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Bush’s former CIA director, George Tenet, in his book released in April 2007, questioned the surge: “Sectarian violence in Iraq has taken on a life of its own and … U.S. forces are becoming more and more irrelevant to the management of that violence.” NBC’s Tom Brokaw said the decision to surge would “seem to most people … like a folly.”
Obama, on the other hand, said the Abbottabad intel on bin Laden gave the U.S. the “the best chance” to get him “since Tora Bora.” Obama faced greater criticism had he refused to act.
Yes, civilians could have been killed, along with the SEALs. If so, what would have been the political and national security downside? That Obama erred by taking advantage of a secret deal to enter Pakistan? That Obama erred by using actionable intel to get the world’s most wanted man, the spiritual leader of a global Islamofascist movement, a jihadi-terrorist who declared war on America, a mass murderer responsible for the slaughter of 3,000 Americans on American soil, a man whom 86 percent of Americans wanted captured or killed?
Would most Republicans have attacked Obama for an unsuccessful mission to kill bin Laden — especially given the Tora Bora failure under Bush? Republicans applaud Obama’s decision to send in more troops in Afghanistan, and approve the stepped-up drone attacks in Pakistan. Republicans support Obama’s continuation of Bush-era policies including rendition, Guantanamo Bay, the Patriot Act, the state secrets doctrine, military tribunals and the terror surveillance program.
What about Obama’s failed missions? Drone attacks have killed Pakistani civilians, for which the Obama administration has had to apologize. In an attempt to learn the location of bin Laden’s second in command, seven CIA agents were killed on a CIA base in Afghanistan by a homicide bomber whom they mistakenly trusted. Bad stuff happens in war. Ask G.W. Bush.
The consequences, however, of an unsuccessful surge were catastrophic. The Iraq War would have been lost and abandoned. Terrorists would have been emboldened. The vacuum of a failed Iraq would have likely been filled by Iran, more confident than ever that a humiliated America planned to sit it out as Iran pursued a nuclear bomb. The perception of an America that loses wars then cuts and runs would have undermined the war in Afghanistan. The GOP would have been crippled for years under the avalanche of I-told-you-so’s. Bush’s political obituary would have been cast.
But Bush stood fast.
Obama certainly deserves credit and praise for greenlighting the successful strike against bin Laden. But Bush’s decision to surge was a truly gutsy call — and it deserves acknowledgment as such.
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