President Bush sat down with USA Today to discuss the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and his role in shaping U.S. policy in their aftermath. During the interview, Bush thought he’d take the opportunity to pat himself on the back for Osama bin Laden’s death:
Bush said the events that led to the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May began during his administration.
“The work that was done by intelligence communities during my presidency was part of putting together the puzzle that enabled us to see the full picture of how bin Laden was communicating and eventually where he was hiding,” he said. “It began the day after 9/11.”
The reality, of course, is that Bush’s attempts to capture or kill bin Laden were huge failures. While it’s been well documented that the Bush administration missed an opportunity to get bin Laden in Tora Bora in 2001, Bush himself subsequently stated publicly that he wasn’t spending much time thinking about getting him. “I truly am not that concerned about him. I am deeply concerned about Iraq,” Bush said in 2002, “I really just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you.” Bush told reporters in 2006 that hunting the al Qaeda leader was “not a top priority use of American resources.”
And in 2005, Bush shut down the CIA’s unit dedicated to finding bin Laden in order to shift resources to Iraq. “The Central Intelligence Agency has closed a unit that for a decade had the mission of hunting Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants,” the New York Times reported in 2006, adding that resources “had been redirected from the hunt for Mr. bin Laden to the search for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed last month in Iraq.” When the right wing rushed to give Bush credit after bin Laden’s death in May, ThinkProgress produced this short video highlighting Bush’s failures:
Soon after he took office, President Obama steered the U.S. on a course to end the war in Iraq and put resources back into finding bin Laden. “Shortly after I got into office,” Obama said in an interview after bin Laden’s death, “I brought [then-CIA director] Leon Panetta privately into the Oval Office and I said to him, ‘We need to redouble our efforts in hunting bin Laden down. And I want us to start putting more resources, more focus, and more urgency into that mission.’”