- By Tom Mahnken
Lost in the fallout of last week’s presidential debate was an astonishing preview of Mark Bowden’s forthcoming book, The Finish, an excerpt of which will appear in the November Vanity Fair. Bowden’s account contradicts the image of a bold Obama who decided on the Abbottabad raid in the face of a split among his advisors. According to Bowden’s research, nearly every one of the president’s advisors favored the raid. "The only major dissenters were Biden and Gates, and before the raid was launched, Gates would change his mind."
According to Bowden, in the event that Osama bin Laden had been captured alive at his Abbottabad hideout, Obama’s plan was to put him on trial in a federal court, resurrecting the idea that Attorney General Eric Holder had put forward in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that proved to be a fiasco for the administration. As Obama explained to Bowden:
"I mean, we had worked through a whole bunch of those scenarios. But, frankly, my belief was if we had captured him, that I would be in a pretty strong position, politically, here, to argue that displaying due process and rule of law would be our best weapon against al-Qaeda, in preventing him from appearing as a martyr."
It is an astonishing admission on two counts. First, it shows just how much Obama backed Holder’s idea of putting KSM and other terrorists on trial in the United States. Holder took the fall when the plan collapsed, but it appears that Obama was fully supportive of the idea, and remained committed to it even after it collapsed in the face of Congressional and public opposition.
Second, Obama’s statement brings into focus just how much he benefited politically from a tactical decision by SEALs on the ground to kill bin Laden. Just think: If things had gone differently, Joe Biden’s tag line at this summer’s Democratic National Convention would have been: "General Motors is still alive…and so is Osama bin Laden!"
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| Situation Report |