Much of the debate in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death has focused on the very narrow question of whether any information obtained from waterboarding or other “enhanced” interrogation tactics played a significant role in tracking him down. (The answer, incidentally, is no.)
But this debate has obscured a larger and more important point: The Bush administration, both before and after 9/11, subordinated the hunt for Bin Laden to wage war on Iraq. President Obama was successful by reviving an aggressive and focused effort to capture the leader of Al Qaeda.
Highlights from the Clinton administration:
EARLY 1996: The CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center creates a special unit focusing specifically on bin Laden. [Washington Post, 10/3/01]
LATE 1998: Clinton authorizes covert action against Bin Laden and al Qaeda. “In addition to a secret ‘finding’ to authorize covert action…Clinton signed three highly classified Memoranda of Notification expanding the available tools. In succession, the president authorized killing instead of capturing bin Laden, then added several of al Qaeda’s senior lieutenants, and finally approved the shooting down of private civilian aircraft on which they flew.” [Washington Post, 12/19/01]
Highlights from the Bush administration:
JANUARY 2001: Condoleezza Rice demotes terrorism czar Richard Clarke. [The 9/11 Commission Report. 7/22/04]
FEBRUARY 2002: Military and intelligence resources diverted to Iraq. [Knight-Ridder, 6/18/05]
LATE 2005: CIA closes unit focused on capture of bin Laden. [New York Times, 7/4/06]
SEPTEMBER 2006: Fred Barnes told by President Bush that the hunt for Bin Laden was “not a top priority use of American resources.” [Fox News 9/14/06]
Highlights from the Obama administration:
OCTOBER 7, 2008: Obama: “We will kill bin Laden. We will crush al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority.”
DECEMBER 7, 2009: Obama National Security Advisor James Jones stresses the urgency of finding Bin Laden and speaks “of a renewed campaign to capture or kill him.” [AP, 12/7/09]
You can check out the full timeline HERE.