I’ve been critical of President Obama and some of his policies, none more so than his handling of the war on terror and specifically against Al Qaeda. All signs indicated he was continuing the wimpy policy of President Bush, who went back on his word that we would get Bin Laden “dead or alive,” and who instead put his focus on Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
Who knew that Obama had instructed his intelligence and security advisors to work feverishly behind the scenes in secret to track down Bin Laden? It was one of the great secret missions in American history. And it was fraught with great risk, both militarily and politically, and took extraordinary courage on his part to implement.
After 9/11, President Bush gave one of the greatest speeches I can remember. He vowed that we would capture Bin Laden, dead or alive, and that any country that stood in our way would pay the price. They were either “with us or against us.”
But it wasn’t long before Bush gave up, either because it interfered with his plan to topple Saddam Hussein, or because of political expediency. He saw it was going to be much harder than he envisioned, so he moved on to a target that would be easier pickings. On March 13, 2002 he stated clearly, “I don’t know where Bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority.”
At one point, we even had knowledge that there was a good chance Bin Laden and high Al Qaeda operatives were hiding in Pakistan. However, the Pakistani government refused to allow American military forces to cross the border, and the Bush administration acquiesced. They didn’t want to “offend” the Pakistanis.
It didn’t seem like any of this changed when President Obama took office. But we now know he was keeping an active secret operation to locate Bin Laden. It turns out they got a lead last August, and several months ago determined he might be in a compound near the capital of Pakistan.
The President didn’t flinch when it came to hiding the information from Pakistan. The President asked his top advisors for all the options. Unlike his predecessor in the oval office, he didn’t dismiss anyone with opinions that differed from what he wanted; he sought all opinions. The advisors discussed many courses of action, which ranged from safe to risks of massive proportions.
The easiest decision would have been to bomb the compound, like President Bush did when it was discovered where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda leader in Iraq, was hiding. While it gave the best chance for success, it also would leave doubt as to whether the target had been hit, since it’s hard to identify bodies after they are blown to bits. By choosing to secretly send a team of Navy Seals into an enemy compound in a sovereign country, President Obama had chosen the path of greatest risk, but also greatest reward.
If you haven’t heard the story by now, our military special operations forces built a replica of the compound Bin Laden was living in, and practiced the mission hundreds of times. When they were ready, President Obama gave the word. He then left for a trip to Alabama to survey the tornado damage, and came back to Washington for a press dinner at which he told the traditional jokes. In between, he was monitoring the progress of the mission. He never gave even the slightest hint that a major mission was being undertaken.
Putting troops on the ground in Pakistan was by far the most dangerous option, both militarily and politically. The U.S. troops might have been detected by Pakistani forces that could have taken action against them. Bin Laden might not have been there. They could have run into stiff armed resistance or hidden explosives, and had the operation turn into a major battle with the loss of American and Pakistani civilian lives. They could have been captured and held as hostages by Bin Laden foot soldiers or even Pakistani soldiers.
When President Carter tried to enact a similar plan to free the hostages from Iran in 1980, the operation failed miserably, with two of the aircraft colliding and eight American lives lost. Not only did it cause the hostages to be dispersed, it caused Carter to be seen as a weak leader, and contributed in a major way to his re-election defeat.
And in the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, made famous in the movie Black Hawk Down, two helicopters were shot down and 18 American soldiers were killed during a mission to kidnap a Somali warlord. The images of gunmen dragging the bodies of dead U.S. soldiers through Mogadishu’s streets were repugnant to Americans. If President Obama was concerned about the political implications of what might happen, this certainly wasn’t the wisest course of action.
But by some miracle, President Obama and his advisors managed to keep the operation a secret for months, and managed to keep the Pakistani government from getting wind that we knew the compound was there. And the real heroes, the Navy Seals, pulled off the mission almost to perfection. Even with one of the helicopters malfunctioning, they forged ahead and perfectly executed the daring plan.
All those who’ve said it was planned just as the President’s poll numbers were down need to take stock of the situation. If it were that easy, he would have done it before the recent elections. Or he would have waited until the Presidential election was in full swing. This was certainly not the best time for this if he was looking for political points.
And to blowhards like Rush Limbaugh, who say the credit should go to Bush and not Obama, I challenge you to take a look at recent history and you’ll see that Bush essentially gave up on Bin Laden. This was a risky endeavor that America needed, and no matter what you think of the President, and whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, this President deserves our respect for taking the right course of action, doing it competently and efficiently and bringing down a man who has killed thousands of Americans. President Obama, on this one, you rocked!