I’d go farther in defense of President Bush, too. The record is clear that he believed more effective, definitive action needed to be taken against al Qaeda and ordered a plan for such action to be prepared early in his Presidency. As I recall, such a plan was either just complete or almost so, when the terrorists struck first. Also, while one can argue that Bush didn’t act aggressively enough soon enough, he didn’t pass on an opportunity to collar bin Laden, as Clinton did.
On the videotape obtained by the CIA, bin Laden is seen confidently instructing his party how to dig holes in the ground to lie in undetected at night. A bomb dropped by a U.S. aircraft can be seen exploding in the distance. “We were there last night,” bin Laden says without much concern in his voice. He was in or headed toward Pakistan, counterterrorism officials think.
That was December 2001. Only two months later, Bush decided to pull out most of the special operations troops and their CIA counterparts in the paramilitary division that were leading the hunt for bin Laden in Afghanistan to prepare for war in Iraq, said Flynt L. Leverett, then an expert on the Middle East at the National Security Council.
“I was appalled when I learned about it,” said Leverett, who has become an outspoken critic of the administration’s counterterrorism policy. “I don’t know of anyone who thought it was a good idea. It’s very likely that bin Laden would be dead or in American custody if we hadn’t done that.”
Several officers confirmed that the number of special operations troops was reduced in March 2002.
But George Bush has always been soft on catching terrorists, particularly when it conflicts with his invade Iraq agenda:
Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, who was in the White House as the National Security Council’s director for combatting terrorism at the time, said an NSC [National Security Council] working group, led by the Defense Department, had been in charge of reviewing the plans to target the [Zarqawi’s] camp. She said the camp was “definitely a stronghold, and we knew that certain individuals were there including Zarqawi.” Ms. Gordon-Hagerty said she wasn’t part of the working group and never learned the reason why the camp wasn’t hit. But she said that much later, when reports surfaced that Mr. Zarqawi was behind a series of bloody attacks in Iraq, she said “I remember my response,” adding, “I said why didn’t we get that [‘son of a b-‘] when we could.”
[Retired] Gen. [John M.] Keane [then-U.S. Army vice chief of staff] characterized the [Zarqawi’s] camp “as one of the best targets we ever had,” and questioned the decision not to attack it.
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI (NBC News chief Pentagon correspondent): With today’s attacks, al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant with ties to Al Qaeda, is blamed for more than 700 terrorist killings in Iraq. But NBC News has learned that long before the war, the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out his terrorist group, Ansar al-Islam, perhaps kill Zarqawi himself, but never pulled the trigger. June 2002, U.S. government officials say intelligence revealed that Zarqawi and members of Al Qaeda had set up a weapons lab at Kirma in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide. The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp and sent them to the White House, where, say government sources, the plans were debated to death.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Four months later, intelligence showed Zarqawi was planning to use ricin in terrorist attacks in Europe. The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the White House again killed it. By then, the administration had set its course for war with Iraq.
ROGER CRESSEY (NBC terrorism analyst): People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow [former Iraqi leader] Saddam [Hussein] than to execute the president’s [Bush’s] policy on preemption against terrorists.
MIKLASZEWSKI: And despite the Bush administration’s tough talk about hitting the terrorists before they strike, Zarqawi’s killing streak continues today.
I guess all deeply serious people can agree that George Bush has never acted agressively enough when it comes to catching the terrorists because he’s too busy creating new terrorists…