Over at Politico, Glenn Thrush is dismissing Donald Rumsfeld's characterization of the decision to kill Osama bin Laden as an "easy call" because of the former Defense Secretary's decision to call off a raid in Pakistan in 2005. Thrush writes that Rumsfeld's reasons for canceling the raid were "many of the same factors that Obama administration officials [say] complicated the OBL mission." What were the reasons?
From the 2007 New York Times report Thrush cites:
Mr. Rumsfeld decided that the operation, which had ballooned from a small number of military personnel and C.I.A. operatives to several hundred, was cumbersome and put too many American lives at risk, the current and former officials said. He was also concerned that it could cause a rift with Pakistan, an often reluctant ally that has barred the American military from operating in its tribal areas, the officials said.
The bin Laden raid, on the other hand, was conducted by a team of about two dozen Navy SEALs under the direction of the then-CIA chief Leon Panetta. As for the "rift with Pakistan," it had begun to grow significantly in the time period after the cancelled '05 raid. From the 2007 Times article:
Details of the aborted 2005 operation provide a glimpse into the Bush administration's internal negotiations over whether to take unilateral military action in Pakistan, where General Musharraf's fragile government is under pressure from dissidents who object to any cooperation with the United States.
Unilateral military action in Pakistan, of course, was kind of a lynchpin of candidate Obama's foreign policy in 2008, by which time General Musharraf's government had been toppled and the popular civilian opposition leader and Presidential candidate Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated. Her ineffective husband rules in Pakistan to this day, though his grip on power is tenuous at best. President Bush's relatively limited unilateral actions in Pakistan,, meanwhile, were ramped up by President Obama nearly immediately, with a significant uptick in drone strikes beginning in 2009.
With the Bush Administration's professed concerns about unilateral military action entirely dismissed by the Obama Administration's approach to Pakistan, a significant hurdle in the 2005 raid is cleared. The participation of a few dozen Navy SEALs, as opposed to a contingent of several hundred military and CIA personnel, and the targeting of Osama bin Laden and his potential compound, instead of the potential Al-Qaeda meeting considered in 2005, rounds out the biggest differences between the 2005 decision and the 2011 decision.
Nevertheless, Republicans' attempts to deflect the bin Laden mission as an attack on the Presidential campaign trail betrays their weakness on the foreign policy front. Though Republican candidates may talk a tougher kind of talk on issues like Iran, by embracing the ideological underpinnings of the Bush foreign policy while disposing of the inflammatory rhetoric, President Obama has been able to neutralize the advantage Republicans have held on the who's got the more bloodthirsty foreign policy front. The bin Laden raid may have been an "easy call," but the President's embrace of his predecessor's foreign policy and the subsequent creation of a bipartisan consensus on the issue made it so.