Jason Reed / Reuters
President Bush started the search for Osama bin Laden on Sept. 11, 2001, and President Obama ended it yesterday, and each man took special pride in the accomplishment.
Bush, in a statement posted on the Facebook page of his wife, former first lady Laura Bush, said: "The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done."
Obama, meanwhile, wore an American flag pin on his lapel as he strode to a lectern in the East Room of the White House to make the official announcement.
"Justice has been done," the president said in remarks that began at 11:35 p.m.
Obama also went to lengths to detail the circumstances that led to bin Laden's death, as well as his leadership of it, starting with him saying he made it his top terrorism priority since shortly after taking office in 2009.
"Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice," said the president.
Then, in his crescendo, he added: "Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan."
Obama's backers will surely argue that the achievement validates his effort to shift the focus from the war on terror from insurgents and Saddam Hussein's loyalists in Iraq to the Taliban in Afghanistan, part of a campaign pledge he made to target bin Laden, the culprit of the 9/11 attacks.
As a senator, Obama declared he would authorize US forces to go into Pakistan to get bin Laden if that was where he sought refuge. In the end, that is what happened, with uncertain diplomatic repercussions for the country.
The president himself did not have to gloat, the facts potent enough to speak for themselves.
Two of his prospective Republican rivals next year, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, were quick to issue statements lauding the achievement.
“This is a great victory for lovers of freedom and justice everywhere," Romney said in comments emailed eight minutes after the president finished speaking. "Congratulations to our intelligence community, our military, and the president. My thoughts are with the families of Osama bin Laden's many thousands of victims, and the brave servicemen and women who have laid down their lives in pursuit of this murderous terrorist.”
Pawlenty was equally gracious in a statement coming six minutes later, saying: “This is terrific news for freedom and justice. In the hours after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush promised that America would bring Osama bin Laden to justice and we did. I want to congratulate America's armed forces and President Obama for a job well done. Let history show that the perseverance of the US military and the American people never wavered. America will never shrink from the fight and ultimately those who seek to harm us face only defeat. Today, justice is done, but the fight against radical Islamic terrorism is not yet over."
Word of the death of bin Laden's death had a special ring to Andy Card, who, as White House chief of staff, was the person on Sept. 11, 2001, with the solemn duty to inform President Bush that "America is under attack."
He told the Globe in an interview: "I was at an event in Washington with some of the people who served with in the first President Bush’s administration and we were reflecting on his tenure and all the sudden my BlackBerry was buzzing like crazy.”
Asked how he felt, he replied, “This is a great night. First of all, gratitude goes to the intelligence community and the special forces and the folks who were running on the ground to accomplish a mission that was not easy to accomplish. This was dedication that has gone on for almost 10 years.”
He also asked to remember the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks, and paid credit to "the resolve that President Bush and President Obama have shown.”
Nonetheless, Card was wary.
“This is a terrific day, but I want to remind everyone in America that this is a very dangerous time, because there are terrorists who would take this as an excuse to do something very bad. We have to take precautions over the next days and weeks, and while a very bad guy has been brought to justice, the dangers of terror have not been eliminated," he said.
As to whether bin Laden's death was a symbolic victory as much as a tangible one, Card was certain in his response.
"There is a high degree of symbolism that goes with this victory tonight, but I do think there is a practical challenge that goes for the whole terrorism network tonight," said Card. "The head of the snake has been cut off. There will be people vying for the head of that organization, but they do not command that same type of respect and attention that he did.”
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.