Announcing the suspension of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney suggested he was bowing out to help strengthen Republican chances at winning in November. He said that mattered, in part, because, “Barack and Hillary have made their intentions clear regarding Iraq and the war on terror. They would retreat, declare defeat.”
Romney’s remarks ignored the conservative record of retreats in the fight against global terrorism. The decision not to pursue Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2002 is the most well-known retreat.
[Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis] argued strongly that he should be permitted to proceed to the Tora Bora caves. The general was turned down. An American intelligence official told me that the Bush administration later concluded that the refusal of Centcom to dispatch the marines — along with their failure to commit U.S. ground forces to Afghanistan generally — was the gravest error of the war.
And bin Laden remains free to this day. But there are several other retreats. As both the Wall Street Journal and NBC News reported, President Bush three times turned down opportunities to take out Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, when the Pentagon specifically requested permission to do so. The reason?
“People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists,” according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey.
This past October, the local mastermind of the Cole bombing, Jamal al-Badawi, was allowed to remain free in Yemen after pledging his allegiance to that nation’s president, whom the Bush administration also calls an ally. The White House has expressed disappointment, but has done little else to avoid countenancing an effective safe haven for the murderer of 17 U.S. sailors.
Nor is Yemen the only terrorist safe haven overseen by an ally of President Bush. When Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf struck a truce with tribal militants in the Waziristan region of his country, Bush not only declined to protest, he supported this truce.
Moreover, Bush’s inattention to al Qaeda before 9/11 proved extremely costly. In the summer of 2001, the NSA knew that America’s lack of retaliation for the Cole bombing had led bin Laden to plan “something so big now that the US will have to respond.”
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