Commentary: George Bush Did Not Get Bin Laden, Obama Did

Commentary: George Bush Did Not Get Bin Laden, Obama Did

President Obama and his team deserve the credit for taking out the mastermind behind 9/11

Published May 1, 2012

Sometimes I think Americans have no long-term memory.


This week marks the one-year anniversary of the brave Seal Team 6 raid that captured and killed Osama Bin Laden. It was a defining moment in Barack Obama's presidency and proved his mettle as a strong leader in a national security crisis.


A few months ago, Vice President Joe Biden announced a witty but unofficial slogan for the president's re-election campaign: "Osama Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive." The slogan testifies to Obama's success in foreign policy and domestic policy.


Then, last week, the Obama campaign released a campaign ad highlighting the president's Bin Laden decision and comparing his approach to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who famously argued in 2004, "It’s not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person."


But now some critics are trying to deny Obama the achievement of taking out Bin Laden, suggesting that the Obama administration is playing politics around the war on terror. The arguments range from minimizing Obama's decision (any leader would have done what Obama did), to mitigating his level of involvement (President Bush actually deserves credit for leading the effort), to questioning the propriety of taking credit for his decision (it's unseemly for Obama to mention this).


The critics are flat-out wrong.


First, it's not true that any president would have made the decision that Obama did. It was a courageous call that could have gone wrong at any turn. If the intelligence information had been wrong, if Bin Laden hadn't been there, or if American soldiers would have been killed, the mission might have turned into a disaster. Remember what happened to President Jimmy Carter after he authorized a raid that failed to rescue the hostages in Iran.


Given the potential for failure in this case, the easiest course of action for any president in Obama's shoes would have been to launch a missile strike against Bin Laden's compound with no possibility of U.S. casualties, but Obama chose not to take that route and instead opted for a daring night time mission that would kill and capture the Al Qaeda leader and prove to the world that he was actually dead.


Second, this was Obama's decision, not Bush's. Yes, perhaps Bush deserves some small credit for rallying Americans against terrorism and leading the initial effort ten years earlier, but that hardly translates into Obama's decision to launch the raid that actually took out Bin Laden. After all, if the Bin Laden mission had failed, would Bush have received the blame as well? No, they would have blamed Obama.


It's funny how the same critics who've spent the past three years denying that George W. Bush had any responsibility for anything that's gone wrong in this county are now quick to distribute credit to him for one thing that Bush clearly wasn't around to do. I don't think they want to go there.


Do they not remember the controversial 5-4 Supreme Court decision that gave Bush the election, the infamous August 2011 memo to Bush that Osama Bin Laden was "determined to strike" in the U.S., or the false claims of weapons of mass destruction that led us to a totally unrelated war in Iraq? Do they not remember the Hurricane Katrina debacle, the tax cuts for the wealthy in the midst of two wars, and the inevitable collapse of the financial industry that led to the worst recession since the Great Depression? All that happened under George W. Bush's watch and the Obama haters are loathe to remember it.


This leads me to the third argument against President Obama taking credit for killing Bin Laden. Critics claim it's unseemly for the president to politicize the killing of Bin Laden because it somehow exploits the tragedy of Sept. 11.


Are you kidding me?


The same people who used controversial images of the Sept. 11 attacks to justify Bush's 2004 re-election are now worried about politicizing the capture of the person who actually caused the tragedy? This from the party that gave us Rudy Giuliani, who Biden ridiculed in 2008, "there's only three things he mentions in a sentence — a noun and a verb and 9/11." Republicans from John McCain to George W. Bush have done nothing but exploit 9/11 for the past decade, and if they had caught Bin Laden they surely would not have stopped.


As Andrew Sullivan wrote recently, "If George Bush had taken out Bin Laden, wiped out al Qaeda’s leadership, and gathered a treasure trove of real intelligence by a daring raid, he’d be on Mount Rushmore by now."


But George Bush did not get Bin Laden. And it's not clear that Mitt Romney would have gotten him either. Yet Barack Obama did. And for that, he and his team deserve the credit.



Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes political commentary for each week.


The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


BET Politics - Your source for the latest news, photos and videos illuminating key issues and personalities in African-American political life, plus commentary from some of our liveliest voices. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

Written by Keith Boykin


Latest in news