This is, of course, a great day for the world, especially the U.S., our special operations teams and our President, whose crisp and appropriate decision-making when it came to the use of force was once again on display here. I spent some time in the White House on Friday, talking to National Security Council officials about related topics–especially the President’s decision-making process on the use of force–and there was not even slightest hint that something was afoot. No drama, no hints, no leaks. Success.
Some other thoughts about the Osama operation:
1. George W. Bush deserves both credit and blame here. He deserves great credit for amping up the human intelligence and special operations sectors of the intelligence community, which made this success possible. These, and little more, are precisely the tactics and level of engagement that the war against al-Qaeda required from the start; it is, and should have been, a special forces war. Bush’s decision to divert attention from the goal by going to war in Iraq seems more disproportionate and foolish every day–does anybody believe that Saddam Hussein would have survived the Arab Spring?
2. Pakistan should no longer be regarded as a U.S. ally. Bin Laden was hiding in plain sight, right down the road from a significant Pakistani army facility. They had to know–as Hillary Clinton has been insisting on every recent trip to the region. Clearly, the raid was an operation from which the Pakistanis were wisely excluded. That will increase the resentment between the two countries; it may lead to Pakistani terrorist reprisals against Americans and American assets by groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani network. On top of that, the Pakistanis have been encouraging the Afghans to kick us out–and turn to them and the Chinese for security and economic support. Given all this, there is going to have to be a redefinition of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Certainly, there will have to be a major reconsideration of the military aid that we are lavishing on a country that acts as an enemy as often as it seems an ally. The Pakistanis have a big decision to make. It’s about time they made it.
3. Hillary Clinton’s message to the Taliban this morning was entirely appropriate: Now is the time to renounce al-Qaeda and reconcile. I have no idea whether Mullah Omar is ready to come in from the cold–but he must be thinking today that it’s even colder at the bottom of the ocean than it is in Quetta. At the same time, the fact that Osama was killed in Pakistan only serves to emphasize the fact that the war in Afghanistan is a sideshow and should begin to wind down as soon as possible.
4. Barack Obama has been accused of many things–of almost everything–by ultra-conservative detractors. Last Friday, Charles Krauthammer used an unfortunate anonymous quote from an Administration official about “leading from the rear” to denigrate the President’s strength as an international leader. I’ve disagreed with the President at times, especially on the decision to take military action in Libya–but there is no question that Obama has been a forceful, decisive and precise Commander-in-Chief, from the drone strikes along the AfPak border to ramping up the Afghan effort to the Osama decision…and yes, even in Libya, where he realized that a more robust response than a no-fly zone would be necessary to save Benghazi, but that anything more than the protection of Benghazi would be a step too far. (One wonders what the impact of the Osama hit–and NATO’s near-miss Friday–is having on one Muammar Gaddafi today.)
Obama has run a solid, bipartisan foreign and national security policy. The criticism of the substance of his policies has been limited to a handful of embittered screechers like John McCain and the “bomber boys” Krauthammer and Bill Kristol. As of now, the Republicans will have no plausible case to make against him in 2012. No one knows what terrorist retaliations may be down the road, or how the President will handle them, but he has done extremely well so far.
I’ll have more on this topic in my print column this week.