William McGurn, in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, observed that catching up with bin Laden failed to bring out the best in the president and inevitably caused him a major political problem by bringing up the issue of his past statements and policies on interrogation.
Sunday night.. Mr. Obama rushed a national address on the bin Laden killing. Notwithstanding his later comment to “60 Minutes” that Americans do not “spike the football,” the president appears incapable of doing what would serve him best here: Letting the action speak for itself, and heaping praise on his predecessors (Bill Clinton as well as George W. Bush) for their contributions. Instead we got the implication that no one was trying to get bin Laden until Barack Obama arrived in town.
At the same time, all the president’s men were put in the position of denying something the Navy SEALs had made obvious: They owed much of their success to information resulting from policies authorized by President Bush but opposed by Mr. Obama. Thus Leon Panetta found himself bobbing and weaving when NBC’s Brian Williams kept asking the CIA chief whether waterboarding had anything to do with finding bin Laden. When you’ve lost Brian Williams, you’re really lost.
In the end, Mr. Panetta allowed that intelligence often comes from “a lot” of sources. In the past, Mr. Obama and his team could get away with this kind of non-answer, mostly because the connections between Mr. Bush’s policies and his success in keeping us safe from another attack were highly abstract. The bin Laden raid, however, has now thrown them all into sharp relief.
During the 2008 campaign, for example, Mr. Obama asserted it was “the fact” that Mr. Bush “championed a strategy that distracted us from capturing bin Laden, that focused on Iraq, that had nothing to do with 9/11.” Now, however, we learn that we discovered the courier’s close tie to bin Laden through a top al Qaeda operative, Hassan Ghul, captured in 2004 . . . in Iraq.
During the campaign, we learned that waterboarding and other enhanced interrogations were “torture” plain and simpleâ€””something that undermines our long-term security.” Now we learn that these interrogations in fact gave us operable clues about the courier’s identity.
During the campaign, Mr. Obama told a crowd at an Iowa rally that he was “frustrated with warrantless wiretaps and the undermining of our civil liberties”â€”and he voted against allowing the National Security Agency to listen in on foreign terrorists calling the U.S. (before flip-flopping on the issue six months later). Now we learn that intercepts of overseas phone calls helped give us the courier’s real name.
So obvious are these connections that Mr. Obama’s smallness in not admitting them is now working against him. For it invites the question that both Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum effectively raised in last week’s debate among would-be GOP contenders: Would we ever have gotten bin Laden if then-Sen. Obama’s policies had been put into effect instead of Mr. Bush’s?