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.
- Was bin Laden a high priority goal?
- Why does it matter? Because strategy trumps tactics.
- The missed opportunity
- 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: