Remember the president's big Iraq speech in June -- the one in which he vowed not to "yield the future of the Middle East" to men like Osama bin Laden? "For the sake of our nation's security," George W. Bush said, "this will not happen on my watch."
We said it then, and a new report in Newsweek prompts us to say it again now: If Bush had been as concerned about yielding the future of the Middle East to bin Laden as he was about overthrowing the government of Saddam Hussein, perhaps he -- and we -- wouldn't still be worrying about bin Laden today.
During the 2004 presidential race, Bush attacked John Kerry for suggesting that he'd taken his eye off the ball in Afghanistan and let bin Laden escape from Tora Bora in December 2001. The president called Kerry's charge "the worst kind of Monday-morning quarterbacking," and he said that "intelligence reports at the time placed bin Laden in any of several countries."
But as Newsweek reports this week, the CIA field commander at Tora Bora says in a new book that he and other U.S. commanders knew for a fact that bin Laden was at Tora Bora because intelligence operatives had tracked him there. Gary Berntsen says that the United States could have captured bin Laden but that the Pentagon failed to provide enough support to either the CIA or its own special forces at Tora Bora to get the job done.
"Jawbreaker" is due out in October, but don't go placing your advance order just yet. Berntsen submitted his book to the CIA several months ago for the required prepublication review, and he's still awaiting clearance to publish. "They're just holding the book," Berntsen tells Newsweek. "CIA officers, special forces and U.S. air power drove the Taliban out in 70 days. The CIA has taken roughly 80 days to clear my book."
Berntsen has sued the agency over the time it has taken to clear the book. A CIA spokeswoman says the agency is doing the best that it can, telling Newsweek, "We take seriously our goal of responding quickly."