Former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn says the success by American special forces in taking out Osama Bin Laden shows that such pinpoint strikes should be used more and more in the future, rather than occupying nations in drawn-out wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I think this is the wave of the future,” Nunn said in an interview Tuesday in Columbus after the annual shareholder meeting at TSYS, of which he is an emeritus director on the firm’s board. “We’ve seen the downside of occupation in Iraq and continuing in Afghanistan. This is the kind of skills that we have and the kind that we can execute with great pride.”
Nunn, 72 and a native of Perry, Ga., served 24 years in the U.S. Senate as a Democrat, heading its Armed Services Committee for eight years. The retired lawyer now is co-chairman and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an organization with the goal of reducing the global threat of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Nunn had high praise for the special operations forces who carried out the high-risk mission to capture Bin Laden, who had eluded authorities since masterminding the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on U.S. soil on Sept. 11, 2001.
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The terrorist leader, long believed to have been hiding in a cave along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, was killed in a raid on his compound near the city of Abbottabad in Pakistan.
“It showed, I think, a firmness, a boldness in decision-making at the top level, from President Obama down,” Nunn said. “And I think it showed tremendous execution by our special operation forces, and by our intelligence community. The combination of those is the best in the world.
“Too many times we see only the failures, and the successes don’t get noted and this is one time where we really are seeing what they can do.”
Harkening back to the Carter Administration in 1980, Nunn said the U.S. Joint Forces Command materialized out of a failed rescue mission of 52 U.S. hostages in Iran. The attempt by the U.S. military left eight American servicemen dead, but spurred efforts to develop a unified approach to such missions.
“Whether they’re Navy, Army, Air Force, they have their own command, they have their own budget, they don’t get lost,” Nunn said. “They may not be called on but every year or two, but when they are called on, it’s crucial.”
The former senator stopped short of saying U.S. troops should exit Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as possible. They’ve been there since shortly after the 2001 attacks.
“But occupying another country is a different mission than what America is historically accustomed to, and I think it’s extremely difficult when the cultures are totally different,” he said. “It’s enormously expensive. It’s expensive most of all in lives and in casualties, and it’s expensive in funds.”
Nunn said the demise of Bin Laden also was a welcome development simply because it allays the worst fear held by himself and others, including the intelligence community.
“That would be that one of these days Bin Laden would die and we would never know it,” he said. “And he would go on as almost immortal in the minds of the extremists. So this is a big thing.”
Nunn said Americans should tip their hats and salute the members of the U.S. military and their families, who have sacrificed with blood, sweat and tears over the last 10 years.
But he also said it’s important to understand that while Bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups continue to lurk around the world, preparing for more attacks.
It’s vital that intelligence organizations around the globe cooperate with each other now more than ever to prevent such assaults, he said.
“But in the long run, the Muslim community has to take on its own extremists,” Nunn said. “It may take another 20 years and we’ve got to help wherever we can. But a lot of the battle is going to be within the Muslim community to isolate their violent extremists. That’s got to happen.”
On the topic of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and his effort to quell a revolt by his people, with the U.S. participating in NATO attacks on government forces, Nunn was succinct.
“It’s a very difficult mission,” he said. “I hope we get lucky. By getting lucky, I hope that Gadhafi will either resign or be taken out by his own folks.”