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Republicans Do a Reverse Bin Laden on Bergdahl

June 8, 2014

They were for it before they were against it. Current and would-be GOP members of Congress tweeted their praise for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl before deleting the evidence. Among others, Arizona Senator and failed 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain declared he would be "inclined to support" the very kind of prisoner exchange with the Taliban before changing his mind about a deal he knew about at least since February.
If this latest conservative Obama-bashing seems vaguely familiar, it should. The right-wing rage over Bergdahl is just like the Republican reaction to President Obama's 2011 killing of Osama Bin Laden, just in reverse. That is, after having spent the 2008 presidential campaign attacking candidate Barack Obama for pledging to launch unilateral American strikes against Bin Laden and Al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan, Republican leaders after the fact declared "any commander in chief would have done in the same situation."
As you'll recall, during his first run for president then Senator Barack Obama explained what leadership in the war against Al Qaeda looked like. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act," Obama declared on August 1, 2007 of Bin Laden's fighters safely ensconced in Pakistan, "we will." He repeated that promise in July 2008:

"The greatest threat to that security lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train and insurgents strike into Afghanistan. We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as President, I won't. We need a stronger and sustained partnership between Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO to secure the border, to take out terrorist camps, and to crack down on cross-border insurgents...We must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights."

But is precisely what President Bush and would-have-been Republican Presidents John McCain and Mitt Romney insisted they would not do. We know this, because they told us so.
On October 21, 2008, Sarah Palin blasted Senator Obama for "having advocated sending our U.S. military into Pakistan without the approval of the Pakistani government, invading the sovereign territory of a troubled partner in the war against terrorism." Of course, she was just following orders from her running mate, John McCain.
During his failed run for the Oval Office, Senator McCain declared that "I know how to win wars." And when it came to catching the mastermind behind the slaughter of 3,000 people on September 11, 2001, McCain boasted, "We will do it, I know how to do it." As he repeatedly promised:

"We will do whatever is necessary. We will track him down. We will capture him. We will bring him to justice, and I will follow him to the gates of Hell."

But as it turned out, the gates of Hell were located in Abbottabad, Pakistan. And John McCain was too afraid to go there and do what was necessary.
In 2003 and 2004, McCain proclaimed, "Nobody in Afghanistan threatens the United States of America" and "Afghanistan, we don't read about anymore, because it's succeeded." Throughout the 2008 campaign, Senator McCain insisted that, unlike Senator Obama, he would not "take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights," as this exchange with CNN's Larry King revealed:

KING: If you were president and knew that bin Laden was in Pakistan, you know where, would you have U.S. forces go in after him?
MCCAIN: Larry, I'm not going to go there and here's why, because Pakistan is a sovereign nation. I think the Pakistanis would want bin Laden out of their hair and out of their country and it's causing great difficulties in Pakistan itself.

In February 2008, John McCain blasted Obama's hard line on Al Qaeda's safe havens again:

"Will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested invading our ally, Pakistan?"

Obama, of course, had said no such thing. Nevertheless, McCain was joined in his criticism by the man he wanted to succeed, President George W. Bush. Asked by Chris Wallace of Fox News in February 2008 if "voters know enough about him," Bush replied:

"I certainly don't know what he believes in. The only foreign policy thing I remember he said was he's going to attack Pakistan."

While he began to ramp up the use of drones in the final year of presidency, Bush refused to send U.S. forces across the border into the tribal areas of Pakistan to go after Bin Laden and other terrorist targets. In 2005, his Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cancelled a U.S. special forces operation designed to "snatch and grab" Ayman Al Zawahiri and other senior Al Qaeda leaders. The revelation, following July 2006 revelations that the CIA had previously disbanded its Bin Laden unit, gave lie to one of the central tenets of the so-called Bush Doctrine: no safe havens for terrorists. As the New York Times reported in July 2007, Rumsfeld ran roughshod over then CIA Director Porter Goss, scuttling the mission at the last moment even as the U.S. forces were boarding planes for the assault. Americans could be forgiven for taking President Bush at his word after Bin Laden escaped from Tora Bora in early 2002:

"So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you...I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him."

Bush's brain, Karl Rove, became very concerned about Bin Laden, but only after President Barack Obama ordered the mission that killed him.

As for the killing of Osama bin Laden, Mr. Obama did what virtually any commander in chief would have done in the same situation. Even President Bill Clinton says in the film "I hope that's the call I would have made." For this to be portrayed as the epic achievement of the first term tells you how bare the White House cupboards are.

President Obama's 2012 opponent, Mitt Romney, said much the same thing. Romney brushed off Obama's achievement in an interview with MSNBC's Chuck Todd:

"I think in a setting like this one where Osama bin Laden was identified to be hiding in Pakistan, that it was entirely appropriate for this president to move in and to take him out," Romney replied, later adding that "In a similar circumstance, I think other presidents and other candidates, like myself, would do exactly the same thing."

Alas, during his first bid for the presidency, Mitt Romney made clear that a candidate like himself would not do exactly the same thing:

"I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours... I don't think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort..."There is a war being waged by terrorists of different types and nature across the world," Romney said. "We want, as a civilized world, to participate with other nations in this civilized effort to help those nations reject the extreme with them."

To put it another way, they were against it before they were for it, the reverse of their posture now in the Bergdahl case. So then as now, the GOP's best and brightest simply pretended their embarrassing 180 degree turn never happened.


About

Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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