denounced Bush’s anti-terrorism measures, and last week he barely mentioned his predecessor’s critical role in this victory over al Qaida. “If one wonders why President Bush did not attend ceremonies” at Ground Zero last week, Obama’s smug hypocrisy might have something to do with it.

Crediting Bush with bin Laden’s killing is absurd, said Andrew Sullivan in The previous administration had seven long years to bring the al Qaida leader to justice, but it was so incompetent—letting bin Laden escape at Tora Bora—and so preoccupied by “the fiasco of the Iraq occupation” that it was never going to happen. Bush even said that bin Laden was “just one person’’ who wasn’t worth his time or thought. Obama, by contrast, pursued bin Laden with “superlative, careful management” and got the job done. Obama also deserves credit for making some really gutsy decisions, said Maureen Dowd in The New York Times. He could have flattened bin Laden’s compound with an airstrike, but against the advice of several aides, sent in commandos. It was “the riskiest option presented to him, but one that spared nearly all the women and children at the compound,” as well as provided proof of bin Laden’s demise. It’s hardly surprising that the petulant Bush “preferred to sulk in his Dallas tent” rather than join Obama in a show of unity at Ground Zero.

“It is easy to pull the trigger,” said former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo in The Wall Street Journal. It’s much harder “to figure out where to aim,” and the information that led us to bin Laden came directly from the “intelligence architecture” put in place by President Bush. After being subjected to coercive techniques such as waterboarding, al Qaida leaders Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi provided clues to the identity of the courier who later led us to bin Laden’s door. Liberals don’t want to admit it, said Michael Goodwin in the New York Post, but bin Laden’s death has “vindicated the black arts of the CIA,’’ and proven the wisdom of the president who kept America safe.

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“There’s plenty of credit to go around,” said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post, “but not for torture.” Mohammed and al-Libi never surrendered the courier’s real name, and while they were being tortured, insisted he was of no import. Weeks or months later, during conventional interrogation, they provided some hints that he was the guy to find. In the end, what got bin Laden was years of painstaking “detective work”—getting the courier’s real name and his phone number, and tailing him to bin Laden’s compound. As most intelligence professionals will tell you, said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune, “brutality usually makes it harder to get information from a prisoner.” To stop the pain, tortured prisoners will say anything, and leave interrogators with a pile of useless lies.

Obama may come away from all this feeling morally superior to Bush, said Adam Brodsky in the New York Post, but how different are they, really? Obama sure acted like “Dirty Harry” when the CIA handed him a chance to get bin Laden. Not only did he violate Pakistani airspace, he sent in the SEALs to kill, not capture, bin Laden, then “dumped the corpse in the sea” before anyone could object. “And they called George W. Bush a cowboy?” Imagine what the Left would say had Bush done all that. Then again, this is what happens when liberal constitutional law professors actually become responsible for the outcome of America’s “asymmetrical war” with terrorism. They become cowboys, too.

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