Nothing succeeds like success. In the years since 9/11, Americans have had to live with the fact that President George W. Bush failed to take Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" -- to use the phrase that the former president came to regret.
President Obama didn't have to eat his words. In 2008, candidate Obama declared, "We will kill bin Laden." Now Public Enemy No. 1 is dead at U.S. hands.
Thank the intelligence operatives and military analysts who -- as the public settled for neutralizing bin Laden -- considered his demise to be "a moral imperative," says Tom Umberg, an Orange County, Calif., attorney, former state lawmaker and Army Reserve colonel who served in Afghanistan.
The hunt for bin Laden also demonstrates U.S. intelligence services' determination. According to The Associated Press, the CIA first learned of a trusted al-Qaida courier when interrogating confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his captured successor in agency prisons in Poland and Romania. The New York Times reports that Guantanamo Bay detainees gave interrogators a nom de guerre for the courier.
According to a senior White House official, intelligence forces uncovered the courier's true identity four years ago. It took another two years to learn where the courier and his brother operated.
In August, U.S. intelligence tracked the two men to the Abbottabad compound where bin Laden lived and died -- hiding among women behind 12-foot-high concrete walls and far from the war front.
Though recognizing that most of the credit for the success of the operation belongs to President Obama, UC Berkeley law professor John Yoo, who worked for the Bush Department of Justice, wrote on National Review Online that the raid also served as "a vindication of the Bush administration's terrorism policies." And: "According to anonymous government sources quoted in the press today, it was the interrogation of al-Qaeda leaders, that led to the identification of the courier, who led us to bin Laden's hiding place."
National Security Adviser John Brennan credited Obama for "one of the gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory." I salute the commander in chief for authorizing a successful boots-on-the-ground mission that, great political risk of failure notwithstanding, provided forensic proof of bin Laden's death, and without U.S. casualties.
Brennan also told reporters, "If we had the opportunity to take him alive," U.S. troops would have done that.
I sure hope that's not true. There are simply too many things that could go wrong -- all for the dubious benefit of bin Laden dying in a jail cell after enjoying the opportunity to make a mockery of the U.S. justice system -- or worse, because it would be so easy, an international court. The beauty of the terror king's two-bullet ending was that it had an ending.
On Monday, Umberg spoke of sacrifices made by members of the military and their families, and noted, "The sacrifices are not over."
Al-Qaida still exists. Afghanistan remains a dangerous haven. As Bush discovered, the more successful a president is in keeping America safe, the less voters support measures to protect themselves. Bin Laden's death will fuel the pressure for a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But this is no time to lose resolve.