- - Thursday, May 5, 2011

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

- President John F. Kennedy

Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest.

- President George W. Bush.

Momentous events that have changed American history have had at their core leadership that transcended party, administration and even time. President Kennedy’s vision for the moon landing, like President Bush’s vision for the hunt for Osama bin Laden, set in motion events that changed the world.

It would take one giant leap for mankind to pretend President Nixon was the driving force behind the Apollo missions. He deserves credit, of course, for following Kennedy’s vision, just as President Obama deserves credit for following Mr. Bush’s vision, but it would be the step of a truly small man to ignore the real visionaries.

Imagine if Nixon, in his first week in office, had signed an executive order to close NASA within a year as President Obama did with the Guantanamo detention center. Imagine if Nixon had claimed the Saturn V rocket, for example, was “not effective,” as Mr. Obama famously declared of the enhanced interrogation techniques used on terrorists. Imagine if Nixon had opposed Kennedy’s science initiatives with the same “fierce moral urgency of change” with which Mr. Obama opposed Mr. Bush’s “cowboy diplomacy” in the global war on terrorism. Would history still be so kind to Nixon - even when the moon landing occurred on his watch?

It’s certainly no slight of Nixon, then, to give Kennedy the credit he was due, nor should it be for Mr. Obama now. Of course, in substantive ways, bin Laden finally was found not because of Mr. Obama but in spite of him. As President Reagan said, facts are stubborn things.

According to CIA Director Leon Panetta, the much maligned enhanced interrogation techniques - including the infamous waterboarding - played an instrumental role in finding bin Laden. Mr. Obama declared that those techniques were “not effective” and ended their practice. Ponder for a moment the tortured ethics it takes to reconcile the pious declaration that we mustn’t pour water onto a terrorist’s face but we shall go into his home and shoot him in the face in front of his wife and children. That non sequitur aside, Mr. Obama warned us that the information gathered by waterboarding would be unreliable.

The Obama administration declared its own war on the war on terrorism. It was so incensed at pouring water on terrorists’ faces - a technique that helped find bin Laden - that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. continues to this day his unbelievable criminal investigation of the CIA operatives who dared to serve our nation’s security. Of course, if Mr. Obama had had his way, the Guantanamo detention center itself would be closed and the terrorists would be enjoying American constitutional rights in Terre Haute, Ind., and al Qaeda’s No. 2 man, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, would be given the world’s biggest megaphone in a show trial in New York City.

Now President Obama has decided the world mustn’t see photographic evidence of bin Laden’s demise for fear that it might inflame the already inflamed Islamic extremists’ sensibilities, as though you can make water more wet. He wasn’t concerned about inflaming our enemies when he advocated the release of thousands of damning photos of prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan or when his team filled the airwaves with claims that a U.S. president had been torturing Arab detainees.

The release of the bin Laden death photo is not simply to “spike the football,” as the president trivialized it. It can have substantial benefit. The gruesome death photos of Saddam Hussein’s evil sons, Uday and Qusay, assured a beleaguered nation that their reign of terror had ended. Was bin Laden any less evil? Do his enemies deserve any less assurance? The benefits reached far beyond just Iraq.The photo of Saddam Hussein himself being pulled from his spider hole near Tikrit immediately prompted the Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi to abandon his nuclear ambitions. Later, Saddam’s death photo gave a nation similar comfort and did not fuel a new eruption of the Arab world.

America salutes Mr. Obama for following the brave leadership of Mr. Bush despite how difficult it must have been for him. Here’s a man who can barely bring himself even to discuss terrorism, the global war on terrorism or war itself, preferring instead to use such Orwellian euphemisms as “man-made disaster,” “overseas contingency operations” and “kinetic military action.” Still, as reluctant as he may have been, he was right to authorize the killing of Osama bin Laden. He was right to unleash the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 or, as Democrats deride them, “Cheney’s assassination squad.”

Fools may rush in to claim all sorts of credit: Who can forget Vice President Joseph R. Biden declaring that the Iraq war surge would be “one of the great achievements” of the Obama administration? But again, facts are stubborn things.

Mr. Bush deserves a nation’s gratitude. When his fiercest critics - chief among them our current president - assailed his approach to terrorism, he stood strong, thanklessly. When many in his own party abandoned him, he stood strong, thanklessly. When his own generals despaired, he stood strong, thanklessly. Today, thankfully, the world is a safer place because of him.

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