Monday, May 02, 2011


And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.

--from President Obama's speech last night

I find myself thinking that there's a common thread running from George W. Bush's reaction to 9/11 through the reaction of tea-party-era Republicans to the economic crisis. Bush used the 9/11 attacks as an excuse to go into Iraq, just as Paul Ryan and the D.C. Republicans are using the financial meltdown and debt fears to try to dismantle the social safety net, cut taxes on the wealthy, and repeal the health care law while undermining the Dodd-Frank financial reforms -- and just as Scott Walker and other GOP governors have used financial troubles to wage a frontal assault on unions, even when, as in Wisconsin, those unions have concessions sufficient to address actual budget concerns. In every case, the Republicans didn't let a crisis go to waste; they did what they wanted to do, not what needed to be done.

Very early in his campaign, Barack Obama said he wanted to pursue Osama bin Laden, even into Pakistan if necessary. I don't want to sound like the "liberal interventionists" who were cheerleaders for the Iraq War, but I always felt that wanting to focus on bin Laden was quite consistent with liberalism -- it was about bringing a measure of justice to the ordinary people bin Laden murdered. It was about getting the right bad guy, on behalf of the American people. Maybe it's because I'm a New Yorker, but I always applauded him for wanting to do this. I never thought it was a sellout of Democratic principles (FDR, I think, would have done the same thing) and I never thought it was a calculated attempt to protect his right flank in the campaign -- I thought he meant it. And I guess now we know he did.

He got a lot of guff for this during the campaign in any case. In an August 2007 speech, he said:

If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.

John McCain was horrified that Obama had said he wanted to bomb Pakistan (even though Obama didn't say anything at that time about bombs). Mitt Romney, in a presidential debate, attacked and mocked Obama:

"It's wrong for a person running for the president of the United States to get on TV and say 'We're going to go into your country unilaterally'," said Mitt Romney, the Republican opinion poll leader in several key states....

Former Massachusetts governor Romney mocked Senator Obama for his tough talk, which came days after the Illinois senator said he would be willing to meet leaders of US foes such as Iran and North Korea.

"He's gone from Jane Fonda to Dr Strangelove in one week," Senator Romney said.

(It should be noted that quite a few Democrats, including Obama's current vice president and secretary of state, were aghast as well.)

In his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic convention, Obama said this:

John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell -- but he won't even go to the cave where he lives.

After that, in the first McCain-Obama debate, McCain sounded both cranky and timid:

In the debate held at Oxford, Mississippi, Obama said $10 billion in aid to the Pakistan government over the last seven years had failed to rid the border region of al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

“If the United States has al Qaeda, (Osama) bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out,” he said.

McCain called for a quiet policy.

“You don't say that out loud. If you have to do things, you have to do things, and you work with the Pakistani government,” he said.

He said support from the Pakistani people was necessary. He cautioned that newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari has his "hands full" ...

I don't know the extent to which McCain, Romney, and the rest drank the Bush-Cheney Kool-Aid and really felt as if overthrowing and executing Saddam Hussein was the proper form of retribution for 9/11. I do believe Bush and Cheney themselves essentially gave up on bin Laden. So I give Obama a hell of a lot of credit for prioritizing this -- because it mattered to ordinary people.

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