As you may recall, back when we first heard about the raid, I said something dismissive about our current president just being the lucky guy to have killing bin Laden happen on his watch. A few days later, I amended that to say that maybe we wouldn’t have gotten Public Enemy No. 1 if not for leadership exhibited by Barack Obama.
Today, I ran across further evidence that the specific actions taken by the president — which easily might have have been taken — helped lead to that SEAL coup de main.
It was in a piece in The New Yorker that gives a blow-by-blow account of the raid itself. I haven’t even finished reading the piece myself. I’ve looked at it in short glances ever since Nu Wexler brought it to my attention this morning (hope to finish it tonight), but I did get this far:
One month before the 2008 Presidential election, Obama, then a senator from Illinois, squared off in a debate against John McCain in an arena at Belmont University, in Nashville. A woman in the audience asked Obama if he would be willing to pursue Al Qaeda leaders inside Pakistan, even if that meant invading an ally nation. He replied, “If we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable, or unwilling, to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden. We will crush Al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national-security priority.” McCain, who often criticized Obama for his naïveté on foreign-policy matters, characterized the promise as foolish, saying, “I’m not going to telegraph my punches.”
Four months after Obama entered the White House, Leon Panetta, the director of the C.I.A., briefed the President on the agency’s latest programs and initiatives for tracking bin Laden. Obama was unimpressed. In June, 2009, he drafted a memo instructing Panetta to create a “detailed operation plan” for finding the Al Qaeda leader and to “ensure that we have expended every effort.” Most notably, the President intensified the C.I.A.’s classified drone program; there were more missile strikes inside Pakistan during Obama’s first year in office than in George W. Bush’s eight. The terrorists swiftly registered the impact: that July, CBS reported that a recent Al Qaeda communiqué had referred to “brave commanders” who had been “snatched away” and to “so many hidden homes [which] have been levelled.” The document blamed the “very grave” situation on spies who had “spread throughout the land like locusts.” Nevertheless, bin Laden’s trail remained cold…
That additional pressure on al Qaeda — from pressing the CIA to try harder, to a direct escalation of military action in Pakistan — seems to draw a line that eventually led to what happened in Abbottabad. Yes, we’ve known since 2007 that Obama intended to be very aggressive about pursuing bin Laden into Pakistan. But this passage served as a clarifying reminder that Obama is more like Michael than like Sonny.
Actually, the rest of the piece seems to be more exciting than that tidbit I just shared. But I had a point to make about that part…