Ed. note: As we approach the end of another year, the Shadow Government team is resuming our tradition of evaluating the Obama Administration's foreign policy over the past year. Our contributors will be offering their assessments on one thing the White House got right, and one thing the White House got wrong. Here is the first installment from Dov Zakheim.
Give the President credit: once Osama Bin Laden had been located, Barak Obama had several options for capturing or killing him and he chose the one that involved the greatest risk but yielded the most satisfying outcome. The President and his advisors all were aware of the disaster that was the Carter Administration's attempt to free the Embassy hostages in Tehran. Desert One was a spectacular failure that helped to doom Carter's re-election hopes.
Obama, knowing that his political opponents often compared him to the man who many reckon to be among the least effective president of the twentieth century, needed a lot of gumption to order the Seals into Pakistan to capture or kill the terrorist icon. He knew that the mission might not succeed, and that he too could go down in history as a failed one-term chief executive. He knew, as well, that a raid on Abbottabad would provoke Pakistani ire to the point where relations between Washington and Islamabad might be damaged beyond repair. The President went ahead anyway, and Bin Laden is dead.
On the other hand, the Obama Administration should hang its head in shame over the release of a terrorist who personally masterminded the killing of five American soldiers. Ali Musa Daqduq is Lebanese national and a high level Hezbollah operative. Like so many other Hezbollah leaders, he has ties to the worst elements of the Iranian regime: he has trained members of the notorious Iranian Revolutionary Guard Kuds force, which is closely aligned with Tehran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. That alone should have prevented Washington from turning Daqduq over to the Sh'ia-led Iraqi government, with its more than cordial ties to Iran. But it was his masterminding the ambush, kidnapping and murder of five American soldiers that should have prompted the Administration to make the "no-brainer" decision to transfer him to an American military detention facility (how about Guantanamo?).
What will the Maliki government do about Daqduq? Since Iraq, clearly at the behest of Tehran, joined Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon in not even voting with its fellow Arab League states to suspend Syria from membership, the answer is clear. Now that American troops have departed Iraq, it is only a matter of time before Baghdad orders the release of Hezbollah's hero.
Hopefully, Daqduq will no longer be in a position to kill more Americans. But given both the likelihood that he will soon be able to roam around the Middle East, and the extent of his terrorist contacts, we can never be sure. It is therefore truly a shame that, having showed so much courage in its successful effort to eliminate one master terrorist, the Obama Administration showed an equal amount of pusillanimity in its treatment of another. The price of that fateful decision may yet be paid.
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.