Bush administration passed up chance to nail Zarqawi in 2002
From The New Republic:
"Abu Musab Al Zarqawi isn't just a Jordanian jihadist adept at slaughtering Iraqis and American troops. In the hands of President Bush, he has become a shorthand rebuttal to John Kerry's argument that the Iraq war has been a diversion from the fight against Al Qaeda: 'If Zarqawi and his associates were not busy fighting American forces in Iraq, does my opponent think they would be peaceful citizens of the world? Does he think they'd be opening a small business somewhere?'
But Zarqawi should really be a metaphor for something else: gross cynicism about national security. As The Wall Street Journal reported this week, American officials had identified Zarqawi as a critical terrorist target in spring 2002. By June of that year, Pentagon officials had drawn up options for a strike against Zarqawi's base in Iraqi Kurdistan--only to get no response from the White House for nine months, at which point they were told to delay an attack until the war began...
National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson told the Journal, 'Because there was never any real-time, actionable intelligence that placed Zarqawi at [his camp], action taken against the facility would have been ineffective.' Too bad the uniformed military doesn't agree. Retired General John Keane, then the Army's vice chief of staff, claims that Zarqawi's base was 'one of the best targets we ever had.' By the time American forces eventually struck, Zarqawi and his fighters had fled. It's hard to imagine what could be more cynical than Bush using Zarqawi's presence in Iraq to bolster his case for reelection after letting the terrorist go free in the interest of presenting an uncomplicated (and invalid) case for invading Iraq. But, if Bush is reelected, we'll probably find out. "