The Bush Administration, and the Killing of Osama bin Laden

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on May 5, 2011

David Mark, of Politico’s “Arena” asked whether George W. Bush should have accepted President Obama’s invitation to attend ceremonies at Ground Zero today. The question and possible answers should have been straightforward, but of course, some people chose to use the occasion for yet more Bush-bashing. My response can be found here. I trust that my impatience with some of the answers shines through.

The arguments continue to rage as to how much credit the Bush Administration should get for the process that led to bin Laden’s killing. I am sure that this observation will deeply upset those for whom hating George W. Bush is their raison d’être, but as Paul Miller notes, a considerable amount of credit should in fact go to the 43rd President and his team, as well as other predecessors of President Obama:

Covert action is authorized by a Presidential Finding. Findings are rare; more often, presidents sign Memoranda of Notification (MON) to further extend or modify an existing Finding. That is why to find the relevant finding behind the Abbottabad strike, we have to go all the way back to one signed in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. The 1986 Finding describes the basic authorities for covert worldwide counterterrorism action by the military and intelligence community. The Finding was signed concurrently with the birth of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC), and finally started the slow gears of American bureaucracy churning against terrorists across the globe. Reagan was the first to make fighting terrorism official U.S. policy. (See Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars).

President Bill Clinton signed a number of MONs further extending counterterrorism authorities, several specifically targeted at al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden, according to the 9/11 Commission Report and Ghost Wars. The military and intelligence community designed several operations to either kill or capture bin Laden several times in the late 90s. Clinton was the first to make fighting al-Qaida U.S. policy.

President George W. Bush dramatically expanded the counterterrorism authorities with an expansive MON signed shortly after 9/11 (detailed in Woodward’s Bush At War). The authorities enabled intelligence operatives and special operations forces to embed with the Afghan Northern Alliance and overthrow the Taliban in 2001 (see Gary Schroen’s First In and Gary Berntsen’s Jawbreaker). They also eventually gave birth to the rumored drone program (here is a fascinating website that attempts to track the rumored done strikes). But the drones are relevant for Abbottabad not because of their missiles, but because of their cameras and sensors; they’ve helped build up years and years of data about militants which analysts have been able to mine for the smallest detail, crucial in the hunt for bin Laden.

Perhaps most directly relevant for the road to Abbottabad, Bush made a few key changes to the counterterrorism programs in 2008. Frustrated by years of stalemate, he expanded the authorized target list, began to approve missions without prior Pakistani approval, and also authorized ground incursions into Pakistan to pursue al-Qaida. (see Bob Woodward, Obama’s Wars, Chapter 1).Abbottabad was not the first widely-reported Navy SEAL incursion into Pakistan. Bush authorized a raid on the town of Angor Adda in September 2008 in pursuit of al-Qaida targets. The raid went poorly — it was undertaken during Ramadan, when civilians were awake and feasting at night-Pakistani officials lashed out, and ground incursions were halted. But the precedent was set.

Via InstaPundit, still more evidence that the Bush Administration should share in the credit:

As President Obama celebrates the signature national-security success of his tenure, he has a long list of people to thank. On the list: George W. Bush.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bush waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have forged a military so skilled that it carried out a complicated covert raid with only a minor complication. Public tolerance for military operations over the past decade has shifted to the degree that a mission carried out deep inside a sovereign country has raised little domestic protest.

And a detention and interrogation system that Obama once condemned as contrary to American values produced one early lead that, years later, brought U.S. forces to the high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and a fatal encounter with an unarmed Osama bin Laden.

But the bridge connecting the two administrations has also led Obama to the same contested legal terrain over how to fight against stateless enemies and whether values should be sacrificed in the pursuit of security.

“We in the Obama administration absolutely benefitted from an enormous body of work and effort that went into understanding al-Qaeda and pursuing bin Laden,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.

All of these are inconvenient truths for those who want to believe that the plan to kill Osama bin Laden sprang unadorned from the brow of Barack Obama. But they are truths nonetheless. President Obama certainly deserves a significant share of credit for the fact that Osama bin Laden no longer walks the Earth. But so do a number of his predecessors, including and most especially his most recent predecessor.

  • http://noompa.wordpress.com/ Ben

    Hmm. You seem to be pretty upset over something that seems insubstantial. I haven’t heard anyone claim that the plan to kill OBL “sprang unadorned from the brow of Barack Obama”. And people have been pointing out how little Bush contributed to capturing OBL, true. But I think it’s entirely in response to other people trying to avoid giving Obama due credit for his accomplishment. For example, Fox News’ website carrying a picture of Bush instead of Obama with the announcement.

    Another example would be your column. You don’t mention the two most salient facts regarding Bin Laden hunting efforts: that Bush shuttered the CIA unit dedicated to finding Bin Laden in 2006, and that Obama directed the CIA in June of 2009 to determine a plan to get Bin Laden. Seems a little more pertinent than Reagan counterterrorism programs.

    Of course people are going to point stuff like this out. I contend that you haven’t seen any commentary which gives Obama all the credit at the expense of other administrations, or that bashes Bush without responding to previous commentary which tries to give him undue credit. If you have, then by all means, post the links.

    As to the substance of the contribution by previous administrations, a lot of it is a stretch. Of course it’s true that current administrations rely to a large extent on the efforts of their predecessors, but this argument has a tendency to come and go. Were you praising Clinton for the excellent military he left Bush, which was able to launch extremely rapid and effective operations in Afghanistan and Iraq? And if you’re going to praise Reagan for setting up broad counter-terror units within the CIA, why not praise Roosevelt for setting up the OSS? Their contributions are the same: setting up the institutional framework in which later administrations conducted anti-terror policy.

    It seems like the most accurate thing you can say is that Obama used the institutional framework left by previous administrations in a determined and coordinated way to catch Bin Laden. But public discourse doesn’t work like that; we don’t usually credit previous administrations with setting up the framework that later administrations use to conduct policy; we didn’t praise Clinton when our armies destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq, we praised Bush. So we say, “Obama caught Bin Laden.” Pointing out how Bush contributed to the causal chain of catching him is the same as pointing out how Clinton, or Reagan, or Kennedy, or Roosevelt did so.

    • Pejman Yousefzadeh

      The post provides plenty of information with which to conclude that the Bush
      Administration should share in the credit. Obama himself said that the work
      leading to the killing of bin Laden stretched out over a period of ten
      years. If you disagree, that is your business, but you can’t plausibly claim
      that there is not significant evidence for such a contention. Or did Nancy
      Pelosi thank President Bush for no reason whatsoever?

      • http://noompa.wordpress.com/ Ben

        I didn’t say Bush shouldn’t get any credit; he left an institutional apparatus that Obama utilized to get OBL. My point is that the kind of credit the Bush administration should get is the same kind of credit the Clinton etc. administrations should get; additionally, this kind of credit is the kind of credit that previous administrations should get when the US military performs exceptionally well.
        In other words, my point is that the “considerable amount of credit” you and the authors you quote think is due doesn’t hold up. It’s proper to acknowledge the groundwork laid by previous administrations, but we usually don’t. It’s uncommon to credit a previous administration when the military performs well (for example, you probably weren’t giving Clinton credit for the way the military performed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I certainly don’t remember Bush doing so). That Obama and Pelosi did acknowledge Bush admin. efforts is commendable. But I don’t see anything wrong with saying “Obama caught bin Laden” without mentioning previous administrations, or with saying that Bush deserves as much credit as Clinton, Reagan etc. on down to Roosevelt. Also, just saying “there’s enough information in my post to support my conclusion” is asinine. I’m claiming that the evidence you cite doesn’t support your conclusion. Pointing out you have evidence in response doesn’t get you anywhere.

        • Pejman Yousefzadeh

          If you are wondering why there wasn’t a similar debate when Saddam Hussein was ousted, it is because no one was saying at the same time “the Clinton Administration totally failed to get Saddam.” This isn’t just about acknowledging the work done by a previous Administration, it is about pushing back against a meme that says “Obama succeeded, but Bush completely failed.” As for what I write about the information in my post, I am stating–and will continue to state–that there is plenty of information in my post to support the notion that the Bush Administration deserves appreciable and considerable credit for having helped bring about the death of Osama bin Laden. If you disagree, then I guess we are just going to have to leave it at that, but I am not merely stating that I have evidence in response. I am also stating that the evidence I provide should properly be found compelling.

          • http://noompa.wordpress.com/ Ben

            “Pushing back against ‘Obama succeeded, but Bush completely failed’ meme” – present evidence of meme. See above.

            “I am also stating that the evidence I provide should properly be found compelling” – This isn’t something that can be asserted. You also have to give reasons. It’s called rational thought. I’m saying that your evidence can all be boiled down to “Bush provided an institutional structure which Obama used to get bin Laden”. Nearly every president before Bush back to at least Roosevelt probably deserves the same amount of credit for setting up or preserving that institutional structure. Call this claim one.

            Claim two: in similar circumstances, no one worries about crediting previous administrations. My example: previous administrations are heavily responsible for how the military performs in the subsequent time period. Clinton was heavily responsible for the troops’ masterful performances in Afghanistan in 01-02 and on the march to Baghdad in March in 03. Yet I have not heard Bush nor any right-winger give Clinton the credit he deserves for that.

            Claim one (Bush deserves the same amount of credit as past presidents since the 30s) plus claim two (in similar situations, no one cares about giving past administrations credit for current accomplishments by the military) equals my argument: that giving Bush his due credit is massively overhyped and ahistorical and probably driven by partisan politics.

            That is what I’ve argued. Hopefully you can see how “I am also stating that the evidence I provide should properly be found compelling” is not an answer to this.

          • Pejman Yousefzadeh

            I am sure you enjoy being condescending, but try doing so with substance backing up your sarcasm. I have stated a claim, and provided evidence for it both in my post, and in comments. Whether you choose to find that evidence compelling is up to you, but thus far, you have chosen to combat it with snide remarks, and little else. I am well aware of what rational thought is–thank you for the overbearing arrogance in seeking to discourse on the subject, but in trying to sound haughty, you really only serve to sound laughable. Your comments that other Presidents have provided institutional structures with which successors achieve laudable goals does not detract from the need to recognize predecessors for providing those institutional structures, and give them due credit for doing so. And your comment that no one worries about crediting previous administrations–along with the examples you provide–do not apply here, since what we have is not just an absence of credit, but the presence of a meme, pushed by people like Sullivan (whose words you choose to misinterpret before lecturing others on the need to exercise rational thought) that states that Obama was competent, and achieved his goals despite the supposed “criminal incompetence” of the Bush Administration.
            Hopefully, you can see why your excess of words do not constitute an argument which is an answer to this. (See? I can be condescending too. Now, are we going to have a civilized discussion, or are you going to continue to try to cop an attitude in order to make yourself seem intimidating in debate?)

          • http://noompa.wordpress.com/ Ben

            Of course I’m going to be condescending. I’ve had to say the same thing three times before you actually engage with my arguments.

            Me: Bush’s contributions are no more important than every president’s since Roosevelt’s, and public discourse never recognizes the past contributions to current success in the manner in which your post praises Bush, Clinton and Reagan.

            You: The post provides plenty of information. If you disagree that’s your business.

            Me: Bush’s contributions are no more important than every president’s since Roosevelt’s, and public discourse never recognizes the past contributions to current success in the manner in which your post praises Bush, Clinton and Reagan.

            You: This isn’t just about acknowledging the work done by a previous Administration, it is about pushing back against a meme that says “Obama succeeded, but Bush completely failed.” There is plenty of information in my post to support giving Bush substantial credit. If you disagree, leave it at that.

            Me: Meme argument dealt with above (ie, provide evidence for it). Bush’s contributions are no more important than every president’s since Roosevelt’s, and public discourse never recognizes the past contributions to current success in the manner in which your post praises Bush, Clinton and Reagan.You: If Bush provided institutional structures, along with previous presidents, we should still give them due credit. Also, it’s important to give credit in this instance even though we don’t usually because of this pervasive meme that Bush doesn’t deserve any credit.

            Only in your most recent post did you do anything that can be called engaging with my arguments. And what did you say? To claim one, that Bush’s contributions aren’t any greater than any other president’s, you say fine, but they should still all be given credit. That’s obviously answered by my second claim: that this never happens in public discourse. Thanks for not considering my arguments together.

            To my second claim, you plead special circumstances: that a ravenous pack of “more lefty bloggers than you can shake a stick at” is trying to deny Bush any credit whatsoever for helping to get bin Laden. Ultimately, you’re doubling down on your ability to provide evidence of this onslaught of people trying to deny Bush credit. Fine. Provide examples of this pervasive conspiracy to deny Bush credit. But if you cannot, then not only are you just making up the activities of your partisan opponents, but you’re also trying to spin the contributions of past administrations in order to lessen the Obama admin’s achievement.

          • Pejman Yousefzadeh

            I actually did engage your arguments, and provided Sullivan’s exaggerations regarding the Bush Administration’s supposed history to show how he seeks to deny the Bush Administration credit of any kind for the fact that bin Laden is dead. You just tried to be snotty in your comments, and refused to admit the plain meaning of Sullivan’s comments. I appreciate the fact that you admit that you were snotty, and I hope that you will appreciate the fact that I think life is too short to engage snotty arguments. Next time you want to comment on my posts, remember that you are playing in someone else’s forum. I don’t mind disagreements, but I try to keep the tone respectful here. Try cooperating, instead of being gratuitously insulting.

          • http://noompa.wordpress.com/ Ben

            Let’s see. I had to repeat my claims about past administrations and norms in public discourse three times before you would give any semblance of an argument in response. When you do, you just double down on your interpretation of Sullivan’s post.

            When I provide reasons for why your interpretation of Sullivan’s post is wrong, you merely repeat your interpretation and refuse to engage with what I’ve said.

            That shows a complete disrespect for the person whom you’re disagreeing with. Go ahead and beat your breast about “snotty” comments. The disrespect you’ve displayed is far worse.

          • Pejman Yousefzadeh

            You can say that I refused to engage you until the cows come home, but if anything, I have engaged you far too much. And hey, you are the one who admitted to being condescending. Don’t lecture me about disrespect.

          • http://noompa.wordpress.com/ Ben

            Yeah, you’re right. Someone being condescending automatically precludes someone else being disrespectful.

            I will say this: I do appreciate you trying to defend your statements. That’s pretty rare in the sphere o’ blogs.

          • Pejman Yousefzadeh

            Oh heck, why not provide yet more evidence of a meme that the Bush Administration does not deserve any credit for bin Laden’s death? Here is Matt Yglesias with a clip that is meant to evoke comments like this one, along with the larger implication (which I am sure that you will try to deny) that credit should only flow to the Obama Administration.

          • http://noompa.wordpress.com/ Ben

            If you want to keep making tendentious arguments, I’ll keep responding to them.

            Yglesias’ provides a clip with little commentary. The clip is Bush when he was president giving reasons for why finding bin Laden isn’t that important in the wider context of the war on terror.

            Yglesias’ intentions are fairly opaque, true, because he provides so little context for the clip. He could be saying that Bush gave finding bin Laden a low priority during his tenure. He could be saying that Bush should have given finding bin Laden a higher priority. But you can’t say that Yglesias is trying to deny that the Bush admin. had any role whatsoever catching bin Laden.

            Here’s how you can tell: put the content of the clip in a conditional statement with the different claims Yglesias could be making, and see which ones make sense.

            “Yglesias is saying that Bush gave finding bin Laden a low priority during his tenure, because he posted a clip of Bush when he was president giving reasons for why finding bin Laden isn’t that important in the wider context of the war on terror.” That makes sense; the clip is obviously evidence that Bush gave catching bin Laden a low priority because he did all but say the words “Catching bin Laden is a low priority.”

            “Yglesias is saying that Bush should have given finding bin Laden a higher priority, because he posted a clip of Bush when he was president giving reasons for why finding bin Laden isn’t that important in the wider context of the war on terror.” That’s not as strong an argument, because you have to infer that Yglesias is making a judgment about the low priority Bush gave bin Laden, but it’s reasonable to make the inference. Catching bin Laden is widely assumed to be a good thing, Yglesias hasn’t made a loud clamor that he disagrees with that assumption, and it’s logical to think that had Bush given finding bin Laden a higher priority, he would have been caught sooner.

            “Yglesias is denying that the Bush admin. contributed to getting bin Laden in any way, because he posted a clip of Bush when he was president giving reasons for why finding bin Laden isn’t that important in the wider context of the war on terror.” This isn’t an argument. Bush giving reasons for why
            finding bin Laden isn’t that important in the wider context of the war on terror doesn’t mean that his administration should be denied any credit for getting bin Laden. In order to say Yglesias was arguing that it does, you have to give reasons for we should attribute that argument to him. You have to argue something like “Yglesias is assuming that criticism of the president’s handling of bin Laden means that his administration shouldn’t be given any credit.” Yglesias clearly doesn’t assume or argue anything of the kind.

            In short, there are clear logical steps one can point out for several arguments Yglesias might be making. But “the Bush admin. doesn’t deserve any credit” isn’t one of them.

            What about the commenter you highlight? “Ah, W: the lazy man’s hero. He really just wanted to play mini-golf in his office all day and not have to deal with all that governing stuff.” You’re arguing this is the reaction Yglesias was aiming for, so you’re arguing something like: “Yglesias is saying that Bush is a lazy person.” How does it hold up using the above method?

            “Yglesias is saying Bush is a lazy person, because he posted a clip of Bush when he was president giving reasons for why finding bin Laden isn’t that important in the wider context of the war on terror.” That’s a huuuuge stretch. There are dozens of more likely critiques Yglesias is probably making besides laziness: that Bush’s reasoning wasn’t appropriate given the facts, that it was driven by ideology, that it was made to justify scarce resources given to other priorities, that it was made due to a narrow focus on Iraq, etc. It’s extremely unlikely and uncharitable to argue that Yglesias meant the takeaway of that clip to be “Bush is a lazy person.”

            Just for kicks, though, let’s ignore the above and say Yglesias meant to argue that “Bush is a lazy person” with the clip. What follows?

            “Yglesias is claiming that Bush could have caught bin Laden but didn’t, because he posted a clip arguing that Bush is a lazy person.” It’s a stretch, but it’s still logical: Bush’s laziness meant that his administration wasn’t as efficacious as it could have been; if Bush’s admin. was more efficacious, it could have caught bin Laden. That’s a lot to infer that Yglesias is arguing, but it follows logically from the argument that “Bush is a lazy person.”

            But here’s something that’s not logical: “Yglesias is claiming that the Bush admin. should take no credit in capturing bin Laden, because he posted a clip arguing that Bush is a lazy person.” The conclusion simply doesn’t follow from the premise. To say that Bush is lazy doesn’t logically imply that his admin. was completely ineffectual in everything that it attempted to do. It doesn’t in any way argue that the Bush admin. did no work which assisted the cause of catching bin Laden. It doesn’t preclude, at all, giving the Bush admin. some credit in catching bin Laden. There’s just no logical way to get from “Bush is lazy” to “his administration provided no work which aided the capture of bin Laden, and so deserves no credit.”

            So even if we take the extremely unlikely case that Yglesias meant to argue “Bush is lazy” with the clip, it just doesn’t result in Yglesias denying any credit to the Bush admin. for bin Laden’s capture. To argue otherwise, you have to provide a reason to logically get from “Bush is lazy” to “his admin. deserves no credit for bin Laden’s capture.” You can’t.

          • Pejman Yousefzadeh

            You actually mean to tell me that the argument that “Bush is lazy” was not meant to lead people to believe that “his admin. deserves no credit for bin Laden’s capture”? This doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

          • http://noompa.wordpress.com/ Ben

            First, read what I wrote: Yglesias didn’t mean “Bush is lazy”. The laugh test could be utterly failed and it doesn’t hurt my argument.

            Second, the laugh test has no place here: there’s no logical way that “Bush is lazy” means or implies “his admin. deserves no credit for bin Laden’s capture.” I just demonstrated why that’s the case: the sentence “Bush is lazy, therefore his admin. deserves no credit for bin Laden’s capture” isn’t a logical statement. It makes as much sense to say “Bush is a poor swimmer, therefore his admin. deserves no credit for bin Laden’s capture.” If you think otherwise, either show how I’m wrong or make an argument supporting your case. Third, if you’re making a veiled criticism of Yglesias, that he is implying a false argument in the hope of getting stupid people to erroneously conclude Bush should have no credit in bin Laden’s capture: there’s zero evidence for that assertion. It’s like saying Glenn Reynolds consciously misleads his readers to get them to believe Bush should get more credit than he deserves for bin Laden’s capture.

          • Pejman Yousefzadeh

            I didn’t say that Yglesias meant “Bush is lazy.” I will say that his post was meant lead to the conclusion that Bush was lazy about trying to get bin Laden. And it succeeded with the commenter I linked to; note his statement that “[h]e
            really just wanted to play mini-golf in his office all day and not have to deal with all that governing stuff”
            ; a conclusion that works to preclude opinions like “Bush deserves an appreciable share of credit for having helped put in place policies, procedures, and institutions that led to the killing of bin Laden.” You can say that there is no logical way the former conclusion leads to the latter one, but your hypothetical statement “Bush is lazy [emphasis mine], therefore his admin. deserves no credit for bin Laden’s capture” is not the conclusion being sought here. Rather, the conclusion being sought here is that “Bush was lazy,” that “[h]e
            really just wanted to play mini-golf in his office all day and not have to deal with all that governing stuff,” from which, it is supposed to follow that his desire to be lazy and just play mini-golf as President precluded him from doing the hard work necessary to put in place the policies, procedures, and institutions that led to bin Laden’s killing, from which it is supposed to follow that Bush and his Administration deserve no credit for bin Laden’s killing. Does Yglesias actually say “Bush and his Administration deserve no credit for the killing of bin Laden”? Not in that post. But was his post written to convey that meaning? Indubitably. And it worked.

    • Pejman Yousefzadeh

      I should add as well that my quoted excerpt also gives credit to the Clinton
      Administration for having also worked to kill or capture bin Laden. As for
      links seeking to deny Bush any credit, see generally Andrew Sullivan, and
      more lefty bloggers than one can shake a stick at.

      • http://noompa.wordpress.com/ Ben

        See, this is what I’m calling you on. I haven’t seen anything which claims Bush shouldn’t get credit. I’m not sure you can produce anything which does.

        I don’t read Sullivan (I clearly don’t have the tolerance for pain that you do) but I flipped through his posts since the killing. There’s nothing there that denies Bush deserves credit; indeed, in his liveblog of the night the announcement was made, he wrote stuff like “Everyone in both the Bush and the Obama administration who helped make this happen deserve our thanks, especially the unsung federal employees in the CIA and the special forces who are loyal to no party but to the constitution.” There are lots of posts engaging with right-wingers who want to give Bush more credit than the evidence warrants; see e.g. this post (http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2011/05/the-republican-spin.html) that argues with right-wing attempts to claim waterboarding gave information that resulted in Bin Laden’s death. But there are no posts that I can see that do what you were complaining about, claiming
        “that the plan to kill Osama bin Laden sprang unadorned from the brow of Barack Obama.” I see no attempts by Sullivan or any lefty bloggers to deny that Bush deserves some credit. I do, however, see attempts to deny Obama credit; see the Fox News website pointed out above, or Sarah Palin’s responses to the death (see her facebook page, and also http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_17979140#ixzz1LJBLLx8L).

        Part of what’s wrong with public discourse is people making broad inaccurate generalizations about what their partisan opponents are doing and denouncing them in stark terms. I assume you aren’t doing this, so please provide links to Sullivan or lefty blogs that can be characterized as denying Bush any credit, or “that the plan to kill Osama bin Laden sprang unadorned from the brow of Barack Obama”.

        • Pejman Yousefzadeh

          Here’s a sample post. I don’t know how to read that other than “Bush and Cheney should get no credit, and Obama should get all of it.” And of course, Sullivan is not the only one making such categorical claims. For every Fox News, there is MSNBC on the other side as well. If you have objections to Fox, or Sarah Palin, you’ll have to take it up with them; I don’t speak or write for those people.

          • http://noompa.wordpress.com/ Ben

            FYI: your link goes to a 404 error on your site. Here’s a working one: http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2011/05/john-yoo-still-a-war-criminal.html

            That’s a terrible reading of that post. Really, it borders on malign intent.
            Here’s what the post was doing, and what any fair or competent reading will get out of it:

            Another writer wrote a piece noting that John Yoo was trying to claim Bush’s interrogation policies gave the intelligence that lead to bin Laden’s death, and that the death happened despite Obama’s policies. Sullivan’s post opens by quoting that writer saying how ridiculous that is. The post then wonders how former Bush officials get the rhetorical space to argue that their policies were successful despite Obama’s efforts, given that Bush’s policies resulted in so many failures while Obama’s have not.

            In essence, Sullivan agreed with the idea that John Yoo was trying to give Bush credit at the expense of Obama, and Sullivan ridiculed the idea that Bush and not Obama should get credit with a comparison of what’s happened during Bush’s and Obama’s terms. It’s not saying “only Obama should get credit”, it’s saying “it’s ludicrous to listen to a Bush admin. official try to say Bush should get credit and Obama should not, given all the catastrophes the Bush admin. presided over”. It’s completely consistent with his earlier statement congratulating the Bush admin. officials whose work contributed to bin Laden’s death that I quoted above.

            I don’t agree with the post, but it’s not hard to understand that that’s what it was saying. If you really can’t see that’s what the post was doing, and instead stick with your “Bush and Cheney should get no credit, Obama gets all of it” ridiculousness, you’re either very very tired or willfully misreading the post.

            The fact that you claim an ocean of words denying Bush any credit for his policies and when pressed come up with this is telling, I think. I took two minutes to look for evidence of the opposite claim, that some conservatives are denying Obama any credit, and came up with three examples. (Ironically, that Sullivan post you link to produces John Yoo as a fourth). If there really is so much evidence for your claim, why can’t you produce evidence of it when I can easily produce evidence for the opposite claim?

            It’s a very common tactic on both the left and the right to claim the other side is doing something bad, and when pressed say “oh they’re all doing it, it’s all over the blogosphere, MSNBC, Fox, DailyKos, RedState, all the loony left/radical right outlets.” And oftentimes it’s just bullshit. It’s one of the reasons discourse in America is so stunted, and why her political culture is so crippled. To willfully engage in it is disgusting. Please present evidence that you aren’t doing so.

          • Pejman Yousefzadeh

            The following paragraphs respond to a whole lot more than John Yoo:

            So let us be very clear. The war criminal Dick Cheney presided over the worst lapse in national security since Pearl Harbor, resulting in the deaths of more than 3,000 people. This rank incompetent failed to get bin Laden at Tora Bora, and then dragged the US on false pretenses into a war in Iraq, empowering Iran’s dictatorship, and killing another 5,000 more Americans on a wild goose chase. He presided over the deaths of more than 8,000 Americans, and tens of thousands of Iraqis during his criminally incompetent years in office.

            On the other hand, the man who abolished torture as soon as he took office, Barack Obama, captured and killed Osama bin Laden, and captured a massive trove of intelligence, more than two years later. No Americans died in the operation.

            It is not in any way, shape, or form “malign intent” to claim that this is an effort to deny the Bush Administration credit. The post could not possibly be clearer on the subject. Sullivan could have constrained himself to commenting on Yoo, but went ahead and claimed that the Bush Administration was completely responsible for 9/11 (no mention of any intelligence breakdowns during the Clinton Administration), lied to get us into Iraq (no evidence for that claim either), and basically stated that the Bush Administration has the blood of “more than 8,000 Americans” on its hands. Then, Sullivan sought to claim that Obama’s performance in office was and is a complete contrast to the Bush Administration’s supposed “criminal incompetence.” I am sorry you don’t see what Sullivan is trying to argue, but that’s not my fault. Quite frankly, to elide what Sullivan is baldly stating is to show that you are the one who is either tired, or deliberately misreading the post. Kindly spare me the lectures on reading comprehension.

          • http://noompa.wordpress.com/ Ben

            Sullivan’s post isn’t a refutation of Yoo. The refutation of Yoo’s in the links at the top and the first paragraph. It’s not what the post’s about.

            The post is about Sullivan complaining/laughing about the rhetorical position Yoo is taking. Sullivan is saying “Look how ludicrous this is. This Bush admin. official is trying to claim credit for Bush’s torture policies while denying credit to Obama. Here’s a link to a post debunking the torture claims. Recall the history of how we got here. [insert partisan history you cite]. Given this disastrous history of the Bush admin., isn’t it ludicrous that a Bush admin. official is given space to claim that Bush policies got bin Laden and not Obama policies?”

            What he’s doing is marveling at the fact that it’s an acceptable position in public discourse to claim the Bush admin. deserves more credit than the Obama admin. As evidence he not only offers links rebutting Yoo’s points, but makes a larger point that the Bush admin’s policies were extremely costly, in blood and time, were run incompetently and didn’t result in capturing bin Laden. He’s saying that given that cost and that result, it’s a wonder people are given space to claim the Bush admin. deserves more credit than Obama’s. It’s not done for no reason, or just to bash Bush to satisfy a psychological itch (though it may also do that). It serves a specific rhetorical purpose: demonstrating the gap in credibility a Bush admin. official faces when claiming more credit for getting bin Laden than the Obama admin.

            That’s his conclusion after the section you cite: “What on earth are we debating? How have these delusional maniacs managed to even get us onto this turf?” He’s saying, “How can one end of rational public discourse be that Bush gets more credit than Obama, given that Bush was so much more costly and ultimately unsuccessful?” He only says Obama should get more credit than Bush, and takes no stance on whether the Bush admin. should get no credit vs. some credit.

            What you’re doing is taking the partisan history he recounts out of context of his argument, and declaring that it depicts the Bush administration as so cartoonishly incompetent and / or evil that it couldn’t possibly have contributed to bin Laden’s death. This claim is outside what Sullivan is arguing. It can’t be attributed to him. Sullivan’s post is structured so that the more evil and incompetent Sullivan paints Bush, the more it supports his claim that it shouldn’t be possible to give Bush more credit than Obama for catching bin Laden. It’s got nothing to do with whether Bush should in fact receive any credit for catching bin Laden.

            The fact that he claims Bush was a war criminal or completely botched Iraq or tears the heads off puppies has no bearing on whether he claims parts of Bush’s administration contributed to ultimately catching bin Laden. Sullivan could have added “Some work done by the Bush admin. contributed to capturing bin Laden. There should be some credit there” to the end of his post and it would be completely consistent with everything else he wrote.

            You can argue that the history of the Bush admin. he recounts is full of half-truths, distortions and lies. I’ll agree with you. But that’s got nothing to do with the claim that Bush contributed nothing to catching bin Laden. He’s trying to demonstrate why taking the position that Bush deserves more credit than Obama should be ludicrous. He can fail to do so, but that doesn’t mean he’s claiming that the Bush admin. deserves no credit.

            Are Sullivan’s remarks in poor taste? Maybe. Are they wrong? Maybe. Either way, it is inaccurate to conclude that he intends them to mean “the Bush admin. deserves absolutely no credit for capturing bin Laden.”

            Let’s recap. You claimed that “there are plenty of people in this country determined to prevent such unity by turning their rhetorical sights on Republicans every chance they get, no matter what the situation”, and that “All of these are inconvenient truths for those who want to believe that the plan to kill Osama bin Laden sprang unadorned from the brow of Barack Obama.” You said in addition to Sullivan there are “more lefty bloggers than you can shake a stick at” that support your claims.

            When asked to give evidence, you pull out a Sullivan post responding to a member of the Bush administration giving Bush primary credit for getting bin Laden and saying we got bin Laden despite Obama’s policies. Sullivan’s post expresses surprise that Bush admin. officials can make such arguments given Bush admin’s incompetence / criminality compared to Obama; he does not deny some work was done during the Bush admin. which contributed to bin Laden’s capture; adding the phrase “some Bush admin. officials and policies deserve some credit for getting bin Laden” to Sullivan’s post doesn’t change it’s meaning one iota. Sullivan’s post doesn’t support your argument.

            You can try to dig yourself out of the hole you dug on Sullivan’s post, or you can just reach into the vast pile of “more lefty bloggers than you can shake a stick at” and get a less problematic example to prove your point.

          • Pejman Yousefzadeh

            I don’t need to dig myself out of any hole. When Sullivan writes that Bush is “criminally incompetent,” and then goes on with his rhetorical flourishes about the Administration’s supposed history, he not only argues that Bush deserves less credit, he argues that Bush deserves no credit. You appear to be the only one not understanding that.

          • http://noompa.wordpress.com/ Ben

            Look, either engage with my arguments or say you’re not going to, but don’t keep repeating the same arguments like I’m not offering ones in response. If you’re going to respond, point out a flaw in my reasoning or give reasons why I’m wrong.

            I’ll say again: a fair reading of his post shows that Sullivan’s argument and rhetorical flourishes serve a specific rhetorical purpose; namely, to demonstrate his view that Bush admin. officials claiming credit at the expense of Obama’s admin. shouldn’t be a part of rational public discourse. This view is completely compatible with the view that some Bush admin. officials contributed to the effort that ultimately caught bin Laden. You can add the sentence “some Bush officials contributed to the effort to catch bin Laden, they deserve some credit for his capture” to his post and it doesn’t change the meaning of anything he wrote. Sullivan said as much in previous posts. He is demonstrably not arguing that Bush deserves no credit.

          • Anonymous

            You’re not offering arguments in response. You are insisting that Sullivan is just responding to Yoo, and ignoring his larger attacks on the rest of the Administration.

          • http://noompa.wordpress.com/ Ben

            Ugh. Look. Your argument is that the force of Sullivan’s rhetoric automatically means that he has to be saying that the Bush admin. doesn’t deserve any credit for capturing bin Laden. Here’s why that’s not true.

            Is the sentence “The Bush admin. was criminally incompetent, filled with war criminals, and has American blood on its hands; nevertheless, the admin. provided some work that contributed to capturing bin Laden and deserves some credit for his capture” necessarily a contradiction, like saying “the ball is completely red; nevertheless, the ball is completely blue”? You’ve been arguing that it is, necessarily, a contradiction. That if the part to the left of the semicolon is true, the part to the right cannot possibly be true. That’s your argument: that Sullivan’s rhetoric necessarily precludes him from giving the Bush admin. any credit for bin Laden’s capture. That the only possible logical thing for Sullivan to claim, given his rhetoric, is that the Bush admin. does not deserve any credit for capturing bin Laden. That the sentence “The Bush admin. was criminally incompetent, filled with war criminals, and has American blood on its hands; nevertheless, the admin. provided some work that contributed to capturing bin Laden and deserves some credit for his capture” is necessarily a contradiction.

            However, the sentence is not a contradiction. There is no reason why both sides of the semicolon can’t be true at the same time. It can be true both that the Bush administration was staffed with incompetent war criminals responsible for American blood and that the Bush admin. provided some work that contributed toward capturing bin Laden and thus deserves some credit. When you say the left side of the semicolon is true, you can still say that the right side of the semicolon is true without contradiction.

            To sum up: your argument is that when Sullivan says the Bush admin. was criminally incompetent and filled with war criminals, he is also necessarily claiming that the Bush admin. deserves absolutely no credit for bin Laden’s capture. I’ve shown how that argument is false. He can both talk about the incompetence and warcrimes and still give the admin. some credit for helping catch bin Laden.

            Why does Sullivan make such a drastic and heated comparison between the Bush and Obama admins? For the reasons I’ve kept repeating: he’s trying to demonstrate that giving Bush the credit for capturing bin Laden at the expense of Obama should not be part of acceptable public discourse, that it should automatically be considered out of bounds and nonsensical, like claiming that Abe Lincoln is still alive. Why doesn’t Sullivan, in fact, give the Bush admin. credit for capturing bin Laden in that post? Because it’s not germane to the point he’s making. What’s important is that his rhetoric in that post doesn’t preclude him from giving the Bush admin. some credit in another post, which he does in his live blog of the death announcement.

            There. That’s as clear as I can make it without just quoting myself. Long story short: if you can show how the sentence “The Bush admin. was criminally incompetent, filled with war criminals, and has American blood on its hands; nevertheless, the admin. provided some work that contributed to capturing bin Laden and deserves some credit for his capture” is a contradiction, then Sullivan is saying Bush deserves no credit for bin Laden’s capture. If you can’t, he’s not.

          • Pejman Yousefzadeh

            I never said that the statement you posit is a contradiction. And my argument does not depend upon it being a contradiction. What I am stating, however, is that Sullivan only makes the statement to the left of the semicolon in his post. He does not make the statement to the right of the semicolon. To the extent that he made the statement to the right of the semicolon in the past, he obliterates that latter statement with one to the left of the semicolon as found in his post. As a consequence, it is impossible to read his post as anything but a call to give the Bush Administration no credit whatsoever for the processes, policies, and institutions that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Sullivan can write a sentence that employs thoughts both to the left, and to the right of the semicolon, but he does not.
            Additionally, I have trouble finding in the article Sullivan references any statement to the effect that the Bush Administration deserves credit at the expense of the Obama Administration. To be sure, there is a sentence in the article stating that “Yoo wants to transfer credit from the White House team that actually got bin Laden to the White House team that famously did not,” but those are the author’s words, not Yoo’s. Yoo does say that “President George W. Bush, not his successor, constructed the interrogation and warrantless surveillance programs that produced this week’s actionable intelligence,” but everything to the left of the word “that” is incontrovertible. Yoo also does say that if the Obama Administration’s desire to treat the fight against terrorism as a law enforcement matter were in effect immediately after 9/11, we would not have gotten bin Laden, but that does not take away from stating that the Obama Administration deserves credit for having gotten bin Laden in 2011, even if in a hypothetical 2001-2002, the implementation of policies Obama advocated would have been counterproductive. Of course, the net effect of Yoo’s words, and their implication, may be to take credit away from the Obama Administration; a possibility I acknowledge, even as you refuse to acknowledge that the net effect of posts by the likes of Sullivan and Yglesias may be to take credit away from the Bush Administration.

Previous post:

Next post: