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Why Bush and McCain let Osama bin Laden Escape

The answer is clear. Read on.

Why Bush and McCain let Osama bin Laden Escape

[originally written in October 2006, revised July 2008]

Recent revelations have made it sadly clear that the Bush Administration betrayed U.S. efforts at finding Osama Bin Laden.  The question now is why.

In an August 2006 CNN documentary entitled, "In the Footsteps of Bin Laden," the CIA agent in charge of pursuing bin Laden in the months following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Gary Berntsen, described the Battle of Tora Bora.  Using intercepted radio transmissions, the CIA and Afghan forces had by December 2001 cornered bin Laden among the mountains of Tora Bora.  But to capture Bin Laden, who knows these rugged mountains well, the U.S. needed more troops in the area.

"In the first two or three days of December, I would write a message back to Washington recommending the insertion of U.S. forces on the ground," said Agent Berntsen.  "I was looking for 600 to 800 Rangers, roughly a battalion. They never came."

According to Berntsen, "There were more American journalists than American soldiers at the battle of Tora Bora, and that fact kind of speaks for itself."  According to Afghan militia leader, General Mohamed Zahir, there were no more than sixty American soldiers on the ground at Tora Bora.

December 2001 was the last time U.S. forces got a good look at Bin Laden.  According to a Washington Post story in September 2006, the United States obtained a videotape of bin Laden apparently walking away from Tora Bora in Dec. 2001 towards Pakistan.  The Post also reported that, according to Flynt L. Leverett (a former Middle East expert at the National Security Council), two months after Tora Bora, the Bush Administration called off the hunt for bin Laden in order to prepare for the invasion of Iraq.

U.S. progressives have asserted two things about the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  First, the invasion drained resources from the search for bin Laden.  This is ludicrous.  The United States, the largest economy in the world with the most powerful military, could have easily dedicated enough resources to continue hunting Bin Laden and any five other terrorist leaders even as it funded the Iraq War.

The Bush Administration willfully and purposefully cut off the resources needed to capture bin Laden not because it wanted to save taxpayers a few hundred million or even a few billion dollars.  The value of capturing Bin Laden in the months after September 11 would have been priceless to the people of America.  So why did the Bush Administration let Bin Laden go?

Progressives also assert that the Bush Administration lied to the American people in order to convince us to invade Iraq.  One lie was the implication that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.  The other lie was that Saddam Hussein was working directly with Osama bin Laden on terror attacks.  Here, the progressives’ assessment is accurate.

And therein we find one possible answer to why the hunt for bin Laden was called off.  The Bush Administration had implemented an elaborate media and political campaign to argue that Saddam Hussein posed an immediate threat to U.S. security.  Through these campaigns, the anxiety of the American people was jacked up to levels not reached since September 11.  Both bin Laden and Saddam were out to get us, we concluded, and with nuclear weapons.

Imagine what would have happened to Americans’ anxiety and fear, if it was Osama bin Laden who’d been found in some spider-hole, not Saddam.  Americans would have wanted the nation to take a wait-and-see approach to Iraq.  The urgency to "retaliate" against Iraq for September 11 would have disappeared.  The supposed Saddam-Osama connection would have evaporated. Americans, with their final strands of common sense intact, would have asked, why do we have to invade Iraq if we’ve captured Osama Bin Laden?  Wasn’t he the one we were after, not Saddam?

Capturing bin Laden would have deflated the desire of most Americans to invade Iraq.

Capturing bin Laden was the greatest single threat to the planned invasion of Iraq.  Success in the war on terror would have mortally wounded the drive to invade Iraq.  

Sadly, this scenario – the capture of bin Laden deflating the movement to invade Iraq – was not allowed to play out, and instead the converse took place: the invasion and occupation of Iraq has proven a mortal blow to the success of the war on terror.

It does not take classified information or conversations with CIA agents to see that the war on terror was terribly and unnecessarily compromised.  If the Bush Administration had granted the military and CIA in Afghanistan any substantial fraction of the material and diplomatic resources dedicated to the Iraq invasion, Osama bin Laden would probably be sitting in a Guantánamo cell right now.  

The war on terror was not gutted in order to provide the resources necessary to invade Iraq.   Plenty of money, diplomatic resources, and intelligence resources were available to continue the hunt for Bin Laden and invade Iraq.  

President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain (a chief architect of the Iraq invasion) could have argued for this option.  Republican political fall guys could have produced false information in order to promote this two-pronged approach.
Instead, Bush and McCain Administration quietly put the hunt for Bin Laden on the back burner while ramping up the misinformation and propaganda necessary to invade Iraq.

Why?  The only logical answer is that the Bush Administration needed Bin Laden to remain hidden, a constant source of fear, anxiety and animosity to spur Americans to support anything that the President has labeled a battle in the war on terror, even if that war on terror ensured that the world’s deadliest terrorist could continue his violent work.

Osama bin Laden’s continued existence allows for a never-ending war on terror – against Iraq, Iran, Syria, Palestine and so forth – that never actually captures the chief terrorist and mastermind of the September 11 terror attacks.  That man that Republicans must not find.  Shhh.  Don’t say his name.  

Irwin Tang is the author of Gook: John McCain's Racism and Why It Matters.

Originally posted to Irwin Tang on Thu Jul 03, 2008 at 11:01 AM PDT.

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