What if Bin Laden Had Gotten Away?

Mickey Kaus and a few others have picked up on an interesting detail in the timeline leading up to the U.S. mission that killed Osama bin Laden: a Wikileaks document released a week earlier appears to reveal that the U.S. knew about bin Laden's courier (I haven't seen a link to the document, but I'll update if somebody sends it Update: here it is). Kaus posits that this might have forced Obama's hand and prompted Sunday's mission, lest al Qaeda figure out that their man's cover was blown. This is indeed an intriguing possibility that I'd love to hear more about, although I part ways with Kaus on the issue of whether Republicans could use this fact--assuming it is a fact--to undermine Obama's success without seeming crassly partisan. Kaus argues:

Looking for a theory that will allow you to reconcile Obama's Abbottabad success with the unfavorable portrait of him that before Sunday was just beginning to come together and burn itself into the collective mediamind-that' he's an inexperienced, indecisive leader, constantly debating with himself, who fatally hedges every bet? Well, you've come to the right place. One of kausfiles' alert commenters ("Southernpundit") has taken the possibility that Obama's hand was forced by WikiLeaks-i.e., he had to act quickly or else Osama might realize we were on his couriers' trail and flee- and added a nasty-yet-plausible political twist:

[I]f it came out via Wikileaks that President Obama knew where Osama Bin Ladin was but did not act...No President would be able to recover, especially a Democrat President...talk about playing to stereotypes!

I'm glad that he made what I believe to be the right call, but ...

In other words, Obama's still a natural ditherer and hedger-it's just that in this case he was forced into taking decisive action by something bigger: the prospect of a devastating political attack ("He let bin Laden escape") no candidate entering a reelection campaign could survive.

Can you spot the problem here? It's the last sentence. We have had a president who "let bin Laden escape"--and he survived his reelection campaign! Tora Bora remains a stain on George W. Bush's legacy. But it didn't end his political career.

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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