In today’s edition of the Washington Post (5/2/11), Dan Balz puts forth what is probably going to be a popular theme in the coverage of the killing of Osama bin Laden: that catching the Al-Qaeda leader was a top concern of both the Bush and Obama administrations.
Bush put down the marker not long after the September 11 attacks, saying he wanted bin Laden “dead or alive.” That was taken as a sign of cowboy swagger by a Texan president by some of his critics, but it was a reflection of the absolute importance that he and much of the nation attached to bringing to justice the man responsible for the worst terrorist attack on the homeland in the history of the nation….
Bin Laden eluded Bush and his team, to their regret, but not for lack of trying. Bush’s persistence was palpable and set the tone for the intelligence community tasked with bringing bin Laden to justice. Obama picked up on that commitment when he came into office and redoubled efforts to defeat Al-Qaeda and kill bin Laden.
To cite just one memorable moment that this account overlooks, Bush declared in March 2002:
Who knows if he’s hiding in some cave or not. We haven’t heard from him in a long time. The idea of focusing on one person really indicates to me people don’t understand the scope of the mission. Terror is bigger than one person. He’s just a person who’s been marginalized…. I don’t know where he is. I really just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you.
Steve Benen at Washington Monthly gathers the rest of the evidence of the Bush administration’s less than “palpable” pursuit, including:
In July 2006, we learned that the Bush administration closed its unit that had been hunting bin Laden.
In September 2006, Bush told Fred Barnes, one of his most sycophantic media allies, that an “emphasis on bin Laden doesn’t fit with the administration’s strategy for combating terrorism.”