By Cheri Jacobus - 05/12/11 11:31 PM EDT
Deep inside a campaign bunker somewhere in Chicago, one David Axelrod has been thanking his lucky stars for enhanced interrogation methods derided by President Obama and the left and allowed by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and is secretly relieved the Pakistanis didn’t capture Osama bin Laden and hand him over to the U.S.
For all of his justified harrumphing about Pakistan’s likely role in hiding and protecting the world’s most wanted terrorist, President Obama is politically lucky Pakistan was unable or unwilling to capture bin Laden and deliver him to the U.S. It was better all the way ’round — for all of us — that he was found and killed by U.S. special operations forces.
The president deserves our praise and gratitude for bringing the full force, strength and rectitude of the United States military and intelligence community down on Osama bin Laden, taking him out cleanly, without the loss of a single American life. It could not have been an easy time for any president, and due to the resolve of President Obama we can all now exhale a little bit for the first time in nearly a decade, since the Twin Towers fell.
But it is also true this Obama victory could not have been possible without the policies of former President Bush, and would have been impossible under the policies of President Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder — a fact that has, as yet, been largely ignored by the media. Not only is it now well-documented that enhanced interrogation methods employed while Bush was president and opposed by Obama extracted information that led directly to Osama bin Laden, but Obama’s plans to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his cohorts in U.S. civilian court rather than military tribunals have also been deep-sixed. Opposition to the plan came from all corners: Congress, 9/11 families, military experts and the public. When the Obama administration backed down from the civilian-trial notion very recently, on April 4 — mere weeks before the raid in Abbottabad that killed bin Laden — it laid the blame squarely at the feet of Congress. No one blinked, and there was no reason to — then. But now it would seem the more likely reason for the policy reversal was the president’s secret knowledge he was only weeks away from snaring the terror chief. He needed to be less Barney Fife and more commander in chief.
In any scenario, tribunals rather than civilian trials needed to be the established, accepted policy, even if it means tossing aside his own promise and reverting to Bush-Cheney-era practices. Hypocritical? You bet. But it was the right thing to do.
Osama bin Laden could have been captured by the U.S. and brought to trial — a civilian trial, just like Obama and Holder touted. The drama would have played out daily between now and the 2012 elections, with jury selection, depositions and testimony taking place alongside presidential debates, campaign speeches and rallies. It’s far more likely Obama would prefer the Osama kill be a talking point on the campaign trail, rather than an ongoing or pending Osama civilian trial being the only thing anyone could talk about and making the president look very soft indeed. Obama would have to stand by his policies in real time or kick them to the curb, face the music and answer — or artfully dodge — the questions. Additionally, congressional Democrats and candidates would shoulder the burden of either renouncing the Obama/Holder policies or swallowing hard and agreeing with them, risking their own political fortunes in the process. With so many congressional Democrats falling on their sword for ObamaCare in the 2010 elections, it would be a much harder sell to garner support, let alone enthusiasm, for yet another disastrous Obama policy with such grave consequences.
At some point, after the dust settles somewhat and the president has dealt with international reaction and sentiment over the successful kill of bin Laden, he will have to explain the true reasons for his reversals, admitting that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were right and that he and his attorney general were dead wrong. And he will have to own it.
Jacobus, president of Capitol Strategies PR, has managed congressional campaigns, worked on Capitol Hill and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. She appears on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News as a GOP strategist.