MISSING BIN LADEN
November 1, 2004 -- WHEN John Kerry tries to spin the bin Laden tape to his own advantage, he is fond of saying that the ghoul's message just serves to indicate that he is still around because Bush failed to get him "when he was surrounded" in Tora Bora.
Kerry's attack misses the fundamental point: If Osama bin Laden, who once sent hijacked airplanes into buildings, has been reduced to mailing tapes to TV stations instead, it means that his capacity for terrorism is being effectively neutralized as he hops from cave to cave in Pakistan.
And we need to understand who is to blame for failing to get bin Laden — for America blew at least three opportunities during the 1990s, when he was there for all to see in Afghanistan. And the reasons why we failed don't speak well of a potential Kerry administration.
Our first shot at bin Laden came in Feb. 13, 1998, when President Bill Clinton's aides scuttled a CIA plot that had been eight months in the planning to kidnap Osama, using local Afghan tribesmen and to ferry him to the United States to stand trial. Why did they torpedo the mission? Because they worried that bin Laden might be killed!
To quote the 9/11 Commission report: They worried that "the purpose . . . of the operation would be subject to unavoidable misinterpretation and misrepresentation — and probably recriminations — in the event that bin Laden, despite our best intentions and efforts, did not survive." The kidnapping was blocked because the Clinton people worried that it might be perceived as "an assassination."
The second chance came when we actually did launch cruise missiles to kill bin Laden on Aug. 20, 1998. (Apparently, if he died in an air strike that would not be an assassination). Clinton ordered the hit, but instructed that the Pakistani Army Chief of Staff be briefed right before the missiles overflew his air space so he would not think them to be Indian and order retaliation. Word leaked from Pakistan to bin Laden, who escaped right before the missiles hit.
The final missed opportunity came in May, 1999 when the CIA reported that bin Laden would be in Kandahar, Afghanistan for five days. The 9/11 Commission reported: "If this intelligence was not 'actionable,' working-level officials said at the time and today, it was hard for them to imagine how any intelligence . . . could meet that standard."
One senior official told the commission, "It was in our strike zone . . . a fat pitch . . . a home run." But still Clinton's folks — the same guys on whom Kerry would rely if elected — said no. Why? Because we had just bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade by mistake and they were worried about being accused of being trigger happy. (Officials were also worried that Republicans would echo the charges they made — totally irresponsibly and inaccurately — about the August 1998 strike and say Clinton was "wagging the dog.")
When one contemplates who would wage the more determined War on Terror, we must remember the tentative and hesitant way the Clinton people waged it — always bowing to global public opinion and political concerns rather than taking forthright and bold action.
Under Bush, bin Laden has been reduced to sending in impotent tapes and wild threats. Under Kerry, the same geniuses that let him escape three times will be back in charge running things.