"Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies," declared President George Walker Bush nine days after 9-11, "justice will be done." I've always thought that that speech, delivered to a Joint Session of Congress on September 20th, was the one of the finest Presidential orations of my lifetime -- certainly the best to be delivered in that place since either General MacArthur's 1951 Farewell speech or FDR's call for Congress to declare war against Japan.
Now it is a promise fulfilled and, as the details of the sensational operation that killed Osama bin Laden come to light, it is becoming increasingly clear that while all honor and credit for the successful execution of the mission must go to the superlative members of the United States Armed Forces, the strategic vision that brought this glorious moment into being was that of George W. Bush.
Let's review what we know about bin Laden's death and how it came to be.
The CIA was able to find him by tracking a courier. This was a process that took years. It actually began during the Bush Administration -- in 2007. How did the Intelligence Community find the courier who eventually took them to bin Laden? They found him through information gained from interrogating terrorist prisoners.
Let's repeat that point because it needs to be emphasized. Ultimately, bin Laden was found and killed as a result of information gained from the interrogation of a captured terrorist. Actually, given all of the ink and pixels that have been spilled over this subject, it bears repeating one more time: bin Laden's death is a direct result of information gained from the interrogation of detainees, reportedly at the famed Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
Given what we now know, how many people still think that the opponents of Guantanamo Bay -- including the current resident of the White House -- were right when they screamed about its supposed inhumanity, plotted to close it, and vowed to move terrorist prisoners into civilian courts? It would seem that George Bush and the defenders of his detainee policy were right all along.
Of course, President Obama does deserve some credit for more or less immediately abandoning most of his national security promises on coming into office, even going so far as to retain President Bush's Secretary of Defense. The death of bin Laden and the broader course of the Global War on Terror during the two and a half years of the Obama Administration reflect the reality that the policies of the Bush Administration in this area, for all of the hysterical condemnation and calumny they endured, were the best and most reasonable response to 9-11 available to the United States and to the world. The continuity of American anti-terror policy appears to have been the key to the success of this operation. The courier was identified under Bush, the information took stronger form in the early months of the Obama Presidency (before most of his appointees even took office), and he was then slowly run to ground over the next two years.
This is the realization of the sort of "patient justice" that President Bush promised a decade ago when he declared, "Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest." That is a vision that was made into a reality in the years that followed, as the United States and its real allies waged a relentless campaign against al-Qaeda and its leader that, ultimately, left it without any refuge anywhere in the world.
I have increasingly grown to appreciate the vision and adult leadership that President Bush provided. It is clear to me that the course he chose after September 11th, even if it often left me impatient and eager for more stark and dramatic results, was the correct one -- a middle course between one that would leave America more vulnerable to terrorism and an extreme one that might have instantly brought on the sort of global Holy War that bin Laden desired. And, in this area, we ought to at least credit President Obama for having the flexibility to, after spending years criticizing them, quietly recognize the wisdom of President Bush's policies and to adopt so many of them as his own.
Of course, this does not mean that the war is over. Far from it. Final victory will be a product of eternal vigilance. The great unfinished challenge in this war remains the threat posed by Iran and, of course, recent events also show us that a new framework for dealing with Pakistan has to be found. As well, some conclusion must be found to the poorly-managed war in Libya. I don't know about the rest of you but with both bin Laden and Saddam Hussein dead, I think that it's probably Muammar Gaddafi's turn next.