Let’s cheerfully and ungrudgingly give credit to Barack Obama for approving the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.
In my column last Monday, I criticized Obama’s foreign policy, which was characterized by one of his advisers in an interview with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza as “lead from behind.” That criticism still stands.
But in tracking down and nailing bin Laden, Obama led from behind the right way — behind the scenes he made a right but risky decision, without any leaks to the press, to achieve an objective sought by two presidents and thousands in the American government and military since Sept. 11, 2001.
The decision was risky because the operation could have failed, like Jimmy Carter’s Desert One operation to rescue American hostages in Iran failed in April 1980.
But this time, even though one helicopter was lost, the operation succeeded. There was evidently a lot of redundancy in the plan and a lot of flexibility on the ground. A lot of good people did a lot of good things right.
While we may not know all the details about and behind this operation, it’s fascinating to see how many of the things that made the success of this operation possible were not so long ago decried by many of the president’s fans and fellow partisans.
For one thing, it apparently would not have happened without those infamous enhanced interrogation techniques — “torture,” according to critics of the Bush administration.
The enhanced interrogation techniques reportedly led to identification of the courier who eventually led our forces to bin Laden’s hiding place. Critics of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques assured us that “torture” could not produce reliable information.
They were probably right that sometimes such techniques yield false information. But the bin Laden operation shows that they can also produce actionable intelligence.
You may remember that many Democrats called for criminal prosecution of CIA interrogators who were acting under orders vetted by legal counsel. Attorney General Eric Holder actually considered bringing such prosecutions.
Fortunately, he decided not to do so — fortunately for the individuals involved but fortunately also for his own reputation. Who would want to be known for prosecuting the people who helped track down bin Laden?
It has also been reported that in hunting down bin Laden our forces relied on intercepted communications. I wonder if any of them included contacts between suspected terrorists abroad and persons in the United States.
This was the “domestic wiretapping” revealed to great acclaim by The New York Times and presented as an intolerable infringement of civil liberties. Given what we know now, it’s a good thing our folks were tuning in.
Obama deserves credit also for employing the Navy SEALs, who are part of the Joint Special Operations Command. It was fashionable a few years ago to call the JSOC Dick Cheney’s death squad and Cheney’s assassination team.
The assumption behind such criticism was that Bush administration officials were using what they termed the war against terrorism as a smokescreen for persecuting domestic dissidents. But there is not a scrap of evidence that either the Bush administration or the Obama administration were doing anything of the kind. They were too busy trying to protect us.
There was criticism as well of the idea of targeting particular individuals for assassination. But in ordering the raid on bin Laden’s compound, Obama authorized the killing of bin Laden. And no Miranda warnings first.
Bin Laden’s death removes the possibility of any debate about where he would be confined or tried. On this, Obama has already been forced to keep the Guantanamo detention center open and Holder has had to concede that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will not be tried in a civilian court in Manhattan.
Finally, let us note that this was a unilateral operation. Obama didn’t go to the United Nations Security Council. He didn’t, so far as we know, consult NATO allies. He took care not to inform the government of Pakistan, some elements of which obviously knew that bin Laden was ensconced in a house 800 meters away from Pakistan’s military academy.
For years, we heard supposedly enlightened people excoriate our leaders for torture, lawlessness, unilateralism — the list goes on and on. Now the president they have wanted has used the tactics and methods they excoriated to get bin Laden. Good for him.