What Tough Decision?

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I keep hearing that President Obama made a tough decision somewhere in the process of giving an order to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. What was that tough decision, and why was it tough?

Let's first set aside the utter nonsense of the idea that this reflects on Obama's ability to get things done, as opposed to Bush. It's stupid and no one of moderate intelligence cares. The only thing Obama did that might possibly have had a significant effect on the process -- setting aside the "torture" issue -- is making Leon Panetta the CIA Director, and there's really been no indication that made a significant difference.

Similarly, as to torture: we cannot know, with any level of certainty, whether we'd have been better off -- in terms of intelligence, American deaths, or anything else -- with more torture, or with less. If you think you know, you're wrong. Let's set this aside, too.

So, as to Obama's tough decision, let's first identify Obama's main goals -- in descending order of importance -- going into his decisions, which I presume will be uncontroversial: he wanted to get Bin Laden (dead or alive); if Bin Laden is killed, he wanted verification (i.e., a body); he wanted direct access to any intelligence Bin Laden had.

Let's also identify some the relevant factors involved: we were uncertain if Bin Laden was actually there; and Pakistan -- to be brief, and polite -- is a delicate diplomatic situation for us.

Let's add in the fact that Obama said that he would not resist going in to Pakistan to get Bin Laden (or other high-value terrorist targets), if Pakistan didn't do the job.

This all adds up to a no-brainer to me. We have reasonable suspicion he's there, we can't trust Pakistan to get him (we can't even trust Pakistan to not warn him), we don't want to bomb him (so we can verify his body and gather the intelligence). Where's the tough part of this decision?

Obama and others have characterized the chance that Bin Laden was there as 50-50 or 55-45, apparently as an attempt to imply that this was a tough decision: but I'd say we should go in if there's merely a five percent chance: our intelligence points to the strong liklihood that even if Bin Laden isn't there, someone or something important to Al Qaeda or its allies is there. Where's the tough part of this decision?

They've also pointed out that if we're wrong, there could be significant repercussions. True, but those pale in comparison to the chance that we pass on this opportunity. Can you imagine if we said, "yeah, there was only a 50-50 chance, so we didn't want to risk it," and then an attack was launched and people died and we could've gotten the intelligence to stop that attack if we'd gone in, because we didn't want blowback from the ISI, which has been working against us for years anyway?

Again: I see no tough decision here. Do you? If so, what decision, and how was it tough? Please explain it to me, because I can't see any part of this decision that was, in the least bit, difficult.

(P.S. Last week I said the killing of Bin Laden didn't really change anything, and that's right; however, since then, we've found out more details about the intelligence gathered from the raid, and that could end up being a huge win.)

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This page contains a single entry by pudge published on May 10, 2011 7:15 AM.

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