Despite the fact that last week President Obama led the most successful counterterrorism operation in American history, the major news networks thought it was a good idea to host five former Bush administration officials to discuss the events. Many of them had previously taken to the airwaves trying to give President Bush most of the credit and claiming that his torture program was directly responsible for getting bin Laden. Thus, it’s not surprising that they repeated most of these talking points yesterday.
On CNN yesterday, Bush’s CIA Director Michael Hayden, of course, praised the use of torture, but also seemed to try to diminish Obama’s role in getting bin Laden, saying that any president would’ve done the same thing:
HAYDEN: But, in addition to being courageous, I think it was also inevitable. This was the very best chance we had to kill or capture this target. The president had choices, and it made more difficult because even as those helicopters were going over the wall, everything we had on this facility, the belief that Bin Laden was there, was truly circumstantial. There were no sightings, nothing that you can point to and say, that’s it. That’s him.
So the president made this decision, even in the face of uncertainty. That requires some courage, but – but, frankly, I – I cannot imagine any American president not making that decision.
What if John McCain had won in 2008? Indeed, one doesn’t have to go back very far to “imagine” that any other American president might have acted differently. While campaigning for president, Obama said that if the U.S. had actionable intelligence on bin Laden’s whereabouts, that he would order a unilateral operation to take him out, with or without Pakistani cooperation. McCain called that “naive” and asked the next day, “Will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested bombing our ally, Pakistan?”:
“The first thing you do is, you don’t tell people what you’re gonna to do. You make plans and you work with the other country that is your ally and friend, which Pakistan is.
“You don’t broadcast and say that you’re going to bomb a country without their permission or without consulting them. It’s just fundamentals of the conduct of national security policy.”
There’s a reason why President Obama didn’t consult with Pakistan on bin Laden. Last night on 60 Minutes, Obama said that many of his most senior advisors had no idea about the bin Laden mission. “I didn’t tell most people here in the White House. I didn’t tell my own family. It was that important for us to maintain operational security,” he said. When asked why he didn’t consult with the Pakistanis, Obama replied, “If I’m not revealing to some of my closest aides what we’re doing, then I sure as heck am not gonna be revealing it to folks who I don’t know.”
Further undermining Hayden’s assertion, Ali Gharib notes that Bush and Donald Rumsfeld at the last minute abandoned a plan to capture senior al Qaeda members in early 2005 because, at the New York Times reported, they “decided it was too risky and could jeopardize relations with Pakistan”