Senate report: Bush, Rumsfeld let bin Laden get away


The hot topic in Washington this week is President Obama’s upcoming speech at West Point on Tuesday, which is expected to call for deploying 30-35,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Just ahead of the Sunday news shows, the Senate Foreign Relations committee chaired by John Kerry has released a report (pdf) which explicitly blames the current mess in Afghanistan and Pakistan on the Bush administration’s decision not to provide sufficient troops to strike at Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar in 2001.

The report quotes military leaders who questioned the practicality of taking out bin Laden when we had him pinned down at Tora Bora, but also quotes various accounts written since which suggested that the decision was made based on George W. Bush’s orders that the military concentrate on planning a war with Iraq instead. It also faults Donald Rumsfeld’s rejection of the Powell doctrine of overwhelming military force in favor of targeted forces in numbers too small to carry out their objectives. It cites “various critics” in support of the conclusion that “[t]he responsibility for allowing the most wanted man in the world to virtually disappear into thin air lies with the American commanders who refused to commit the necessary U.S. soldiers and Marines to finish the job.”

What the report concludes that those commanders are responsible for is the escape and continuing leadership of Mullah Omar, “[a] semi-literate leader who… re-emerged at the helm of the Taliban-led insurgency, which has grown more sophisticated and lethal in recent years and now controls swaths of Afghanistan”; the survival and escape of Osama bin Laden, which has “allowed bin Laden to exert a malign influence over events in the region and nearly 60 countries where his followers have established extremist groups”; a “contagion of rising violence and instability” which has spread to “nuclear-armed ally of the United States” Pakistan; a Pakistani connection to US terror plots; and the lives and money spent so far on “Operation Enduring Freedom, a conflict in which the outcome remains in grave doubt in large part because the extremists behind the violence were not eliminated in 2001.”

While it was probably satisfying for Kerry, who made the same charges during his ’04 campaign against Bush, to release the report, he may be equally interested in influencing congressional Democrats who are reluctant to support an additional commitment to the war.

According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “There is serious unrest in our caucus … can we afford this war?” Democrats in the House have proposed a national surtax to fund the war which would undoubtedly be very unpopular in the current economy. By releasing a report blaming the current mess on the unwillingness of Washington to provide sufficient resources to do what has to be done (ironically, a classic Bush move), Kerry is providing a rhetorical weapon to be used against anyone who questions escalation now.

Locally, Peter King’s for it, Steve Israel’s against it, Gary Ackerman and Tim Bishop are on the fence, and Gillibrand, Schumer and McCarthy are waiting to hear the speech before they have an opinion.

A coalition of peace activists plans to hold a candlelight vigil outside West Point the night of the speech.