Dear Brandon:

Are you KIDDING ME?!?! Obama has failed miserably and when the Department of Defense and the CIA (with other intel agencies) locate and kill him it’s all praise to Obama? It wasn’t Obama’s plan that killed him, just his order. Had it been any other President at thte time (of either party) the same situation would have presented itself because of the intelligence gained through the mistakes of Bin Laden and his people. Nice try.

Believe it or not, I was quite pleased to get this comment from Brandon the other day, mostly because it challenges me to provide some evidence for my hagiographic “Obama got Osama” post – but also because it helps me understand what it must feel like to be Will Bunch, a writer for the Philadelphia Daily News who has a blog called Attytood that gets lots of angry right-wing comments.

His latest post is a good example of this (if you can stand to read the comments), and it also helps make the case that Obama’s policies (most notably reinstating the CIA’s bin Laden unit, which Bush had dissolved in 2005) had quite a bit to do with finding bin Laden this time.

But let me answer Brandon. He says that, given the great work of our intelligence agencies, any President would have given the orders that Obama did.

Well, let’s look at a couple of stories from history – taking Clinton first, just to be even-handed about it.  In 2000, Predator drones shot video of a tall man, in flowing white robes, in a walled compound in Afghanistan where bin Laden was believed to live. Clinton did not do what Obama did, both because he was afraid of civilian casualties, and, incredibly, because the military wasn’t prepared:

We were not prepared to take the military action necessary,” said retired Gen. Wayne Downing, who ran counter-terror efforts for the current Bush administration and is now an NBC analyst. “We should have had strike forces prepared to go in and react to this intelligence, certainly cruise missiles — either air- or sea-launched — very, very accurate, could have gone in and hit those targets,” Downing added.

And there was a third reason: the directive from the White House required bin Laden to be captured alive.

That was in the fall of 2000, just before Bush became President. The following summer, on August 6 to be precise, Bush received a Presidential Daily Brief entitled “Bin Laden determined to strike in US.”

We all know what happened next. On September 20, Bush told the Taliban to turn over bin Laden or we’d invade, and so we did. Good so far. On November 20, 2001, there was a battle for Tora Bora where, as it happened, bin Laden was hiding and, unfortunately, escaped

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.

So let’s look at what we have here: two occasions in which the great work of our intelligence agencies pinpointed bin Laden’s location; two occasions in which neither President gave the order to take him out.

Presidential orders are buttressed by preparation and strategic direction, both of which were lacking in these examples. Clinton’s military wasn’t ready: there were no strike forces; Bush’s military was in the process of being redeployed to Iraq. The strategies were flawed: Clinton had determined bin Laden had to be taken alive; Bush had started another war before finishing the first.

It actually was “Obama’s plan that killed him,” a plan based on solid intelligence, proper preparation, and thoughtful strategic direction:

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.

With these three elements in place, a President can give the order to “take him out.” It requires all three, plus one more thing.

Courage.

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