Top politicians in Washington spent years telling us that catching bin Laden didn't matter…until it did.
- By Joshua E. KeatingJoshua E. Keating is an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Just days after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush vowed that Osama bin Laden would be captured “dead or alive.” But as the days turned into weeks, months, and years, Bush, along with political leaders of both parties seemed — or at least claimed — to no longer be interested in whether the “marginalized” al Qaeda leader would be caught. Now that he’s finally dead, however, the very same people have rediscovered his centrality to the war on terror.
GEORGE W. BUSH
March 13, 2002: “Terror is bigger than one person. And he’s just — he’s a person who’s now been marginalized. His network, his host government has been destroyed. He’s the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it, and met his match. He is — as I mentioned in my speech, I do mention the fact that this is a fellow who is willing to commit youngsters to their death and he, himself, tries to hide — if, in fact, he’s hiding at all. So I don’t know where he is. You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him.”
May 2, 2011: “This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.”
Sept. 7, 2006: “And even if he is caught tomorrow, it is five years too late. He has done more damage the longer he has been out there. But, in fact, the damage that he has done is done. And even to capture him now I don’t think makes us any safer.”
May 2, 2011: “The death of Osama bin Laden marks the most significant development in our fight against al Qaeda. I salute President Obama, his national security team, [CIA] Director Panetta, our men and women in the intelligence community and military, and other nations who supported this effort for their leadership in achieving this major accomplishment.
April 26, 2011: [Romney] said the country would be safer by only “a small percentage” and would see “a very insignificant increase in safety” if al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was caught because another terrorist would just rise to power. “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person,” Romney said.
May 2, 2011: “This is a great victory for lovers of freedom and justice everywhere…. Congratulations to our intelligence community, our military and the president. My thoughts are with the families of Osama bin Laden’s many thousands of victims, and the brave servicemen and women who have laid down their lives in pursuit of this murderous terrorist.”
Sept. 10, 2006:”He’s not the only source of the problem, obviously….. If you killed him tomorrow, you’d still have a problem with al Qaeda, with Zawahiri, and the others.”
May 2, 2011: Though bin Laden is dead, the war goes on. We must remain vigilant, especially now, and we must continue to support our men and women in uniform who are fighting on the front lines of this war every day. Today, the message our forces have sent is clear — if you attack the United States, we will find you and bring you to justice.”
April 8, 2002: “Some of the senior people, al Qaeda and Taliban, are still at large. And we’re still looking for them. It is interesting to me that Osama bin Laden doesn’t seem to be putting out any videotapes lately.”
“[O]ur goal was to try to stop terrorism to the extent that we could, and that means putting pressure on them. And to the extent enough pressure is applied, they have to stay so busy surviving, moving from place to place, trying to raise money, trying to raise recruits, trying to move weapons and capabilities from one place to another, that is not your preferred outcome, but it is a better outcome than nothing.”
May 2, 2011: “The man who once called the United States ‘a paper tiger’ and issued a fatwa to ‘kill all Americans’ believed that our nation would not strike back if provoked. Today that man, responsible for the deaths of 3,000 Americans on September 11th, Osama bin Laden, is dead. It is an achievement of which our country can be proud.”
Jan. 18, 2009: “My preference obviously would be to capture or kill him. But if we have so tightened the noose that he’s in a cave somewhere and can’t even communicate with his operatives then we will meet our goal of protecting America.”
May 2, 2011: “For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.”
BONUS: JOHN MCCAIN ON PAKISTANI SOVEREIGNTY
McCain has never wavered on the importance of bringing bin Laden to justice, but he sees to have clarified his views on the acceptability of entering Pakistani territory since the 2008 campaign, when he criticized Sen. Barack Obama for suggesting he would sent troops into Pakistan if he had information on the al Qaeda leader’s location:
July 28, 2008 LARRY KING: “If you were president and knew that bin Laden was in Pakistan, you know where, would you have U.S. forces go in after him?”
JOHN MCCAIN: “Larry, I’m not going to go there and here’s why, because Pakistan is a sovereign nation. I think the Pakistanis would want bin Laden out of their hair and out of their country and it’s causing great difficulties in Pakistan itself.”
May 2, 2011: “I commend the president and his team, as well as our men and women in uniform and our intelligence professionals, for this superb achievement.”