Tag Archives: george w bush

About the strategic significance of bin Laden’s execution, and the road not taken

Summary:  The capture and execution of bin Laden was a powerful act of grand strategy.  Did it advance or damage our national interests?  There was an alternative to his execution, another of the roads not taken by America since 9-11.  Bin Laden borrowed from the ending of Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor. We could have borrowed the ending from “The Sum of All Fears”.  This is a follow-up to A brief note about the death of bin Laden.

Osama bin Laden



  1. Was bin Laden a high priority goal?
  2. Why does it matter?  Because strategy trumps tactics.
  3. The missed opportunity
  4. For more information


(1)  Was bin Laden a high priority goal?

Did we seek to capture/kill bin Laden?  Or was he more useful as an excuse for invading Afghanistan and Iraq?  There is evidence that regime change in the Middle East was the objective — and justice for bin Laden was secondary.  That was and should be primarily a decision about strategy not (as Machiavelli explained) a moral choice.  We can debate its effects another day.  Here’s some of the evidence.

(a)  Bush’s response to 9-11

As explained by the 9-11 Commission. From page 332, Chapter 10 — Wartime:

The State Department proposed delivering an ultimatum to the Taliban: produce Bin Ladin and his deputies and shut down al Qaeda camps within 24 to 48 hours, or the United States will use all necessary means to destroy the terrorist infrastructure. The State Department did not expect the Taliban to comply. Therefore, State and Defense would plan to build an international coalition to go into Afghanistan.

Both departments would consult with NATO and other allies and request intelligence, basing, and other support from countries, according to their capabilities and resources. Finally, the plan detailed a public U.S. stance: America would use all its resources to eliminate terrorism as a threat, punish those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, hold states and other actors responsible for providing sanctuary to terrorists, work with a coalition to eliminate terrorist groups and networks, and avoid malice toward any people, religion, or culture. (State Department memo, “Gameplan for Polmil Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan,” 14 Sept 2001)

President Bush recalled that he quickly realized that the administration would have to invade Afghanistan with ground troops.

(b)  Bush’s response to the Taliban’s offers

From “Bush rejects Taliban offer to surrender bin Laden“, The Independent, 15 October 2001 — Excerpt:

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Today’s reading: “Let Them Eat Dogma”

This excerpt is just an hors’ dourves.  I recommend reading the article in full, a valuable perspective on today’s events:  “Let Them Eat Dogma“, Chris Lehmann, The Baffler, 25 January 2010 — Excerpt:

Not so long ago, the lead theorists of America’s conservative revolution hymned it as a thing of unparalleled vitality and intellectual rigor. The Republicans ruled the policy world as “the party of ideas,” President George W. Bush famously pronounced, and all sorts of his erstwhile enthusiasts on the right, from tax-cutting think tank impresario Grover Norquist to Weekly Standard Warmonger-in-Chief William Kristol, lustily seconded the notion.

But then a funny thing happened: The conservative utopia of shrinking government, financial deregulation and upward income distribution became a hulking disaster. Major investment banks teetered on the brink of oblivion in the catastrophic Panic of 2008; pension funds spiraled into free-fall; the auto industry went on federal life support; and home foreclosure after home foreclosure has rendered many onetime boomtowns virtual diorama showcases for the wreckage bequeathed by alchemical works of market triumphalism, such as credit default swaps, mortgage-backed securities and the efficient market hypothesis.

And just like that, the idea-intoxicated American right vanished. As the federal government stirred out of its decades-long regulatory slumber and started to meet the financial calamity with urgently needed deficit spending, conservatives of the Gingrich vintage, who had long advertised their fealty to the high-tech, low-tax future, morphed seemingly overnight into the intellectual equivalent of historical re-enactors. Much as the Mormon faithful trek annually to the upstate New York festival in Palmyra to see their faith’s creation myth in a lavishly produced pageant, so have the conservative faithful repaired en masse back to the musty site of their modern genesis, the 1930s New Deal.

But this pageant of faith is a disorienting spectacle indeed. Instead of reckoning with a starkly transformed global economy, or the crucial ways in which their core precepts have been rudely upended, conservative thinkers are reviving 70-odd-year-old talking points from the Liberty League — the network of rock-ribbed Roosevelt haters who clustered in corporate boardrooms and Chamber of Commerce lobbies during the Thirties — thereby, one supposes, to finish the job their ancestors started: discrediting the New Deal and its legacy once and for all.

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Another nail put in the Constitution’s coffin, but we don’t care

Summary:  Americans expressed horror at the thought of “death panels.”  Now the government reveals that the President issues death warrants on American citizens — without even a hearing before a panel.  That’s just fine with us.  Each and every one of us.  Do you see any protests?  Marches, demonstrations?  None.  On 4 July 2006 I posts Forecast: Death of the American Constitution.  Since then, nail by nail, our ruling elites close the coffin on the Constitution — and on our liberties.  I suspect that our children will not understand how we allowed this to happen, and will curse our passivity. 

  1. Background for the revelations about the US government’s assassinations of US citizens
  2. The revelations
  3. Their implications
  4. About the war exception to the Constitution
  5. Oldskpetic was right again where I was wrong
  6. For more information from the FM site, and an Afterword

(1)  Background for the revelations about the US government’s assasinations of US citizens

These revelations IMO are best seen as a process, the gradual erosion of our freedoms.  Each step is leaked in stages, so that the final announcement is an anti-climax.  But still cloaked by lies — such as, in this case, that the government means only battlefield killings.  While that was the context for this announcement, these officials were clear that these killings were not limited to combat conditions.

I provide this detailed information because these issues quickly become fogged by deliberate lies. That’s how debates run in 21st century America.  In this respect the Internet appears to fog our information flow, not help it.

(2)  The revelations

The revelation started with this, a classic case of “burying the lede”.  I suspect that to be a deliberate leak, part of the long post-9-11 process of conditioning America to the gradual loss of our liberty.  Excerpt from “U.S. military teams, intelligence deeply involved in aiding Yemen on strikes“, Dana Priest, Washington Post, 27 January 2010 — These paragraphs were at the end of the story:

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said. The evidence has to meet a certain, defined threshold. The person, for instance, has to pose “a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests,” said one former intelligence official.

The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, “it doesn’t really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them,” a senior administration official said. “They are then part of the enemy.”

Both the CIA and the JSOC maintain lists of individuals, called “High Value Targets” and “High Value Individuals,” whom they seek to kill or capture. The JSOC list includes three Americans, including Aulaqi, whose name was added late last year. As of several months ago, the CIA list included three U.S. citizens, and an intelligence official said that Aulaqi’s name has now been added.

Intelligence officials say the New Mexico-born imam also has been linked to the Army psychiatrist who is accused of killing 12 soldiers and a civilian at Fort Hood, Tex., although his communications with Maj. Nidal M. Hasan were largely academic in nature. Authorities say that Aulaqi is the most important native, English-speaking al-Qaeda figure and that he was in contact with the Nigerian accused of attempting to bomb a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day.

More details emerged on February 3 in the Q&A following Dennis C. Blair’s (Director of National Intelligence) “Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence” (prepared presentation is here).  I don’t have access to the transcript, so here is the story pieced together using quotes from the Washington Times and Washington Post — taking the journalists’ muddle and rearranging it into a coherent sequence.  From “‘Permission’ needed to kill U.S. terrorists“, Washington Times, 4 February 2010:
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The breakdown of the American political system, pointing to a new and better future

Introduction:  This is the second in a series of dashed off speculative opinions.  Normal procedure on the FM website for these topics would be 3 thousand word posts, supported by dozens of links.  I dont’ have the time to finish them, and too many of these outlines have accumulated in my drafts file.  Perhaps these will spark useful debate and research among this site’s readers. 

The American system is breaking up.  The more or less clear lines dividing left from right have blurred into incoherence.  This opens the way for new solutions offering real reform.


  1. Does anti-war mean liberal?  Does pro-war mean conservative?
  2. America tests liberal and conservative solutions
  3. What comes next?
  4. For more information from the FM site and an Afterword

(1)  Does anti-war mean liberal?  Does pro-war mean conservative?

Our wars most clearly show the collapse of the traditional divisions.

  • Hillary Clinton, painted as radical leftist by many conservatives, vehemently supports our current wars.  President Obama, also painted as a radical by the right, strongly supports the Af-Pak war.
  • Patrick Buchanan and William Lind (longtime head of the Center for Cultural Conservatism) oppose our current wars. As does Andrew Bacevich (Colonel, US Army, retired, bibliography here), who describes himself as a Catholic conservative and publishes in American Conservative magazine.

Another perspective on this:  Stratfor looks at Obama’s foreign policy, sees Bush’s foreign policy, 30 August 2009.

(2)  America tests both liberal and conservative solutions

For a clear and provocative analysis of what went wrong with America during the past decade, see “System Failure“, Christopher Hayes, The Nation, 1 February 2010 —  We (the voters) performed a simple test.   Hayes describes the results which are not what either side expected.   Excerpt:

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TomGram: “The Imperial Presidency 2.0”

The power of the Presidency grows inexorably for many reason.  One is the political ratchet:  each Administration increases some aspects of the Executive’s powers, amidst praise from its partisans and impotent criticism from the loyal opposition.  Eventually they trade places, but seldom do these expanded powers get reversed — only a new wave of growth begins.

The latest TomDispatch provides more evidence of this ominous trend.

Introduction by Tom Engelhardt

October 7th marked the eighth anniversary of the Bush administration’s invasion of Afghanistan and so of the… well, can we really call it a war?… that won’t end, that American commanders there now predict could last for another decade or more. And yet, here’s the weird thing: because Congress no longer actually declares war, we officially must be fighting something else entirely. Put another way, we are now heading for the longest undeclared war in U.S. history (depending on how you count up the Vietnam years).

The Obama administration, having doubled down on Afghanistan in March, sending another 21,000 or more U.S. troops as well as extra contingents of civilians, deciding to put a billion dollars into a new embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and build new or expanded embassy and consular facilities, roads, bases, and prisons in Afghanistan, is now considering yet another expansion of the [you fill in the blank], including up to 40,000 — some reports now say 80,000 — U.S. troops, more drone air strikes, and more training of Afghan forces. And yet, the U.S. is still operating on the pallid “authorization for use of military force” passed by Congress on September 18, 2001 at the behest of the Bush administration. It only authorizes the president “to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States.” No more. War itself — despite all the fighting, the death, and the money spent — has never been declared, and in our present era of ever expanding presidential power, it never will be.

In other words, we are at war without being at war. As in every war since World War II ended, we find ourselves once again in a presidential conflict backed by Congress. Although Senator John Kerry’s Foreign Relations Committee has held hearings on “how the nation should declare war” (a subject that you might think the Constitution had definitively settled), don’t count on the Obama administration to return to Congress for an actual declaration of war as it moves forward in the Af-Pak theater of operations.

George W. Bush is gone, but as David Swanson, TomDispatch regular and author of Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, makes clear, our increasingly engorged presidency remains essentially untouched, despite the new occupant in the White House.

David Swanson explains how Presidential Power Grows

Will You Love Every Future President?“, By David Swanson, TomDispatch, 15 October 2009 — Reposted in full with permission.

Presidential power has been on a pathway of expansion beyond what the Constitution outlined, and what a government of, by, and for the people requires, since George Washington was president. That expansion, which hit the highway after World War II, got a turbo boost during the co-presidency of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Some of the new powers that those two stole from Congress, the courts, the states, and us the people are being abused less severely in this new age of Obama; others, more so; but far more crucially, in a pattern followed by recent presidencies, all are being maintained, if not expanded, and thus more firmly cemented into place for future presidents to use. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, you are likely to strongly oppose some major decisions of some future presidents. So it shouldn’t be hard to envision some pretty undesirable consequences that might flow from presidential power that increasingly approaches the absolute.

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