During the 2008 campaign, then candidate Barack Obama pledged several times that he would act to capture or kill terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. Back then, his political rivals criticized him for saying he'd do it with or without Pakistan's help.
Obama made one of his earliest and most formal statements in a major policy speech on Aug. 1, 2007. Obama savaged the war in Iraq as a misguided effort and said the United States needed to turn its attention to fighting terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It's widely believed that at least some elements of the Pakistani government tolerate terrorists in their country because they see them as a useful foil against India, Pakistan's longtime rival. In his speech, Obama said Pakistan, a U.S. ally, would be required to help fight terrorists, singling out Pervez Musharraf, then the president of Pakistan, by name.
"Now, I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear,” Obama said in 2007. "There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will.”
Back then, Obama's rivals for the presidency criticized his remarks as naive, saying that direct, public criticism of Musharraf was unwise. In other attacks, his rivals distorted Obama's position to say he wanted to bomb Pakistan, claims we rated Pants on Fire.
Obama stuck by his position to go after bin Laden in Pakistan. "I think that if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights, and we've exhausted all other options, we should take him out before he plans to kill another 3,000 Americans. I think that's common sense,” Obama said.
At other points on the campaign trail, Obama said he would "have no greater priority than taking out these terrorists who threaten America” and that he would "snuff out bin Laden and the al-Qaida terrorists.”
In an October 2008 debate with Republican nominee John McCain, Obama said the following:.
"What I have said is we're going to encourage democracy in Pakistan, expand our non-military aid to Pakistan so that they have more of a stake in working with us, but insisting that they go after these militants. And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act, and we will take them out.
"We will kill bin Laden. We will crush al-Qaida . That has to be our biggest national security priority.”
Obama's campaign statements now appear prescient. On Sunday, Obama announced that a U.S. team had killed bin Laden at a private compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Obama administration officials said officials in Pakistan were briefed only after the raid had occurred.
In remarks delivered Sunday night, Obama delivered the news to the American people. He said both the United States and Pakistan considered it "a good and historic day for both of our nations.”
"Over the years, I've repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we've done,” Obama said. "But it's important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.”
We did not notice this promise when we created our Obameter database in 2009, so we are adding it now, as we have done with other campaign vows that readers have pointed out.
We rate Obama's pledge to kill bin Laden a Promise Kept.