In a widely noted speech at the National Archives in May, President Barack Obama said of George W. Bush’s national security policies: “We are cleaning up something that is quite simply a mess.” The president is wrong. Far from a mess, when it comes to national security, President Obama actually inherited a very strong hand from his predecessor. When Bush left office in January, America had marked 2,688 days without suffering another terrorist attack on its soil, an outcome that seemed all but impossible when the smoke cleared on September 12, 2001. Despite repeated attempts, al-Qaeda failed in its efforts to strike the U.S. again—because Bush kept its leaders on their heels and left them increasingly defeated and discredited on battlefronts across the globe.
To understand exactly how strong Obama’s hand is on national security, one needs only to compare the situation today to the one Bush inherited when he arrived at the White House. In 2001, the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, and had turned that country over to al-Qaeda to train terrorists and plan attacks. Pakistan was one of the only countries in the world that recognized the Taliban regime, but the United States was not actively working with that country’s leaders or its military to shut down al-Qaeda’s operations. Saudi Arabia had turned a blind eye to facilitators within its own borders who were providing recruits, money, religious justification, and logistical support to al-Qaeda. In Southeast Asia, a terrorist network called Jemaah Islamiyah was growing in strength and collaborating with al-Qaeda on attacks planned for the American homeland.
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