Mister Pterodactyl
Thursday, March 25, 2004
The first paragraph of the Washington Post story on the 9-11 commission (run in my local paper):
“The commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks issued a stinging condemnation Tuesday of the U.S. government's failed hunt for Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist network, finding that both the Clinton and Bush administrations focused too heavily on diplomacy that didn't work and were reluctant to consider aggressive military action.” [Emphasis mine]
Secretaries of State and Defense for the current and former administrations testified yesterday. The main thrust of the questioning, according to the article and what little I saw on CNN, dealt with efforts to eliminate Osama bin Laden prior to 9-11. The main points made, gleaned by me from the article (grain of salt warning), on why OBL wasn’t captured or killed:

1. The difficulty of learning his location with sufficient certainty, and of launching an attack quickly enough to catch him before he moved;
2. The probability of civilians or foreign dignitaries being hurt or killed in the attack;
3. Skepticism about how much his removal would affect al Queda overall;
4. The probability that the American public would disapprove.

[In 1998 Clinton sent cruise missiles into Sudan in retaliation for the embassy bombings, and Baghdad for Saddam’s obstructionism over the inspections. I remember hearing that the President was just trying to distract attention away from the Lewinsky scandal. Imagine how much worse had we actually mounted an operation in a foreign country to hunt bin Laden down.]

Add to these the fact that, before 9-11, we collectively didn’t see the urgency. I personally believed that the strategy of (mostly symbolic) retaliatory attacks coupled with law-enforcement efforts was the best way, really the only way, the problem could be handled. Invading another country seemed virtually inconceivable. It was only after 9-11 that I recognized the danger. Mea culpa.

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