What's the GOP Without Osama bin Laden?
This story originally appeared at Truthdig. Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
Pity Bill O’Reilly and the rest of the Republican right wing led by the forlorn slate of candidates gearing up to challenge Barack Obama in the next presidential election. They lost their cherished patriotism card as a means of deflecting attention from an economy that exploded on their watch. Beating up on Medicare won’t cut it as a platform when you don’t have the specter of Osama bin Laden to scare voters.
Unfortunately, Obama too was quite willing to rush off to escalate unnecessary wars, as in the ramped-up conflict with the Taliban in Afghanistan, while bin Laden was being protected by our ally Pakistan. But for the moment there is joy in witnessing the more zealous Republican hard-liners humbled by the success of a president they continuously derided as weak on defense.
There is no sane way for them to explain away how the brainy Democrat with the questioned citizenship and the oddball, Muslim-sounding name, who had dared originally to doubt the wisdom of invading Iraq, ended up succeeding where a warmongering, patriotism-on-my-lapel Republican president had failed so miserably.
The death of bin Laden in Pakistan renders ever more ludicrous that iconic image of then-President George W. Bush strutting aboard an aircraft carrier under a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.” What mission had this Wrong Way Corrigan accomplished except irrationally invading Iraq, a country that had banned Al Qaida, while he cozied up to a Pakistan that had long provided bin Laden and his Taliban sponsors with critical support?
Just how long was revealed in a State Department memo declassified in 2007 that said the Pakistan government had been supporting the Taliban at least since 1995—even under ostensibly pro-US Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, whose husband now runs the country. “Pakistan has followed a policy of supporting the Taliban,” noted one State Department cable, adding, “US intelligence indicates the ISI is supplying the Taliban forces with munitions, fuel and food.” ISI refers to the hugely powerful and secretive Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which backed bin Laden from his first emergence in Afghanistan and is the most likely explanation for his having received such secure sanctuary in Pakistan after 9/11.
It was always Pakistan’s secret service agency that guided bin Laden from the first days, when the CIA recruited him to be one of the “freedom fighters” whom President Ronald Reagan bragged about supporting when they were our Cold War pawns in battling the Soviets. And, as should have been expected, it was Pakistan that provided him with a hiding place when he went on the run after the 9/11 attacks. Not only did Bush not challenge Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the two other countries that diplomatically recognized the Taliban government while it harbored bin Laden, but he dropped the sanctions that the US had imposed on Pakistan in response to its developing nuclear weapons.
Remember those weapons of mass destruction that were the excuse for invading Iraq, even though President Bush knew full well that Saddam Hussein didn’t have any? Well, Pakistan did and has more today. Thanks to our providing its people with advanced aircraft, Pakistan also has the means to deliver those nukes on targets far and wide. The scary thing is that the same Islamic militants in the Pakistani military who protected bin Laden have access to that nuclear arsenal.
It was also Pakistan—through the efforts of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the “father of the Islamic bomb”—that supplied North Korea, Iran and Libya with the means to attempt to build nuclear arsenals of their own. Khan’s vast nuclear smuggling network could not have flourished without the support of Pakistan’s military. Even after his network was exposed by US intelligence, Khan was protected under house arrest by Bush’s ally Prime Minister Gen. Pervez Musharraf and then was granted a full pardon.
Pakistan’s nuclear program had caused President Bill Clinton to impose sanctions in retaliation, so why did Bush lift them after the 9/11 attacks? Because, Bush claimed, Pakistan was an indispensable ally in the hunt for bin Laden. Some ally, given that bin Laden was in that country most of the time he was on the lam and in the last eight years lived in its most fortified military town, a kilometer away from Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point.
Clearly, the critique of the Bush policy provided by candidate Obama proved correct: terrorism is to be defeated through skilled intelligence and surgical strikes, not colonial invasions and conventional war. Obama needs now to apply that wisdom to bringing Bush’s folly in Iraq, and his own escalation in Afghanistan, to a swift end.
Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).