Thank you, Sen. Barack Obama.
Yours truly, a two-time, Bush 43-supporting political pundit who worked in an appointed capacity in the administration of Bush 41, offers you his gratitude for being the first among A-level presidential aspirants willing to say something substantive about our failure to find Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
We're just weeks removed from the six-year anniversary of Sept. 11, and I, for one, am sick and tired of being fed the same old spin about how the search is nuanced, and sooner or later we will bring him to justice. That sound bite may have cut it in year one, two or three, but six years after the worst atrocity to be committed on our shores against our people, we are owed more answers.
It is painfully obvious that whatever we are doing is not working. I should think that is reason enough to demand accountability of the administration, and in turn, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to whom we have outsourced our responsibility to the tune of $1 billion a year. But until you, no one has demanded answers on this score.
Which is why I think it's appalling that your words have been labeled naïve and ridiculed from both the left and the right. Especially when there can be no legitimate debate about these sentiments you offered:
"There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al-Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.
"We can't send millions and millions of dollars to Pakistan for military aid, and be a constant ally to them, and yet not see more aggressive action in dealing with al-Qaeda."
Who could take issue with any of that?
No, it is not you who should be embarrassed. It is anyone who wants the job of commander in chief and is not similarly banging the drum, particularly in light of recent events highlighting our predicament.
Just this week, Musharraf lamented the rise of radicalism and violence in the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He admitted that support for militants emanating from Pakistan has caused problems for Afghanistan, and that his country needs to do a better job controlling its border. He said a "particularly dark form" of terrorism threatens to exclude the region from the economic expansion he sees the rest of the world experiencing.
His words came after a series of setbacks for our partner in Pakistan. Last month tensions there boiled over when Musharraf ordered Pakistani troops to confront radical Islamists encamped in the Red Mosque, which resulted in dozens of deaths. Little more than week later he suffered a high-stakes political defeat when he was forced to reinstate Pakistan's chief justice, whom he had removed for alleged corruption.
Also last month, our own National Security Estimate concluded that the failure of Gen. Musharraf's highly publicized accord with warlords in Pakistan's remote tribal areas has allowed bin Laden's thugs there to regroup.
Meanwhile, National Intelligence Director Adm. Mike McConnell said on Meet the Press that he believes bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan - in the very tribal region Musharraf had ceded to those warlords last fall.
That's right. Osama bin Laden hasn't been captured, much less killed, and Gen. Musharraf's reign over Pakistan is on the brink of chaos, but we still rely on him to find bin Laden in that nation, and still, until now nobody here has found time to mention it. And now, you're supposed to be embarrassed for having suggested that if Musharraf won't act, you will? Nonsense.
Prior to your discussion of the subject, Sen. Obama, I reviewed the transcripts of the first seven presidential debates (almost 15 hours!) and could find only one substantive question about Pakistan put to any of the candidates, and that came from someone in the audience.
That's why I blame the other candidates for not talking in detail about what they would do to find bin Laden if elected, and shame on the media for giving those candidates a free pass.
I certainly don't profess to have the answers about what we should be doing in Pakistan to finally find and kill bin Laden, and I don't know whether you do, Sen. Obama. But I welcome your attempt at leading the discussion.
Follow Michael Smerconish on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@smerconish