Never let it be said that George W. Bush relied on a hindsight argument to back away from his wartime decisions. Had Bush said this in the first few months after he left office, the media would have pilloried him as a hopelessly blind warmonger who didn’t know how to make America safe. Now, though, after three terrorist attacks against the US reached fruition and one resulted in 14 murders, the context has shifted enough to where the media will be more inclined to ignore it:
Bush defended his decision to invade Iraq in 2003, saying taking Saddam Hussein out of power was the right thing to do and that the world is a better place without him.
The former president also stood by the decision to waterboard Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the September 11th attacks.
Bush said he would quote “do it again to save American lives.”
The two more extensive terrorist attacks failed to work. The Christmas Day attack attempt by Umar Farouk Abdelmutallab would have killed hundreds of passengers in the air; Faisal Shahzad’s Times Square bomb would have killed hundreds more on the ground, potentially. In another sense, though, both worked in that they have Americans second-guessing their presence in New York City or on international flights. Terrorism works not because it kills a lot of people — which it often does — but because it frightens many, many more into changing their behavior and their policies, or at least that’s the intent behind it.
Susan Anne Hiller says this is what real leadership looks like:
Those decisive decisions from Bush kept America safe for 7 years. Now we have got Obama the apologist and panderer and we’ve had four Jihad attacks on American soil in less than 17 months–June 1, 2009 army recruiting base murder, 2009 Christmas Day undie bomber, November 13, 2009 Ft. Hood, and the May 1, 2010 Times Square bomber.
Whose strategy do you think is or was more effective and has America’s best interests at heart?
The controversy over waterboarding has largely died down since early last year, even though the US had stopped the practice after just three detainees went through it, all of them high-ranking AQ operatives involved in the 9/11 conspiracy. Therefore, the contribution of information gleaned from waterboarded detainees (not actually during the waterboarding process, though) would have diminished in relation to the time of their detention. They had all been interrogated by 2002, and in 2008 their information was probably doing less to expose attack plots than to track the various financial and recruiting efforts of AQ.
The change in counterterrorism preparedness probably has more to do with the law-enforcement model that the Obama administration has championed since coming to office, as well as structural problems that have plagued the intelligence community since its 2005 reorganization. The dysfunction surrounding the DNI and the NCTC have more impact on our countermeasures than the lack of waterboarding. The effort to squeeze a war into the venue of a federal court appears to have made our CT forces gunshy. We are back at a CYA mode rather than fully aggressive interdiction and a war mentality.
Still, what Hiller says about Bush is true, and may be especially resonant today not so much because of the recent failures to stop attacks than the recent leadership failures of the White House on other issues as well. In the end, Bush took action (although arguably not enough of it with Hurricane Katrina) and built confidence in his ability to lead and protect the nation. His priority was to protect the country rather than look good in the attempt, and whether one agrees with the methods used on KSM or not, that leadership ended up saving lives in the immediate term.
Update: Hiller originally wrote “Christmas Day shoe bomber” in error; she asked me to edit it to “undie bomber.”