Who's to Credit for the Bin Laden Raid?

In the aftermath of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, two debates that go back to the Bush administration have roared back into the public discussion: the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques and the effectiveness of the Bush Doctrine. While people on both sides argue about these two issues, most have reached their conclusions too quickly and have glossed over the facts they do not know or that do not gel with their argument. On both topics, the truth is it may be impossible to definitively tell who is right and who is wrong.

”Enhanced Interrogations” Did or Did Not Help Catch Bin Laden

There have been articles stating that the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used during the Bush administration helped catch bin Laden, and others stating that these techniques did not help.  The reality of the situation is far more complex, however.

To start, 99.999% of the American people do not have the information to indicate whether these interrogations were critical to capturing bin Laden, and this information may not become public for decades. Unless you have TS/SCI clearance, permission to go through the files, and hundreds (if not thousands) of hours to spend sifting through this information, you may never know which pieces of intelligence led to bin Laden’s capture.

But even if you did have information that said that “enhanced interrogations” helped, it’s important to distinguish how important they really were. When most Americans think of intelligence, they have the image of Fox’s hit television show, 24, in which Jack Bauer continues to follow the answers in a linear manner until he reaches the “the truth”. In real life, however, intelligence is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You try and connect pieces together until you can see what the information reveals. It’s impossible now (and unlikely in the future) that we could nail down what pieces of information were most critical in finding bin Laden. In addition, information gathered that we deem as critical may have only led to us catching bin Laden now instead of, say, six months from now.

The Killing of bin Laden is or is not an Endorsement of the Bush Doctrine

It’s impossible to pare down exactly what is meant by the “Bush Doctrine," but here we will say that it is the right of the U.S. to take the measures necessary against terrorist groups, those that harbor them, and those that present a direct threat to the United States. This includes the military actions taken in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, and while questions about Iraq’s importance before the invasion certainly do exist, the importance of these countries in America’s view of the war on terror is unquestionable.

Many have praised Obama’s continuing some of the policies of the Bush administration, believing this led to the capture of bin Laden. Some have argued that the killing proves the value of the Bush Doctrine, and others have argued that these issues are entirely separate.

The Bush Doctrine in theory was critical to the capture of bin Laden, as the raid into Pakistan was a clear incursion of the sovereignty of another nation. However, the importance of capturing bin Laden took a back seat in the Bush administration, and under Bush, the CIA closed the bin Laden desk.  Iraq also muddles the utility of the Bush Doctrine in regards to bin Laden. Iraq has played a key role in what people view as the Bush Doctrine, and in fact was at the center of the argument over it until 2009. Despite its greater importance over the length of the Bush administration, Iraq seems to have played no role in the intelligence gathered about bin Laden.

On the other hand, it is wrong not to give Bush some credit for this raid, and Obama doesn't deserve all of the credit. It was Bush who first initiated strikes into Pakistan and made this an accepted practice. Under Bush's watch, U.S. Armed Forces and Intelligence Services pushed bin Laden into hiding in Abbottabad four years ago. It is also not clear if terminating the bin Laden desk hindered the investigation into bin Laden’s whereabouts, nor is it known if Obama’s emphasis on finding bin Laden was important in eventually leading to his discovery or if these two events are simply corollaries. This means that neither the Bush doctrine nor Obama’s policies that deviate from Bush’s foreign policy give a clear answer as to who gets the credit for the strategy that led to bin Laden’s death.

So what’s my opinion on these issues? While each side may have their own facts, there is no way I believe anyone can say with any certainty which side of the dispute on either of these questions is correct. This is not to take away from the important ramifications of these question or the moral/political views of those who take a side. But before we use bin Laden’s death to wave our own political flags of victory, let’s take a moment to view all of what we know and recognize there are no definitive answers on either issue.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Andrew Pasternak

Originally from Baltimore, MD, I graduated from Georgetown University in 2009 with a BA in History and a minor in Government. I recently returned from living in London, United Kingdom, having completed my MA in Intelligence and Security Studies at Brunel University. While maintaining a deep interest in domestic politics, my main areas of focus are defense, intelligence, and foreign policy.

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