Editorial: ‘Dumb’ War In Iraq Led Obama To Bin Laden
Leadership: If President Bush had not invaded Iraq, President Obama likely would not have found Osama bin Laden. The al-Qaida operative who fingered bin Laden's courier was caught in Iraq helping terrorists in 2004.
It was a line Obama never got tired of. Most infamously, he used it during an anti-war rally at Chicago's Federal Plaza in October 2002: "I don't oppose all wars," the state senator said as President Bush was preparing to attack Saddam Hussein. "What I am opposed to is a dumb war."
Obama accused "political hacks like Karl Rove" of launching the Iraq War for the purpose of distracting Americans from their economic hardships.
A decade later we know Obama was dead wrong. The successful manhunt that delivered justice from the barrel of a gun to the elusive head of al-Qaida wouldn't have happened without an indispensable piece of the puzzle that the U.S. got because of its presence in Iraq.
In January 2004, Kurdish forces near the Iranian border apprehended Hassan Ghul, a top al-Qaida lieutenant once under the direct command of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. After quickly being handed over to U.S. forces, Ghul was sent to one of the CIA's foreign "black site" prisons. It wasn't long before this particular terrorist canary started singing.
Ghul told the CIA that "Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti" — determined years later to be Sheikh Abu Ahmed — was a high-value courier for al-Qaida and key associate of KSM successor Faraj al-Libi. When al-Libi was captured and interrogated the next year, U.S. intelligence began putting together the pieces, finally concluding that al-Kuwaiti was a courier to bin Laden himself.
This early key puzzle piece, without which other pieces might not have been found, came from an al-Qaida operative whose sole purpose for being in Iraq was to organize armed opposition to the U.S. presence there.
Iraq had indeed, as Bush frequently said, become "the central front in the global war on terror," and the Iraq War success of capturing Ghul led to the success of killing the central personage of global terror, at least symbolically, Osama bin Laden.
Had America not invaded, al-Kuwaiti and the valuable information inside his head would have been someplace else, probably where it was a lot easier to remain on the loose. He might never have been caught.
So we have another reason it was wise to go into Iraq. Not only did the Iraq invasion topple Saddam, who used chemical weapons to commit genocide against his own people, and sought nuclear weapons to slaughter others; not only did it give the Iraqi people their first opportunity for freedom and prosperity, providing a model of liberty for other Mideast Islamic nations. On top of all that, it led to the death of bin Laden.
As a bonus, Ghul's role in the elimination of bin Laden is another validation of the wisdom of Bush's authorization for the CIA's black sites, where harsh interrogation methods against terrorists could be practiced.
Iraq a dumb war? That falsity is another thing for which President Obama owes President Bush an apology — and a thank you on behalf of the American people.
Reagan Made Killing Bin Laden Possible By Thomas McArdle
Much was written last week about how much thanks George W. Bush deserves in tracking down Osama bin Laden. The answer is: a great deal.
Information extracted from al-Qaida operatives under Bush's interrogation policies ultimately led us to the compound in Abbottabad. But he did more. As an IBD editorial ("'Dumb' War In Iraq Led Obama To Bin Laden") noted last week, a crucial piece of the puzzle in identifying bin Laden's courier came from an al-Qaida lieutenant who was caught only because of Bush's decision to liberate Iraq.
Someone else also belongs on the list of people to thank, along with the heroic Navy SEALs and the current commander in chief. He is the president we have to applaud for so many other things, like saving the U.S. economy from a government-induced malaise, and winning the Cold War: Ronald Reagan.
With the same visionary perseverance employed in his commitment to replace mutual assured nuclear destruction with missile defense, President Reagan executed a long-term strategy to build an array of elite, high-tech special forces units that could carry out operations like the one that snuffed out bin Laden.
As documented by Marc Celmer in the 1987 study "Terrorism, U.S. Strategy, and Reagan Policies," a 1990 target was set by the Reagan administration to increase special operations forces by 50% from 1981 levels. By 1987, a U.S. Special Operations Command was established to oversee the special-ops forces of the various branches of the military.
The birth of modernized special ops wasn't smooth. During America's victorious invasion of Grenada in 1983, the Army's Delta Force was humiliated trying to commandeer the island's Richmond Hill prison. Even the now-legendary Navy SEAL Team Six — which aced the bin Laden operation last week and which became operational only during Reagan's first year in office — experienced disaster during the Grenada operation. Off-course transport planes and bad weather off the coast led to four of eight SEALs drowning.
Also in 1983 came the terrorist bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. servicemen. Adm. Robert Long's investigative commission found that "the United States, and specifically the Department of Defense, is inadequately prepared to deal with" terrorist warfare.
Reagan was faced with two challenges demanding that the U.S. perfect a new kind of warfare. One was Mideast Islamist terrorism, eventually culminating in 9/11. The other was Soviet subversion in Central America.
The Reagan administration "associated the terror tactics of the Middle East with the Salvadoran guerrillas and Nicaragua's beleaguered government," left-leaning human rights activist Michael McClintock complained in his 1992 book "Instruments of Statecraft." "Shiite terrorism in Beirut was used to promote the renewal of police assistance to Central America and to pump up political support for the United States' global programs to combat insurgencies and undesirable regimes."
A new term was coined: "low-intensity conflict." According to McClintock, it "was adopted by the Reagan administration in 1981 as an umbrella term for the interrelated doctrines of counterinsurgency, special operations, and unconventional warfare." In taking this prescient route, Reagan fought off the liberal Democrats accusing him of wasting taxpayers' money on training and arming more special-ops commandos, and he had to fight the military itself.
"The foundation of many of the obstacles to the formulation of effective U.S. (special operations forces)," according to Celmer, "is the traditional military dislike for anything that is unconventional, irregular and elite." In the 1970s and 1980s, "Special forces units were viewed as the backwaters of the armed forces, ones to be avoided by those officers and enlisted personnel seeking successful careers." Today the public recognizes special forces as the best of the best.
Had Reagan not opposed dovish Democrats and Pentagon status-quoists, special forces would never have become the miracle workers they are today. As he warned in March 1986: "We must not let all that we have accomplished in the last five years be undermined by careless slashing at the defense budget. America must never again slide back into helpless insecurity. America must never become, as it looked like it was becoming in the late '70s, a paper tiger."
America today can shoot a nuclear missile out of the sky — and shoot Osama bin Laden between the eyes — thanks to Ronald Reagan.
McArdle is an IBD senior writer.