Media conservatives are insisting that George W. Bush deserves as much credit as President Obama for the death of Osama Bin Laden, if not more. However, making this argument means ignoring what the Bush administration itself reportedly called its “gravest error” -- not capturing bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2001 -- and Bush's 2002 statement that he was “not concerned” about bin Laden.
Conservative Media Credits Bush For Death Of Bin Laden
Hannity: “There Was No Way This Would Have Happened, But For The Policies Of George W. Bush.” [Fox News, Hannity, 5/4/11, via Nexis]
Karl Rove: “Important Policy Decisions Made Under Bush” Made Bin Laden's Death Possible. [Fox News, Hannity, 5/3/11, via Nexis]
Washington Times' Brett Decker: “Bin Laden's Death Is More Mr. Bush's Victory Than Mr. Obama's.” [The Washington Times, 5/2/11]
Fox's Bolling: “Thank GWB For This Not BHO!” From a May 2 post on Fox Business host Eric Bolling's Twitter feed:
Bolling later posted a follow-up “correction” on Twitter, writing: “correction.. thank The men and women who risked and lost their lives and GWB...not BHO.” [Twitter; 5/2/11]
But It Was Obama Who Made Finding Bin Laden A Top Priority ...
Obama: “Shortly After Taking Office, I Directed ... The Director Of The CIA To Make The Killing Or Capture Of Bin Laden The Top Priority.” From the speech Obama delivered on May 1, announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden:
OBAMA: 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. [WhiteHouse.gov, 5/2/11]
CNN In 2008: Obama “Wants To Renew The U.S. Committing To Finding ... Bin Laden.” From a November 12, 2008, article on CNN.com:
President-elect Barack Obama wants to renew the U.S. commitment to finding al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to his national security advisers.
The Obama team believes the Bush administration has downplayed the importance of catching the FBI's most-wanted terrorist because it has not been able to find him.
“We will kill bin Laden. We will crush al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority,” Obama said during the presidential debate on October 7. [CNN.com, 11/12/08]
... And Not Bush
Bush In 2002: “I Truly Am Not Concerned About” Bin Laden. From a March 14, 2002, Reuters article titled, “Bin Laden not a concern: Bush”:
After focusing on bin Laden in the weeks immediately after more than 3,000 people died when hijackers piloted passenger jets into the Pentagon, New York's World Trade Center and a Pennsylvania field, Bush now rarely mentions bin Laden by name.
“I don't know where he is ... deep in my heart I know the man is on the run, if he's alive at all,” Bush said.
Bush said lately he “hadn't heard much” from bin Laden. In the past, the Islamic dissident the Taliban sheltered in Afghanistan has been seen on tape.
The president dismissed the idea that bin Laden is “at the centre of any command structure.”
“I truly am not that concerned about him ... I was concerned about him when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban.” [Reuters, 3/14/02, accessed via Nexis]
NY Times: In 2006, CIA Closed The Unit Dedicated To Hunting Bin Laden. From a July 4, 2006, New York Times article:
The Central Intelligence Agency has closed a unit that for a decade had the mission of hunting Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, intelligence officials confirmed Monday.
The unit, known as Alec Station, was disbanded late last year and its analysts reassigned within the C.I.A. Counterterrorist Center, the officials said.
The decision is a milestone for the agency, which formed the unit before Osama bin Laden became a household name and bolstered its ranks after the Sept. 11 attacks, when President Bush pledged to bring Mr. bin Laden to justice “dead or alive.”
The realignment reflects a view that Al Qaeda is no longer as hierarchical as it once was, intelligence officials said, and a growing concern about Qaeda-inspired groups that have begun carrying out attacks independent of Mr. bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. [The New York Times, 7/4/06]
And It Was Obama Who Brought Bin Laden To Justice
Obama: “The United States Has Conducted An Operation That Killed Osama Bin Laden.” From the speech Obama delivered on May 1, announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden:
Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.
Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.
Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body. [WhiteHouse.gov, 5/2/11]
Whereas Bush Made The “Gravest Error” In Failing To Hunt Bin Laden In Tora Bora
Washington Post: Bush Administration Concluded That “Failure To Commit U.S. Ground Troops To Hunt” Bin Laden “Was Its Gravest Error In The War Against Al Qaeda.” From an April 17, 2002, Washington Post article:
The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit U.S. ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al Qaeda, according to civilian and military officials with first-hand knowledge.
Intelligence officials have assembled what they believe to be decisive evidence, from contemporary and subsequent interrogations and intercepted communications, that bin Laden began the battle of Tora Bora inside the cave complex along Afghanistan's mountainous eastern border. Though there remains a remote chance that he died there, the intelligence community is persuaded that bin Laden slipped away in the first 10 days of December. [The Washington Post, 4/17/02]
NYT: Bush Administration Denied Brigadier General's Request For More Troops In Tora Bora. From a September 11, 2005, New York Times article:
The American bombardment of Tora Bora, which had been going on for a month, yielded to saturation airstrikes on Nov. 30 in anticipation of the ground war. Hundreds of civilians died that weekend, along with a number of Afghan fighters, according to Hajji Zaman, who had already dispatched tribal elders from the region to plead with bin Laden's commanders to abandon Tora Bora. Three days later, on Dec. 3, in one of the war's more shambolic moments, Hazarat Ali announced that the ground offensive would begin. Word quickly spread through the villages and towns, and hundreds of ill-prepared men rushed to the mountain's base. The timing of the call to war was so unexpected that Hajji Zahir, one of its three lead commanders, told journalists at the time that he nearly slept through it.
On a map, it was little more than a mile from the bottom of the White Mountains to the first tier of the Qaeda caves, but the snow was thick and the slopes were steep and, for the Afghan fighters, it was a three-hour climb. They were ambushed nearly as soon as they arrived. The battle lasted for only 10 minutes before bin Laden's fighters disappeared up the slope and the Afghans limped away. Over the coming days, a pattern would emerge: the Afghans would strike, then retreat. On some occasions, a cave would change hands twice in one day. It was only on the third day of the battle that the three dozen Special Forces troops arrived. But their mission was strictly limited to assisting and advising and calling in air strikes, according to the orders of Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of U.S. Central Command, who was running the war from his headquarters in Tampa, Fla.
Even after the arrival of the Special Forces, the Afghan militias were making little headway in their efforts to assault the Qaeda caves - largely as a result of heavier resistance than they had expected - despite having launched simultaneous attacks from the east, west and north. They had sent none of their forces to the south, where the highest peaks of the White Mountains are bisected by the border with Pakistan. The commanders, according to news reports, argued vehemently among themselves on what the conditions on the southern side of the mountain were: some insisted it was uncrossable, closed in by snow; other commanders were far less sure.
By now, the Taliban's stronghold in Kandahar had fallen or, more correctly, had been abandoned by the soldiers of the regime. The Taliban retreat from Kandahar was emblematic of the war. None of Afghanistan's cities had been won by force alone. Taliban fighters, after intense bombing, had simply made strategic withdrawals. A number of American officers were now convinced that this was about to happen at Tora Bora, too.
One of them was Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis, the commander of some 4,000 marines who had arrived in the Afghan theater by now. Mattis, along with another officer with whom I spoke, was convinced that with these numbers he could have surrounded and sealed off bin Laden's lair, as well as deployed troops to the most sensitive portions of the largely unpatrolled border with Pakistan. He argued strongly that he should be permitted to proceed to the Tora Bora caves. The general was turned down. An American intelligence official told me that the Bush administration later concluded that the refusal of Centcom to dispatch the marines - along with their failure to commit U.S. ground forces to Afghanistan generally - was the gravest error of the war. [The New York Times, 9/11/05]