Sometimes something is written which has you shaking your head in both wonder and disgust as you read it. Michael Hirsh manages that in his National Journal article entitled “Obama’s War” where he states:
Ever so gingerly, even as they praised President Obama’s success against Osama bin Laden, some former senior Bush administration officials have sought to take a little credit for the mission themselves. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, interviewed by MSNBC this week, even called the operation “a good story for continuity across two presidencies.”
That assessment couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, in a convoluted way, he’s right – the major kudos should go to the Bush administration.
Look, you expect a little cheerleading concerning the killing of Osama because of the desperate desire by the left to make Obama into something he’s simply not – the steely eyed Commander-in-Chief solely responsible for the result of the bin Laden raid.
But any impartial observer who knows a thing or two about how taking down someone like OBL occurs simply knows that’s not the case.
Given, Osama bin Laden was killed on Obama’s watch. He gave the order. Good for him, and thank you for making the decision. But let’s be real – it wasn’t much of a decision to make. This was America’s most wanted – heck, he was the West’s most wanted. How do you not make that decision?
But Hirsh, goes off into history revision-land in an attempt to give all the credit to Obama and none to Bush. He seems to understand that making the decision really isn’t that special so he attempts to rewrite recent history in such a way that he can, one assumes, credibly make the claim that this was all Obama. He, among a long line of journalists who may know politics, but have little knowledge of intelligence operations, makes a hash of his attempt. He attempts to convince us the only thing Obama didn’t inherit from Bush was anything to do with taking out bin Laden.
Hirsh pitches this:
From his first great public moment when, as a state senator, he called Iraq a “dumb war,” Obama indicated that he thought that George W. Bush had badly misconceived the challenge of 9/11. And very quickly upon taking office as president, Obama reoriented the war back to where, in the view of many experts, it always belonged. He discarded the idea of a “global war on terror” that conflated all terror threats from al-Qaida to Hamas to Hezbollah. Obama replaced it with a covert, laserlike focus on al-Qaida and its spawn.
This reorientation was part of Obama’s reset of America’s relations with the world. Bush, having gradually expanded his definition of the war to include all Islamic “extremists,” had condemned the United States to a kind of permanent war, one that Americans had to fight all but alone because no one else agreed on such a broadly defined enemy. (Hezbollah and Hamas, for example, arguably had legitimate political aims that al-Qaida did not, which is one reason they distanced themselves from bin Laden.) In Obama’s view, only by focusing narrowly on true transnational terrorism, and winning back all of the natural allies that the United States had lost over the previous decade, could he achieve America’s goal of uniting the world around the goal of extinguishing al-Qaida.
Very quickly after taking the presidency he “reoriented the war back to where … it always belonged?”
Nonsense. In Iraq – the”dumb” war – Obama followed the Bush plan to the letter, not changing a thing. Nothing. It still continues down the Bush timeline.
In Afghanistan, where Obama said we should be fighting, he actually surged conventional troops, and not to hunt al-Qaeda. Instead the focus of the surge were the Taliban. Again, the same focus the Bush administration had and one upon which Obama doubled down. So much for that laserlike focus on al-Qaeda.
And unfortunately for Hirsh’s narrative, the focus on al-Qaeda was already in place and functioning when Obama took office. We immediately learned, upon hearing of bin Laden’s death, that the beginning threads of intelligence came from interrogations in secret CIA prisons 4 years ago. Prisons which no longer exist under Obama, nor would have existed had he been president on 9/11. Where was Mr. Obama 4 years ago?
We also know that during the Bush administration, our intelligence community was put through a major overhaul that has yielded much better, fresher and actionable intelligence – all of which Obama “inherited.” Drone strikes generated by fresh actionable intelligence didn’t start on Mr. Obama’s watch.
Finally, a robust Special Operations Force command was created by, oh my, the “dark knight” – Donald Rumsfeld.
At the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, special operations – Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets and Delta Force, and Air Force AC-130 gunships – were generally neglected. The previous Clinton administration had not called on them to go after bin Laden or his network.
All that changed under Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld: Green Berets led the initial invasion of Afghanistan. Joint Special Operations Command enlarged and expanded its manhunting skills worldwide. The Marine Corps created its first special forces command.
“We increased the size of special operations forces,” said former Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “We obviously increased their funding for new technical capabilities.”
One key move was to make Special Operations Command a “supported” command, not just one that did the bidding of other commands, but could plan and execute battles.
“Rumsfeld elevated special operations to where they had field command empowerment, which is something they never had before,” Mr. Hunter said. “We increased generally across the board the size and the capability of special operation commands. … We made them more robust than they were.”
Shocking, I know, but then the media cheerleaders have never been particularly concerned with facts and history when they have a narrative to peddle.
It was Bush and Rumsfeld who built the organization that eventually got bin Laden:
President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism translated into robust spending on what are affectionately called “snake eaters.”
Special Operations Command’s budget grew from $2.3 billion in 2001 to nearly $10 billion today. Manpower expanded from 45,500 to 61,500.
“It’s an order of magnitude better,” said Adm. Worthington. “The training these guys are getting, it’s 10 times what we were getting when I went through. They’re getting training right now that makes them the best in the world.”
And it’s first success in getting a high profile al-Qaeda member didn’t come last Sunday. It came in 2006, something I’m sure Mr. Hirsh would find an inconvenient fact:
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Joint Special Operations Command has teamed with aviation units, CIA officers and agents of the eavesdropping National Security Agency to form potent manhunting groups.
This fusion first gained wide public notice in 2006, when the command, then led by Army Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, hunted down Abu Musab Zarqawi, a particularly deadly al Qaeda terrorist in Iraq.
That is the “gun” Mr. Obama inherited from Mr. Bush. And it had been fired a number of times successfully well before Mr. Obama ever darkened the entrance to the Oval Office.
Oh, and Mr. Hirsh? Even the Obama White House isn’t buying your claptrap theory:
An Obama White House official told reporters that killing bin Laden was the result of years of work.
“This remarkable achievement could not have happened without persistent effort and careful planning over many years,” the official said. “Our national security professionals did a superb job.”
Yes, Mr. Hirsh, Obama got Osama – but he pulled the trigger of the gun built and loaded by the Bush administration, and whether you like it or not, there’s simply no question about that.
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This past weekend was the 6th Annual Milblog Conference. I attended and it was the best one yet. Our headliner was former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld and since I’d met him previously, I was asked to introduce him and facilitate the Q&A, which I was honored to do.
It was a fun 45 minutes as you’ll probably see if you’ve the time or desire to watch the whole thing. I start the questioning with the shakeup in the national security arena where Petraeus is going to CIA and Panetta going to SecDef. Secretary Rumsfeld reminded me that Ryan Crocker is also included in that as the new ambassador to Afghanistan.
He’s definitely right to point that out and it plays even more into the theory that we’re going to fight the war differently than we have. Petraeus and Crocker had a very tight relationship in Iraq and there’s no doubt in my mind that the relationship will be reestablished with Petraeus at CIA. It again emphasizes the probability of a more covert, SOF, “secret ninja” type of war in the future, vs. the way we’re waging it now.
And, with the demise of bin Laden, many are now going to call on us to pack up and leave claiming our mission is complete and encouraging us to turn Afghanistan over to the Afghanis to sort out. I see the pressure to do that building over the coming months (remember July is the month of the scheduled withdrawal from A’stan). About all that might dampen those cries is if al Qaeda strikes somewhere in retaliation for the bin Laden death (and I fully expect they will, however they may not mount any sort of reprisal in the next few months).
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I have to admit that when I received an invitation to have lunch with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld while I was in town for CPAC, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As with most public figures I’d seen him from afar through both the lens and filter of the national media. About 10 of us were invited in to meet and eat lunch with Sec. Rumsfeld and talk about his new book.
It included a group of pretty heavy hitters in the conservative sphere, including Conn Carroll of the Heritage Foundation, John Noonan and Mary Katherine Ham of the Weekly Standard, Matt Lewis late of AOL and now with the Daily Caller, Ed Morrissey of Hot Air, John Hinderaker of Powerline, Philip Klein of the American Spectator … and me (and yes, I was asking myself wtf am I doing here? The answer is a friend who managed to get me a seat at the table as a favor).
Sec. Rumsfeld arrived and immediately welcomed us and thanked us for joining him. He was gracious, engaging, humorous and both forthright and informative. The atmosphere was relaxed and convivial. It was an hour or so that seemed to fly by. Frankly I could have stayed there all day talking to the man – it was that enjoyable of a meeting. And hearing the history of events I had observed and written about first hand from one of the decision makers was, well, an incredible opportunity.
He was hit with all the questions one could imagine in that short time, but perhaps the one that I most appreciated was related to his offering to resign twice and President Bush refusing to accept either (as we all know, he did, in fact, tender his resignation a third time and it was accepted).
One of the resignations was offered after Abu Ghraib. You could tell, even now, that Sec. Rumsfeld was still both mad and upset about what had happened there, calling it “perverted”. It had a very negative impact on the image of the military, even if the perception was wrong and he was bothered by that.
He said that after the investigation he looked for someone he could hang it on because he felt someone had to take responsibility for what happened. But looking at the facts in the case there wasn’t really a single person in the chain of command he could validly point too and say “because of him or her, this happened”. He felt it left him no choice but to take responsibility himself. He was in charge, it happened on his watch, the damage was extensive and he thought he should fall on the sword and resign his position. President Bush refused to accept his resignation.
His point was about accountability, something he believes in strongly, but – as many of us have observed – no one seems to take very seriously anymore, especially in DC. He felt then and still does that he should have been the one to be held accountable for the Abu Ghraib fiasco. I thought that was pretty telling about the man and his sense of duty and honor.
Ed Morrissey has a lot more at Hot Air (Ed actually wrote his blog post as we sat there with Rumsfeld – Morrissey is a blogging machine) so be sure to give it a read.
After the meeting began breaking up (and I got my copy of his book signed), he spontaneously offered to take us around the office and show us the memorabilia he’d collected over the years. It was an incredibly impressive tour (picture on the right of yours truly and Ed Morrissey hearing Rumsfeld tell us about each item). This is a guy who has served numerous presidents in various capacities (to include two stints as SecDef) for decades. Additionally, he served as a Navy pilot before getting into public life.
Anyway, one of the pieces of memorabilia that really struck a chord with me was a mangled piece of metal. It was from the airliner that crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11. Rumsfeld had picked that up that day as he toured the damage, had it mounted and hung it on the wall in his office at the Pentagon so he could see it every day and be reminded of the job they had to do (you can see it below on the left– sorry for the photo quality, but you get the idea).
And while the meeting had a purpose, to publicize his new book, “Known and Unknown”, it was an event I’ll certainly not forget anytime soon. Later that day, Sec. Rumsfeld received the “Defender of the Constitution” award at CPAC. I think he’s very deserving of the award.
While there were some things I disagreed with him about during his tenure – and I’m certainly not here to pretend there weren’t problems during that time -I have to say my perception of the man changed significantly with this meeting. While I’ve had the book for a couple of days I’ve not had the opportunity to read it in full – only selected parts I was interested in for this meeting. And to all you folks who contributed questions, I apologize, I was only able to ask one and it concerned the “you go to war with the Army you have” comment and the fall out. When I brought it up, he laughed, pointed at me and said, “you’d better not say that in public, you might get in trouble”.
I’m looking forward to reading the book … I feel in know the era and events pretty intimately from the time I spent studying and writing about them. It’s going to be very interesting to read his version (with almost 100 pages of source notes) that was 4 years in the writing. I’ll be sure to post a review here when I finish.
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Two points: Headed out on the road for DC, so light blogging today and possibly tomorrow.
Point two: will be having a lunch meeting (along with other bloggers) with former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld who published his book yesterday (Known and Unknown).
Save the snark and sarcasm for another time – if there are any serious questions about his time as SecDef you’d like for me to ask, put them in the comment section. Serious stuff only – like I said, limited time for me, so I’d prefer not to have to wade through other stuff. But this is QandO, it is a libertarian site, and I do know the strong anti-authoritarian streak that most of us have, so I’m not entirely hopeful … heh.
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