Elementary considerations of deterrence make catching Osama bin Laden a top priority, no matter what George W. Bush says:
Fred Barnes: Well, [Bush] said, look, you can send 100,000 special forces, that's the figure he used, to the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan and hunt him down, but he just said that's not a top priority use of American resources. His vision of a war on terror is one that involves intelligence to find out from people, to get tips, to follow them up and break up plots to kill Americans before they occur. That's what happened recently in that case of the planes that were to be blown up by terrorists, we think coming from England, and that's the top priority. He says, you know, getting Osama bin Laden is a low priority compared to that.
Elementary deterrence: Everybody around the world needs to know that if you kill 3,000 Americans in lower Manhattan in a morning, then you and your allies die and die quickly--that you don't get to spend five years living a healthy outdoor life.
I hate the way this administration turns me into a nutbar conspiracy theorist.
And I hate the fact that this is one possible scenario I cannot exclude from my nightmares:
SCENE: THE WHITE HOUSE, LATE FALL 2001:
Voice 1: We have Osama bin Laden trapped in Tora Bora. Let's flood the zone--send in the troops in large numbers to make sure he doesn't get away.
Voice 2: We could do that, but would it be wise?
Voice 1: What? We have to get Osama bin Laden. He killed 3,000 Americans.
Voice 2: But if we send in large numbers of American troops into Afghanistan, we will take significant casualties.
Voice 3: This is a war!
Voice 2: Americans don't like to see their soldiers die. It will shake them up.
Voice 1: But it will be worth it: we will kill Osama bin Laden. That will be a wonderful thing.
Voice 2: Would it? The American people would then think that the War on Terror was over. They would demand a return to "normalcy."
Voice 3: But it would be a great victory to kill Osama bin Laden.
Voice 2: Not if it led the American people to think that the war was over, and to demand a return to peace.
Voice 1: But the war would be almost over.
Voice 2: No, it wouldn't be. Saddam Hussein is still out there, arming terrorists and trying to build nuclear weapons. Muammar Gaddhafi is out there, arming terrorists. Kim Jong Il. And the Mullahs of Qom, who are eager to see Hezbollah turn northern Israel into a radioactive abattoir as soon as they can get a dirty bomb. This will be a long, brutal struggle.
Voice 3: Yes, so?
Voice 2: We have to be strong enough to think and do things that some might find horrifying, but that a cold-eyed appraisal of the situation will find necessary.
Voice 1: Like?
Voice 2: Osama bin Laden's fangs have been pulled. His organization has been destroyed. He's not a threat anymore. There's only one way he can harm us--if we kill him, and if because he is dead America then falsely concludes that the War on Terror is over, and that we can stand down.
Voice 3: But that won't happen. It almost surely won't happen.
Voice 2: Do you want to take that risk? Do you really want to go down in the history books that way if you are wrong? To lose our last chance to save America?
Voice 3: [Silence]
Voice 2: And there's another consideration--if we send the troops into Tora Bora now in large numbers, it will delay our action against Saddam Hussein.
Voice 1: Hmmm...
Voice 2: Is this really a high priority--to spend our soldiers' lives and our resources chasing the head of a snake that is already cut in half, and so give Saddam Hussein an additional six months or so during which he might get lucky?
Voice 3: But...
Voice 2: It would be nice if we could (a) prepare to attack Iraq, (b) flood the zone and kill Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, and (c) be sure that the death of Osama bin Laden would not erode domestic support for what we have to do. But we are not that strong.
Voice 3: But...
Voice 2: Yes. The easy thing, the weak thing, the popular thing would be to make sure of getting Osama bin Laden right now, and use whatever resources we need to do it. But we face dangerous enemies. We have to do the strong thing, the hard thing--even if most Americans wouldn't understand.
Voice 3: You may be right.
Voice 2: So are we agreed? Let the operation at Tora Bora roll forward with the current force level, and start getting ready for the attack on Iraq?