“To the cave where he lives”

Explicating Barack Obama’s best attack line.

I see Slate’s Chris Beam thinks (and Michael Gerson pretends to think) this line from Barack Obama’s acceptance speech was unfair:

John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the gates of hell, but he won’t even follow him to the cave where he lives.

Beam says “McCain didn’t have a chance to follow Bin Laden to Tora Bora.” Gerson demands to know whether Obama is calling McCain a coward.

Both miss the background.

Obama has said repeatedly that, if the U.S. gets actionable intelligence about top al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan, he as President would authorize going after those targets without waiting for permission from the Pakistani government (which had repeatedly withheld such permission). Since then, McCain has gone around saying that Obama wants to “attack” or “invade” or “bomb” an ally. Those attacks on Obama’s judgment by McCain didn’t stop when the Bush Administration actually did what Obama says he would do, using missile strikes inside Pakistan to take out a senior al-Qaeda figure. But McCain, while criticizing Obama for being willing to attack bin Laden in Pakistan, where he is, continues to promise to “pursue him to the Gates of Hell,” where, according to the latest intelligence reports, he is not.

So the issue seems squarely joined: McCain would, and Obama would not, play “Mother, may I?” with the Pakistani government if there were a chance to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. I had been hoping that Obama would strike back on this question, and that’s what he did.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com