Even Republicans Starting To Notice Bin Laden Still At Large Seven Years Later

3 comments September 11th, 2008at 11:52am Posted by Eli

Michael Smerconish is not exactly what you’d call a moderate Republican, but he’s apparently so obsessed with bin Laden and Zawahiri that he’s actually noticed that Dubya hasn’t done squat to catch either of them:

Where the hell are Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri? And why does virtually no one ask anymore? … And what happened to President Bush’s declaration to a joint session of Congress nine days after 9/11 that “any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” Doesn’t that apply to Pakistan?

These are things that I wonder as I watch from my perch in Philadelphia, where I’m a talk show host, columnist and MSNBC talking head…. On the day after the Pennsylvania primary, I told Chris Matthews on “Hardball” that this was an issue that could help Barack Obama win support among white male voters; he recognized that it was “[my] issue,” before adding, “And I agree with you completely.”

I can’t help myself. So strong is my belief that we’ve failed in our responsibility to 3,000 dead Americans that I am contemplating voting for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in my life. It’s the chronology I find so compelling.

We’re at the seven-year anniversary of 9/11, lacking not only closure with regard to the two top al-Qaida leaders but also public discourse about any plan to bring them to justice. To me, that suggests a continuation of what I perceive to be the Bush administration’s outsourcing of this responsibility at great cost to a government with limited motivation to get the job done. Of course, I may be wrong; I have no inside information. And I’d love to be proven in error by breaking news of their capture or execution. But published accounts paint an intriguing and frustrating picture.

To begin, bin Laden is presumed to have been in Afghanistan on 9/11 and to have fled that nation during the battle at Tora Bora in December of 2001. Gary Berntsen, who was the CIA officer in charge on the ground, told me that his request for Army Rangers to prevent bin Laden’s escape into Pakistan was denied, and sure enough, that’s where bin Laden went. Then came a period when the Bush administration was supposed to be pressing the search through means it couldn’t share publicly. But as time went by with no capture, the signs became more troubling.


More than one [military] individual with whom I spoke… raised with me the question of what would happen to public support for the war against radical Islam if we were to find and kill bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. They wanted to know: Would the American people then expect the military to pack up and go home? No one ever told me that we’re not hunting bin Laden because killing him would cause Americans to want to close up shop in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it was absolutely on the minds of our warriors as support for the war in Iraq dissipated.


The Bush administration’s failure to orchestrate a successful counterterrorism plan — one topped off with justice for Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri — has left me embarrassed of my party and angry. The oft-repeated explanations of the search being nuanced or covering difficult terrain should have worn thin long ago.


Put quite simply, the support for this failed policy is driving me to the edge of my long Republican career. And despite never pulling a lever for a Democratic presidential candidate, I believe the election this November will present the chance to relieve this country of the conventional wisdom that President Bush has offered for seven years and Sen. McCain appears resigned to advance: that President Musharraf was a friend who did what he could to prevent Pakistan from defaulting toward further extremism; that the hunt for Osama bin Laden is nuanced and U.S. forces are doing everything they can to find him; and that the war in Iraq is a necessary one that hasn’t distracted from the fight against those who perpetrated and planned 9/11.

That wisdom has been proven unequivocally wrong.

The kicker? We, the taxpayers, are footing the bill for this negligence. According to a June 25, 2008, article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, a GAO report showed that nearly $2 billion given in aid to Pakistan was spent improperly. The article states:

“‘For a large number of claims, Defense did not obtain sufficient documentation from Pakistan to verify that claimed costs were incremental, actually incurred or correctly calculated,’ the report concluded. ‘It seems as though the Pakistani military went on a spending spree with American taxpayers’ wallets and no one bothered to investigate the charges,’ said Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. ‘How hard would it have been to confirm that a road we paid $15 million for was ever built?'”


While candidates talk, the dismaying story continues. A recent report from the New York Times in July 2008 suggested that the CIA might not even be receiving proper intelligence on the al-Qaida problem in Pakistan: “The C.I.A. has depended heavily on the ISI for information about militants in Pakistan, despite longstanding concerns about divided loyalties within the Pakistani spy service, which had close relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks. That ISI officers have maintained important ties to anti-American militants has been the subject of previous reports in The New York Times. But the C.I.A. and the Bush administration have generally sought to avoid criticism of Pakistan, which they regard as a crucial ally in the fight against terrorism.” It was reported two days later that officers from this same intelligence service played a role in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 7, 2008, which left 54 people dead.


Seven years after 9/11, the country is stoking what was supposed to be a complete and consuming “war on terror” with faint signs of a sustained operation in the country where the bad guys have been hiding for years.

How appalling. I doubt the families of the 3,000 innocents murdered on 9/11 — and of the 4,000 Americans killed in Iraq — are content with it. After all, it’s seven years, thousands of troops and billions of dollars later, and our country has failed to deliver on what we really owe them: justice.

Smerconish is primarily beating the drum for a more aggressive stance towards Pakistan, which he is correct in depicting as… less than helpful in the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban.  Unlike Bush and McCain, Obama has recognized that an “ally” who cuts deals with your enemies and provides them sanctuary is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Obama has actually advocated for a more aggressive and unilateral approach than Bush or McCain, who were both perfectly content to rely on the good faith of Musharraf and the ISI despite the abundant evidence of its nonexistence.  If anything, Obama’s approach is probably too aggressive, but I suspect that his worst instincts would be reined in by congressional Republicans with a newfound respect for sovereignty and multilateralism.  Maybe he could adopt my idea of threatening to take away all of Pakistan’s aid money… and redirect it to India.

Seven years and counting, and we’re no closer to catching bin Laden.  And it is for lack of trying.  My only question is whether it’s simple incompetence, or whether, as Smerconish suggests, that it’s because the Republicans don’t want to lose their boogeyman.

Entry Filed under: Bush,Elections,McCain,Media,Obama,Politics,Republicans,Terrorism,War


  • 1. The Black Paladin  |  September 11th, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    I wonder what the current over-under is on November 3rd being the date that Bush announces that “we’ve found bin Laden.”

  • 2. Bill Bradley  |  September 11th, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    I also seem to recall that the same administration that called Obama’s statement that he would be prepared to order troops into Pakistan “reckless” a year ago is currently doing just that in Waziristan.

  • 3. Eli  |  September 11th, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    I also seem to recall that the same administration that called Obama’s statement that he would be prepared to order troops into Pakistan “reckless” a year ago is currently doing just that in Waziristan.

    Well, sure, now that it’s election season…

    I wonder what the current over-under is on November 3rd being the date that Bush announces that “we’ve found bin Laden.”

    If it were that easy, they would have done it four years ago. I think election years are the only times they make any serious attempts to catch him.

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