Reed, left, and other senators at a hearing with Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2009
The importance of the American military finally killing Osama bin Laden is “more than symbolic” and could help turn the tide of the country’s efforts in the Middle East, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said this morning.
“It matters a great deal, but the real sort of test will be not what has been accomplished, but how it’s used in the future,” Reed told me in a phone interview a short time ago. The administration needs to “maintain the momentum” by ensuring a lesson is learned about the U.S. military’s capabilities and the consequences of defying it, he said.
“There’s probably now more people in Pakistan who’ve been sort of on the fence about bin Laden and al-Qaeda who might be convinced, ‘Hey, these guys know what they’re doing and they’re going to do it – I want to be with them rather than be on the fence,’ ” Reed said.
President Obama’s decision Friday morning to order the raid on bin Laden was a closely held secret on Capitol Hill. Reed said he had no advance word of the mission and only learned bin Laden was dead when he woke up early this morning and scanned his e-mails. But although it took more than a decade, Reed said he never doubted the country would eventually track bin Laden down.
Reed said his first thought upon reading the news was admiration for the Navy SEALs and intelligence officers who carried out the mission, as well as for President Obama, who Reed said made “a courageous and tough decision” since he faced “a lot of risk had this not been successful.”
Reed’s thoughts also turned to the families of those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks. “You can’t replace the loss of their sons and daughters, husbands and waves, but it’s just a moment where they can sort of take a pause and have a sense of solace,” he said.
Reed heaped praise on Rhode Island native Tom Donilon, Obama’s national security adviser, who wrote the orders for the bin Laden mission on Friday. The first information about bin Laden’s whereabouts came in last summer, but it was “carefully vetted” by Donilon and others – “there was no rush to go in and try to capitalize,” Reed said.
“It’s a very important job,” Reed said of Donilon’s position. “First of all, you have to be selfless to serve the president – and serving him not by doing what he wants, but frankly by making sure he gets all the information, some of it good, some of it bad, so he’s fully aware of the risks and so he understands not only the consequences of success, but in many cases more importantly, of the operations that didn’t succeed.”
Reed also said the success of the bin Laden raid will make it even easier to win confirmation of Obama’s new national security team, which will include CIA Director Leon Panetta moving to the Pentagon as defense secretary and General David Petreaus taking over from Panetta at the CIA.
“This provides very significant vindication to the president in his selection of Leon Panetta,” said Reed, who praised the choices last week. “Leon was one of the key people in this process. … When they come before us, it will be easily recognized that these are sound appointees, and they should be confirmed quickly.”