A reader wrote in this morning noting CNN's report that US forces will "soon implement high-tech surveillance tactics in the region [where bin Laden is thought to be], enabling them to monitor the area 24 hours a day, seven days a week." He said this sounded like a pretty good idea since the 9-5 M/F approach hadn't panned out so far.
That's a cheeky line; but it does point to a valid question. Why now?
Now, one of the dangers of any sort of opinion commentary, and blogging in particular, is that you're constantly tempted to comment on or venture an opinion on a topic that you know something about, but yet not all the relevant details. And this is certainly one of those cases. But this sudden rush of new resources into the bin Laden hunt really does seem to cry out for some explanation about timing, doesn't it?
There does seem to be a certain post-winter seasonal logic to the ramping up of the effort. But then this is the third spring since 9/11, not the first.
Why didn't we throw all these resources into the search in early 2002 or early 2003?
We know that too few resources were put into the search for bin Laden in the months just after the fall of the Taliban. At a minimum it seems we left too much of the effort in the hands of local allies -- the Northern Alliance, tribal allies, the Pakistanis -- whose motivation to capture bin Laden wasn't as clear or strong as ours, though that is, to be fair, probably more clear in retrospect than it was at the time.
We also know that we were drawing forces out of Afghanistan over the course of 2002 to build up for our invasion of Iraq. And making a full-court press in the spring of 2003 likely would have been difficult while we were focusing so many resources on Iraq.
But that's an argument the administration is presumably wary of making since it would show, in the most direct way, that the rush to invasion in Iraq sidetracked our battle against al Qaida. The decision-making in 2002/2003 is arguably more problematic since, unlike what may have been the case a year earlier, the trade-offs in that decision should have been clear at the time.
One possible answer to the 'why now' question is that it's now possible because of the deal we just cut with Pakistan. But that begs the question of why that deal happened now as opposed to two years ago and what we had to give up to get it.
In any case, as I say, I don't want to presuppose the answer to this question. The timing may be tied to changes in the internal political situation in Pakistan or the deal we just cut over the A.Q. Khan nuclear network.
But I think we do have to ask this question. We've been after bin Laden for more than two and a half years. Why the rush of new ground forces and high-tech gizmos in the lead-up to the presidential election?