Commentary Magazine


Topic: Commander in Chief

Dan Coats vs. Obama on the Middle East

I spoke this morning with Dan Coats, former senator and ambassador to Germany and now the GOP front-runner in the Indiana senate race. Together with Charles Robb and Charles Ward Coats, he had authored two reports urging a firm timetable, sanctions that “bite,” and preservation of military options to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

After fifteen months of Obama’s attempts to engage Iran, I asked Coats if Obama’s policy was a failure. “Yes, it certainly has failed. Engagement has done nothing but buy time” for the mullahs to pursue their nuclear plans, he explained. He noted that during the Bush administration we deferred to our European allies. So, he concludes, “It has been almost a decade that we’ve been down this road. The open hand has been slapped back.” In essence, Iran has, he says, simply played the “rope-a-dope game.”

Is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates correct in warning that we lack a viable plan? Coats replies, “Yes. We are lacking a viable plan because they are lacking a commander in chief to order them to put together a viable plan.” He says that a nuclear-armed Iran is our “most imminent security challenge” and yet the administration seems unwilling to examine what a nuclear-armed Iran and a potential containment strategy would look like. The sanctions currently under discussion, he explains, are deficient. His reports argued for sanctions that “bite.” He says, “If Russia and China are outside the noose, they aren’t going to be effective.”

As for containment, Coats says that analogies to the Cold War are misplaced. Then, he recalls, we had “buffer states, a military prepared to deal with any breach, Pershing missiles, and 300,000 troops in Europe.” Moreover, he says, “Clearly, we are dealing with a much more unstable regime that has defied world opinion.”

I ask him whether the focus on the Palestinian “peace process” has distracted us from the Iranian threat or undermined the U.S.-Israel alliance. He says that with a nuclear-armed Iran “the very existence of Israel would be at stake.” He says that absent a more credible policy by the U.S., “Israel will be forced to act. It is unthinkable that the U.S. will passively stand aside [while Israel takes action].” He explains that “our credibility around the world” would be irreparably harmed as it became clear that the U.S. was unwilling to protect the security of any nation. As for the peace process, he says that “it is simply a cop out” to say that we need progress there in order to deal with the threats to Middle East peace. “I don’t for a moment think that even we had resolution [of the Palestinian conflict] we would have a kumbaya moment in the Middle East.” The mullahs have their own agenda and time table, he notes. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue it [a resolution of the Palestinian conflict] but we have been pursuing it for half a century.”

Finally, I ask him about the Obama administration’s desire to return our ambassador to Syria. He says, “We are past that. What we need is the administration to stand up to the reality of what is taking place in the Middle East — to show resolve and to show strength.” He says the move conveys weakness and we risk sending the signal that “we are not prepared to defend Israel.” He reminds us that this president had promised to use “all” aspects of American power. But, he says, Obama is not “willing to use American power. They must be laughing at us in the councils of Iran. And Israel sits on a powder keg.” He closes by warning that it may now be too late to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans, “We’re going to read in a few months that the game is over.”

Coats provides a stark contrast to the happy talk one hears from Hillary Clinton and the other administration spinners. Should he win the primary, we will perhaps see a spirited debate on Obama’s Middle East policy, unless, of course, the Democratic nominee is willing to break with Obama as Chuck Schumer did. Other senate candidates will face a similar choice.

I spoke this morning with Dan Coats, former senator and ambassador to Germany and now the GOP front-runner in the Indiana senate race. Together with Charles Robb and Charles Ward Coats, he had authored two reports urging a firm timetable, sanctions that “bite,” and preservation of military options to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

After fifteen months of Obama’s attempts to engage Iran, I asked Coats if Obama’s policy was a failure. “Yes, it certainly has failed. Engagement has done nothing but buy time” for the mullahs to pursue their nuclear plans, he explained. He noted that during the Bush administration we deferred to our European allies. So, he concludes, “It has been almost a decade that we’ve been down this road. The open hand has been slapped back.” In essence, Iran has, he says, simply played the “rope-a-dope game.”

Is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates correct in warning that we lack a viable plan? Coats replies, “Yes. We are lacking a viable plan because they are lacking a commander in chief to order them to put together a viable plan.” He says that a nuclear-armed Iran is our “most imminent security challenge” and yet the administration seems unwilling to examine what a nuclear-armed Iran and a potential containment strategy would look like. The sanctions currently under discussion, he explains, are deficient. His reports argued for sanctions that “bite.” He says, “If Russia and China are outside the noose, they aren’t going to be effective.”

As for containment, Coats says that analogies to the Cold War are misplaced. Then, he recalls, we had “buffer states, a military prepared to deal with any breach, Pershing missiles, and 300,000 troops in Europe.” Moreover, he says, “Clearly, we are dealing with a much more unstable regime that has defied world opinion.”

I ask him whether the focus on the Palestinian “peace process” has distracted us from the Iranian threat or undermined the U.S.-Israel alliance. He says that with a nuclear-armed Iran “the very existence of Israel would be at stake.” He says that absent a more credible policy by the U.S., “Israel will be forced to act. It is unthinkable that the U.S. will passively stand aside [while Israel takes action].” He explains that “our credibility around the world” would be irreparably harmed as it became clear that the U.S. was unwilling to protect the security of any nation. As for the peace process, he says that “it is simply a cop out” to say that we need progress there in order to deal with the threats to Middle East peace. “I don’t for a moment think that even we had resolution [of the Palestinian conflict] we would have a kumbaya moment in the Middle East.” The mullahs have their own agenda and time table, he notes. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue it [a resolution of the Palestinian conflict] but we have been pursuing it for half a century.”

Finally, I ask him about the Obama administration’s desire to return our ambassador to Syria. He says, “We are past that. What we need is the administration to stand up to the reality of what is taking place in the Middle East — to show resolve and to show strength.” He says the move conveys weakness and we risk sending the signal that “we are not prepared to defend Israel.” He reminds us that this president had promised to use “all” aspects of American power. But, he says, Obama is not “willing to use American power. They must be laughing at us in the councils of Iran. And Israel sits on a powder keg.” He closes by warning that it may now be too late to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans, “We’re going to read in a few months that the game is over.”

Coats provides a stark contrast to the happy talk one hears from Hillary Clinton and the other administration spinners. Should he win the primary, we will perhaps see a spirited debate on Obama’s Middle East policy, unless, of course, the Democratic nominee is willing to break with Obama as Chuck Schumer did. Other senate candidates will face a similar choice.

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Bibi’s Real Mistake

The Israelis’ error was not in announcing a housing-complex addition, writes John Bolton. It was in trying to play ball with an American administration that seeks to dictate negotiations with intransigent Palestinians and has little interest in stopping the mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons. Bolton explains:

Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to avoid open disputes with Washington have not won him White House plaudits. Mr. Obama almost certainly believes the real obstacle to peace is not new housing or unfortunate timing but so-called Israeli intransigence.

On Iran, Mr. Netanyahu has faithfully supported Mr. Obama’s diplomacy, hoping to build credibility with the president against the day when Israel might have to strike Iran’s weapons program preemptively. . . As time passes, Israel’s military option grows more difficult and the chances for success shrink as Iran seeks new air-defense systems and further buries and hardens nuclear facilities.

Mr. Netanyahu’s mistake has been to assume that Mr. Obama basically agrees that we must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But the White House likely believes that a nuclear Iran, though undesirable, can be contained and will therefore not support using military force to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The rub will come, as Bolton notes, when Israel determines that it must take military action and when the Obami do all they can to prevent the Jewish state’s preemptive strike, or to punish it after the fact (“if Israel bombs Iranian nuclear facilities, the president will likely withhold critical replenishments of destroyed Israeli aircraft and other weapons systems”). Bolton’s advice to Bibi is to stop trying to gain chits with Obama and strike while it is still possible. He argues:

The prime minister should recalibrate his approach, and soon. Israel’s deference on Palestinian issues will not help it with Mr. Obama after a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear program. It would be a mistake to think that further delays in such a strike will materially change the toxic political response Israel can expect from the White House. Israel’s support will come from Congress and the American people, as opinion polls show, not from the president.

It is quite a dilemma, unlike nearly any an Israeli prime minister has faced so far. But that is because we have never had a president quite so openly dismissive of Israel’s interests. The Obami keep repeating mantras that sound increasingly insincere. There is no space between us on national security. The Americans understand the existential threat to Israel. Our bond with Israel is unshakable. But none of it rings true judging by the behavior and tactics of the Obami. Bully-boy tactics on peace talks and foot-dragging on the Iranian nuclear threat say just the opposite.

Bolton is right that Israel’s greatest aid in this remains Congress and the American public. But let’s not kid ourselves. The president matters and is indispensible both in his prerogative to cooperate or not with an Israeli strike and to react rhetorically and otherwise after the fact. Counting on Congress to check the poor instincts of a commander in chief who lacks any visceral connection to the Jewish state (and, indeed, sees it as a provocateur) is dicey at best. There simply isn’t any substitute for a president who sees American interests aligned with Israel’s and correctly perceives which parties are the problem. Unfortunately, we don’t have such a president right now.

The Israelis’ error was not in announcing a housing-complex addition, writes John Bolton. It was in trying to play ball with an American administration that seeks to dictate negotiations with intransigent Palestinians and has little interest in stopping the mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons. Bolton explains:

Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to avoid open disputes with Washington have not won him White House plaudits. Mr. Obama almost certainly believes the real obstacle to peace is not new housing or unfortunate timing but so-called Israeli intransigence.

On Iran, Mr. Netanyahu has faithfully supported Mr. Obama’s diplomacy, hoping to build credibility with the president against the day when Israel might have to strike Iran’s weapons program preemptively. . . As time passes, Israel’s military option grows more difficult and the chances for success shrink as Iran seeks new air-defense systems and further buries and hardens nuclear facilities.

Mr. Netanyahu’s mistake has been to assume that Mr. Obama basically agrees that we must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But the White House likely believes that a nuclear Iran, though undesirable, can be contained and will therefore not support using military force to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The rub will come, as Bolton notes, when Israel determines that it must take military action and when the Obami do all they can to prevent the Jewish state’s preemptive strike, or to punish it after the fact (“if Israel bombs Iranian nuclear facilities, the president will likely withhold critical replenishments of destroyed Israeli aircraft and other weapons systems”). Bolton’s advice to Bibi is to stop trying to gain chits with Obama and strike while it is still possible. He argues:

The prime minister should recalibrate his approach, and soon. Israel’s deference on Palestinian issues will not help it with Mr. Obama after a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear program. It would be a mistake to think that further delays in such a strike will materially change the toxic political response Israel can expect from the White House. Israel’s support will come from Congress and the American people, as opinion polls show, not from the president.

It is quite a dilemma, unlike nearly any an Israeli prime minister has faced so far. But that is because we have never had a president quite so openly dismissive of Israel’s interests. The Obami keep repeating mantras that sound increasingly insincere. There is no space between us on national security. The Americans understand the existential threat to Israel. Our bond with Israel is unshakable. But none of it rings true judging by the behavior and tactics of the Obami. Bully-boy tactics on peace talks and foot-dragging on the Iranian nuclear threat say just the opposite.

Bolton is right that Israel’s greatest aid in this remains Congress and the American public. But let’s not kid ourselves. The president matters and is indispensible both in his prerogative to cooperate or not with an Israeli strike and to react rhetorically and otherwise after the fact. Counting on Congress to check the poor instincts of a commander in chief who lacks any visceral connection to the Jewish state (and, indeed, sees it as a provocateur) is dicey at best. There simply isn’t any substitute for a president who sees American interests aligned with Israel’s and correctly perceives which parties are the problem. Unfortunately, we don’t have such a president right now.

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RE: Obama’s Terror Policies Get Thumbs Down

Actually, according to the Democracy Corps–Third Way poll, Obama’s entire national-security approach gets thumbs down:

The Democracy Corps–Third Way survey released Monday finds that by a 10-point margin — 51 percent to 41 percent — Americans think the standing of the United States has dropped during the first 13 months of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

“This is surprising, given the global acclaim — and Nobel peace prize — that flowed to the new president after he took office,” the pollsters said.

The Democratic Party also plummeted on national security. A May survey by the pollsters found that the public saw the Democratic and Republican parties as equally able to handle national security (41 percent trusted Democrats more and 43 percent trusted Republicans more). On conducting the war on terrorism, the two parties were tied at 41 percent.

But the latest poll shows a massive gap, with Democrats trailing by 17 points, 33 percent to 50 percent, on which party likely voters think would do a better job on national security.

It seems that the apology jag, Iran engagement, pulling the rug out from under allies, harping on nuclear disarmament while despots pursue their own weapons, and penny-pinching on the defense budget — not to mention the not-Bush anti-terrorism policies — have not endeared Obama to the public as a stalwart commander in chief or foreign-policy wizard. The Democratic pollsters offer up the predictable excuses: “Americans remain in an unhappy mood, which is going to drive down a lot of numbers across the board for many different issues, including international affairs. … Add to that a need for the White House and national Democrats to more effectively communicate.” It’s never the policies, you see.

Foreign policy is rarely the top issue in a campaign year, unless Americans get the sense they are less safe and the policies being pursued are reckless and irresponsible. And then the voters can get very, very upset. The White House would be well advised to look at the substance of their policies and whether they are engendering respect here and abroad. If not, maybe the Obami’s problems are not just poor communication or a grouchy electorate.

Actually, according to the Democracy Corps–Third Way poll, Obama’s entire national-security approach gets thumbs down:

The Democracy Corps–Third Way survey released Monday finds that by a 10-point margin — 51 percent to 41 percent — Americans think the standing of the United States has dropped during the first 13 months of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

“This is surprising, given the global acclaim — and Nobel peace prize — that flowed to the new president after he took office,” the pollsters said.

The Democratic Party also plummeted on national security. A May survey by the pollsters found that the public saw the Democratic and Republican parties as equally able to handle national security (41 percent trusted Democrats more and 43 percent trusted Republicans more). On conducting the war on terrorism, the two parties were tied at 41 percent.

But the latest poll shows a massive gap, with Democrats trailing by 17 points, 33 percent to 50 percent, on which party likely voters think would do a better job on national security.

It seems that the apology jag, Iran engagement, pulling the rug out from under allies, harping on nuclear disarmament while despots pursue their own weapons, and penny-pinching on the defense budget — not to mention the not-Bush anti-terrorism policies — have not endeared Obama to the public as a stalwart commander in chief or foreign-policy wizard. The Democratic pollsters offer up the predictable excuses: “Americans remain in an unhappy mood, which is going to drive down a lot of numbers across the board for many different issues, including international affairs. … Add to that a need for the White House and national Democrats to more effectively communicate.” It’s never the policies, you see.

Foreign policy is rarely the top issue in a campaign year, unless Americans get the sense they are less safe and the policies being pursued are reckless and irresponsible. And then the voters can get very, very upset. The White House would be well advised to look at the substance of their policies and whether they are engendering respect here and abroad. If not, maybe the Obami’s problems are not just poor communication or a grouchy electorate.

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CPAC: Past, Present, and Future

One former VP, a former (and current) presidential aspirant, and a future rock star came to the CPAC gathering today. Two of them aren’t running for president in 2012, and you can bet the other is.

Dick Cheney made a surprise appearance and, in essence, passed the baton to the generation of his daughter Liz. (She might be running for something before too long.) As for Marco Rubio:

The star of CPAC continued his rise in the Republican Party on Thursday with a story about his American Dream. Marco Rubio, who has surged to near-even with Gov. Charlie Crist in the Florida GOP Senate primary, used his speech in front of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to bash President Barack Obama, Republican defector Sen. Arlen Specter and, by connection, the centrist Crist.

Rubio suggested that Crist would be another senator in the mold of Specter (D-Pa.), who in the face of a tough reelection last year fled the GOP to become a Democrat.

“We already have one Arlen Specter,” Rubio said, adding: “We already have one Democratic Party.”

Ouch. But it’s clear that his invocation of the American dream, his staunch position on the war against Islamic fascists, and his full-throated conservative economic message are a hit with the base, and will likely transfer comfortably to a general-election race.

Cheney and Rubio made clear that they will not be running in 2012. But Mitt Romney surely will. Ben Smith summed it up:

Mitt Romney has gone from being an overeager suitor to being a favored son of the Conservative Political Action Conference since he ended his presidential campaign here in 2008, and his speech today was well-calibrated to an audience basking in a conservative resurgence and eager for attacks on Obama.

Sen. Scott Brown introduced Romney, sharing a bit of his new star power with the former governor, whose aides ran Brown’s campaign, and calling him perfectly qualified “to fix a broken economy.”

Romney’s prepared remarks lace into Obama on an array of issues, all hinged on a single theme: Obama has departed from American values.

Several things were noteworthy in his speech. First, unlike his potential competitor Tim Pawlenty, who’s taken to slamming the GOP and, indirectly, George. W. Bush, Romney wasn’t going there:

When it comes to shifting responsibility for failure, however, no one is a more frequent object of President Obama’s reproach than President Bush. It’s wearing so thin that even the late night shows make fun of it. I am convinced that history will judge President Bush far more kindly — he pulled us from a deepening recession following the attack of 9/11, he overcame teachers unions to test school children and evaluate schools, he took down the Taliban, waged a war against the jihadists and was not afraid to call it what it is — a war, and he kept us safe.

Classy, and, after a year of not-Bush in the Oval Office, I suspect the message will resonate with conservatives.

Second, Romney, who struggled to find footing with social conservatives and to establish his bona fides on abortion and other such issues,  focused almost exclusively on foreign policy and the economy. When he did talk about “strengthening families,” it was education and health care, not abortion and gay rights, that were his focus. If 2012 will be about “letting Romney be Romney,” then you’re going to hear less of the hot-button issues that rang as not quite authentic last time around and, rather, more of this: “Conservatism has had from its inception a vigorously positive, intellectually rigorous agenda.”

Third, he has clearly found his focus, which is a conservative economic message that goes after the Democrats’ statist agenda and touts his own business background. He is laying the case that Obama simply doesn’t understand how the economy works and isn’t prepared, even now, to be president:

As he frequently reminds us, he assumed the presidency at a difficult time. That’s the reason we argued during the campaign that these were not the times for on the job training. Had he or his advisors spent even a few years in the real economy, they would have learned that the number one cause of failure in the private sector is lack of focus, and that the first rule of turning around any troubled enterprise is focus, focus, focus. And so, when he assumed the presidency, his energy should have been focused on fixing the economy and creating jobs, and to succeeding in our fight against radical violent jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he applied his time and political capital to his ill-conceived healthcare takeover and to building his personal popularity in foreign countries. He failed to focus, and so he failed.

And finally, there is a reason Romney is saying nice things about both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney — he’s running against the not-Bush (and Cheney) national-security policy:

We will strengthen our security by building missile defense, restoring our military might, and standing-by and strengthening our intelligence officers. And conservatives believe in providing constitutional rights to our citizens, not to enemy combatants like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed! On our watch, the conversation with a would-be suicide bomber will not begin with the words, “You have the right to remain silent!”

Romney never quite clicked with the conservative base last time. But Republicans are notoriously forgiving types and have a habit of going back to the runner-up. If he’s going to run as Romney the businessman, experienced executive, free-market advocate, and tough-as-nails commander in chief, it will be quite a contrast with Obama. But first he’s got to wow the conservative base and get by some formidable competition. Bringing along Scott Brown to introduce him was one small sign that he understands the need to connect with not just mainstreet Republicans but also with the grassroots tea party movement, which carried Brown into office. No easy task, but then again, we should all get a grip — it is still 2010.

One former VP, a former (and current) presidential aspirant, and a future rock star came to the CPAC gathering today. Two of them aren’t running for president in 2012, and you can bet the other is.

Dick Cheney made a surprise appearance and, in essence, passed the baton to the generation of his daughter Liz. (She might be running for something before too long.) As for Marco Rubio:

The star of CPAC continued his rise in the Republican Party on Thursday with a story about his American Dream. Marco Rubio, who has surged to near-even with Gov. Charlie Crist in the Florida GOP Senate primary, used his speech in front of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to bash President Barack Obama, Republican defector Sen. Arlen Specter and, by connection, the centrist Crist.

Rubio suggested that Crist would be another senator in the mold of Specter (D-Pa.), who in the face of a tough reelection last year fled the GOP to become a Democrat.

“We already have one Arlen Specter,” Rubio said, adding: “We already have one Democratic Party.”

Ouch. But it’s clear that his invocation of the American dream, his staunch position on the war against Islamic fascists, and his full-throated conservative economic message are a hit with the base, and will likely transfer comfortably to a general-election race.

Cheney and Rubio made clear that they will not be running in 2012. But Mitt Romney surely will. Ben Smith summed it up:

Mitt Romney has gone from being an overeager suitor to being a favored son of the Conservative Political Action Conference since he ended his presidential campaign here in 2008, and his speech today was well-calibrated to an audience basking in a conservative resurgence and eager for attacks on Obama.

Sen. Scott Brown introduced Romney, sharing a bit of his new star power with the former governor, whose aides ran Brown’s campaign, and calling him perfectly qualified “to fix a broken economy.”

Romney’s prepared remarks lace into Obama on an array of issues, all hinged on a single theme: Obama has departed from American values.

Several things were noteworthy in his speech. First, unlike his potential competitor Tim Pawlenty, who’s taken to slamming the GOP and, indirectly, George. W. Bush, Romney wasn’t going there:

When it comes to shifting responsibility for failure, however, no one is a more frequent object of President Obama’s reproach than President Bush. It’s wearing so thin that even the late night shows make fun of it. I am convinced that history will judge President Bush far more kindly — he pulled us from a deepening recession following the attack of 9/11, he overcame teachers unions to test school children and evaluate schools, he took down the Taliban, waged a war against the jihadists and was not afraid to call it what it is — a war, and he kept us safe.

Classy, and, after a year of not-Bush in the Oval Office, I suspect the message will resonate with conservatives.

Second, Romney, who struggled to find footing with social conservatives and to establish his bona fides on abortion and other such issues,  focused almost exclusively on foreign policy and the economy. When he did talk about “strengthening families,” it was education and health care, not abortion and gay rights, that were his focus. If 2012 will be about “letting Romney be Romney,” then you’re going to hear less of the hot-button issues that rang as not quite authentic last time around and, rather, more of this: “Conservatism has had from its inception a vigorously positive, intellectually rigorous agenda.”

Third, he has clearly found his focus, which is a conservative economic message that goes after the Democrats’ statist agenda and touts his own business background. He is laying the case that Obama simply doesn’t understand how the economy works and isn’t prepared, even now, to be president:

As he frequently reminds us, he assumed the presidency at a difficult time. That’s the reason we argued during the campaign that these were not the times for on the job training. Had he or his advisors spent even a few years in the real economy, they would have learned that the number one cause of failure in the private sector is lack of focus, and that the first rule of turning around any troubled enterprise is focus, focus, focus. And so, when he assumed the presidency, his energy should have been focused on fixing the economy and creating jobs, and to succeeding in our fight against radical violent jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he applied his time and political capital to his ill-conceived healthcare takeover and to building his personal popularity in foreign countries. He failed to focus, and so he failed.

And finally, there is a reason Romney is saying nice things about both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney — he’s running against the not-Bush (and Cheney) national-security policy:

We will strengthen our security by building missile defense, restoring our military might, and standing-by and strengthening our intelligence officers. And conservatives believe in providing constitutional rights to our citizens, not to enemy combatants like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed! On our watch, the conversation with a would-be suicide bomber will not begin with the words, “You have the right to remain silent!”

Romney never quite clicked with the conservative base last time. But Republicans are notoriously forgiving types and have a habit of going back to the runner-up. If he’s going to run as Romney the businessman, experienced executive, free-market advocate, and tough-as-nails commander in chief, it will be quite a contrast with Obama. But first he’s got to wow the conservative base and get by some formidable competition. Bringing along Scott Brown to introduce him was one small sign that he understands the need to connect with not just mainstreet Republicans but also with the grassroots tea party movement, which carried Brown into office. No easy task, but then again, we should all get a grip — it is still 2010.

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What if They Got Away?

Eli Lake reports:

U.S. and allied counterterrorism authorities have launched a global manhunt for English-speaking terrorists trained in Yemen who are planning attacks on the United States, based on intelligence provided by the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day bombing after he began cooperating. . .

Said one official: “It’s safe to say that Abdulmutallab is not the only bullet in the chamber for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” the Islamist terrorist group based in Yemen.

“Farouk took a month to get operational. Once he left [training in Yemen], it did not take very long,” the official said.

So in the five weeks of silence, did the other English-speaking terrorists go into hiding? Are the leads still good? We don’t know, but it is precisely this concern and the danger of leads gone cold that strike at the core of the Obami’s approach. They are concerned about extending constitutional principles to terrorists (and gaining convictions); they should have been focused like a laser on getting all the actionable data as soon as possible to prevent future attacks. Now it seems as though we are scrambling to catch up — and the Obami are trying to prepare us in the event we can’t catch up:

The data about the additional terrorist plots is thought to be one factor behind alarming congressional testimony two weeks ago from senior U.S. intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair.

Mr. Blair said he was “certain” that it was al-Qaeda’s priority to attempt an attack on the United States within three to six months.

The increased threat of terrorism emanating from Yemen was outlined in a majority staff report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made public last month. The report warned that U.S. criminals were migrating to Yemen for terrorist training.

A smart national security observer makes an additional point: “Enhanced interrogation is something also envisioned by Obama and it need not be torture. The HIG–high value interrogation group–was chartered for this kind of non torture/enhanced interrogation. It was not set up. So getting to him need not have meant waterboarding.” Conservatives would dispute whether waterboarding is torture, but the point is correct: even under the Obami’s own interrogation rules, it is hard to condone this missed opportunity.

So the question comes down to this: what if in the five weeks of the Christmas Day bomber’s Mirandized silence other terrorists got away? And if the unimaginable happens and one of these should strike, what then? Even the potential for such a calamity should convince all but the most hardened Obama sycophants that we are in danger now, greater danger than we would otherwise be, had the search for mass-murders-in-training begun weeks earlier.

There is no excuse for such malfeasance. Those officials who came up with this cockeyed scheme and have now put Americans in greater danger should be sacked. And the American people, once the full account comes out, may well conclude that this includes Obama. He is commander in chief after all.

Eli Lake reports:

U.S. and allied counterterrorism authorities have launched a global manhunt for English-speaking terrorists trained in Yemen who are planning attacks on the United States, based on intelligence provided by the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day bombing after he began cooperating. . .

Said one official: “It’s safe to say that Abdulmutallab is not the only bullet in the chamber for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” the Islamist terrorist group based in Yemen.

“Farouk took a month to get operational. Once he left [training in Yemen], it did not take very long,” the official said.

So in the five weeks of silence, did the other English-speaking terrorists go into hiding? Are the leads still good? We don’t know, but it is precisely this concern and the danger of leads gone cold that strike at the core of the Obami’s approach. They are concerned about extending constitutional principles to terrorists (and gaining convictions); they should have been focused like a laser on getting all the actionable data as soon as possible to prevent future attacks. Now it seems as though we are scrambling to catch up — and the Obami are trying to prepare us in the event we can’t catch up:

The data about the additional terrorist plots is thought to be one factor behind alarming congressional testimony two weeks ago from senior U.S. intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair.

Mr. Blair said he was “certain” that it was al-Qaeda’s priority to attempt an attack on the United States within three to six months.

The increased threat of terrorism emanating from Yemen was outlined in a majority staff report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made public last month. The report warned that U.S. criminals were migrating to Yemen for terrorist training.

A smart national security observer makes an additional point: “Enhanced interrogation is something also envisioned by Obama and it need not be torture. The HIG–high value interrogation group–was chartered for this kind of non torture/enhanced interrogation. It was not set up. So getting to him need not have meant waterboarding.” Conservatives would dispute whether waterboarding is torture, but the point is correct: even under the Obami’s own interrogation rules, it is hard to condone this missed opportunity.

So the question comes down to this: what if in the five weeks of the Christmas Day bomber’s Mirandized silence other terrorists got away? And if the unimaginable happens and one of these should strike, what then? Even the potential for such a calamity should convince all but the most hardened Obama sycophants that we are in danger now, greater danger than we would otherwise be, had the search for mass-murders-in-training begun weeks earlier.

There is no excuse for such malfeasance. Those officials who came up with this cockeyed scheme and have now put Americans in greater danger should be sacked. And the American people, once the full account comes out, may well conclude that this includes Obama. He is commander in chief after all.

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Re: Charlie Wilson

Jonathan, I second everything you say. I’d only add that there is a vitally important lesson for our own times in the story of Charlie Wilson and Afghanistan. The movie about Wilson’s efforts ends with this line: “These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. Then we f****d up the endgame.”

Gen. Stanley McChrystal has more recently conveyed a similar sentiment in less colorful terms. “A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”

The commander in chief’s thoughts on the matter? “I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”

How does that bode for the endgame issue? In twenty years, another book and movie can hit the market about how we changed the world by destroying the Islamist threat in Afghanistan only to see our efforts undone by a pre-set troop drawdown.

What decimated Afghanistan after the Soviets were pushed out was the lack of American follow-through. Charlie Wilson’s War is not a tragedy of misguided adventurism. It’s the story of heroic enterprise undermined by short-sightedness and political cowardice.

Jonathan, I second everything you say. I’d only add that there is a vitally important lesson for our own times in the story of Charlie Wilson and Afghanistan. The movie about Wilson’s efforts ends with this line: “These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. Then we f****d up the endgame.”

Gen. Stanley McChrystal has more recently conveyed a similar sentiment in less colorful terms. “A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”

The commander in chief’s thoughts on the matter? “I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”

How does that bode for the endgame issue? In twenty years, another book and movie can hit the market about how we changed the world by destroying the Islamist threat in Afghanistan only to see our efforts undone by a pre-set troop drawdown.

What decimated Afghanistan after the Soviets were pushed out was the lack of American follow-through. Charlie Wilson’s War is not a tragedy of misguided adventurism. It’s the story of heroic enterprise undermined by short-sightedness and political cowardice.

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Palin at the Tea Party

Sarah Palin went to address the Tea Party Convention last night, laying out the populist-conservative case against Obama. We “need a commander in chief and not a law professor” in the war against “radical Islamic extremists” she declared.  (In purposefully using a phrase that the president eschews, she, of course, reinforces her point.) She fingered the closed-door deals and non-transparency in Washington, asking mockingly, “How’s that hopey, changey stuff working out for you?” And she hit the themes that have galvanized the populist activists and around which establishment conservatives have rallied. She criticized the president’s apologetic foreign policy and his failure to support human rights and democracy advocates, called the massive debt “generational theft,” advocated domestic energy development, and urged a return to more limited government and low taxes (noting Ronald Reagan’s birthday). And she also skewered Obama for incessantly blaming George W. Bush and for striking out in three big elections (“When you’re 0-3, you’d better stop lecturing and start listening”).

She demurred when asked about a presidential run and urged the Tea Party movement not to be about a single personality. But her purpose here seems quite clear. She is making the case that there is a powerful political movement, test run in Massachusetts, for independent-minded populists and conservatives. While she isn’t yet offering herself as a candidate, it doesn’t take much imagination to hear that same speech a year or two from now, phrased as an announcement of her presidential candidacy.

But for a moment, let’s put Palin aside. The issues she hit certainly comprise the core criticisms of Obama and will form the platform for conservatives in 2010 and 2012. Many of the issues she enumerated were positions that lifted Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, and Scott Brown to victory, proving that there is not, in fact, much daylight between Tea Party activists, mainstream Republicans, and disaffected independent voters. And in one form or another, we are hearing similar themes from virtually all Republicans — whether it’s Rep. Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio or Meg Whitman or the other 2012 likely contenders.

So the question, I think, for Republicans is not what but who — who will emerge as the most effective standard bearer of that agenda. That — despite the continual chatter from the punditocracy to find the answer right now — can wait for the 2012 presidential campaign. The “what” will suffice for a nationalized, 2010 midterm election. And then the race will be on to see if Palin or some other figure emerges as the most effective champion for that core agenda.

Palin has followed no rule book and no pundit’s advice in the last year. She quit the governorship, sold millions of books, got a million and a half Facebook fans, broke through the health-care reform debate with her “death panel” critique, and now has endeared herself to a grassroots movement. Pundits will ask, “But is that enough?” Well, it’s a lot for a year’s work. After all, we are two years away from the start of the primary season. But this much is clear: her potential opponents for 2012 will have to figure out how to match the enthusiasm and affection she generates. (The mainstream media and liberals [but I repeat myself] loathe her, but they don’t vote in the GOP presidential primary.) And, without adopting the criticisms favored by the mainstream media — e.g., she lacks an Ivy League degree – that are likely to alienate the conservative base, they must figure out how to make the case that she’s not the right person to go toe to toe with Obama. That’s not, by any means, an impossible task. But judging from last night’s outing, the flock of 2012 contenders may have their work cut out for them.

Sarah Palin went to address the Tea Party Convention last night, laying out the populist-conservative case against Obama. We “need a commander in chief and not a law professor” in the war against “radical Islamic extremists” she declared.  (In purposefully using a phrase that the president eschews, she, of course, reinforces her point.) She fingered the closed-door deals and non-transparency in Washington, asking mockingly, “How’s that hopey, changey stuff working out for you?” And she hit the themes that have galvanized the populist activists and around which establishment conservatives have rallied. She criticized the president’s apologetic foreign policy and his failure to support human rights and democracy advocates, called the massive debt “generational theft,” advocated domestic energy development, and urged a return to more limited government and low taxes (noting Ronald Reagan’s birthday). And she also skewered Obama for incessantly blaming George W. Bush and for striking out in three big elections (“When you’re 0-3, you’d better stop lecturing and start listening”).

She demurred when asked about a presidential run and urged the Tea Party movement not to be about a single personality. But her purpose here seems quite clear. She is making the case that there is a powerful political movement, test run in Massachusetts, for independent-minded populists and conservatives. While she isn’t yet offering herself as a candidate, it doesn’t take much imagination to hear that same speech a year or two from now, phrased as an announcement of her presidential candidacy.

But for a moment, let’s put Palin aside. The issues she hit certainly comprise the core criticisms of Obama and will form the platform for conservatives in 2010 and 2012. Many of the issues she enumerated were positions that lifted Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, and Scott Brown to victory, proving that there is not, in fact, much daylight between Tea Party activists, mainstream Republicans, and disaffected independent voters. And in one form or another, we are hearing similar themes from virtually all Republicans — whether it’s Rep. Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio or Meg Whitman or the other 2012 likely contenders.

So the question, I think, for Republicans is not what but who — who will emerge as the most effective standard bearer of that agenda. That — despite the continual chatter from the punditocracy to find the answer right now — can wait for the 2012 presidential campaign. The “what” will suffice for a nationalized, 2010 midterm election. And then the race will be on to see if Palin or some other figure emerges as the most effective champion for that core agenda.

Palin has followed no rule book and no pundit’s advice in the last year. She quit the governorship, sold millions of books, got a million and a half Facebook fans, broke through the health-care reform debate with her “death panel” critique, and now has endeared herself to a grassroots movement. Pundits will ask, “But is that enough?” Well, it’s a lot for a year’s work. After all, we are two years away from the start of the primary season. But this much is clear: her potential opponents for 2012 will have to figure out how to match the enthusiasm and affection she generates. (The mainstream media and liberals [but I repeat myself] loathe her, but they don’t vote in the GOP presidential primary.) And, without adopting the criticisms favored by the mainstream media — e.g., she lacks an Ivy League degree – that are likely to alienate the conservative base, they must figure out how to make the case that she’s not the right person to go toe to toe with Obama. That’s not, by any means, an impossible task. But judging from last night’s outing, the flock of 2012 contenders may have their work cut out for them.

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Holder Under the Bus?

Andy McCarthy and I have both been looking at Attorney General Eric Holder’s latest effort to defend in a letter to Mitch McConnell the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bomber. McCarthy sums it up:

The fundamental problem with the attorney general’s line of argument is that it unfolds as though there were no war and no president. Abdulmutallab, Holder believes, is just like any other person arrested in the United States: When an arrest happens, government officials automatically employ “long-established and publicly known policies and practices.” It does not matter who sent the person or what he was arrested trying to do. Miranda warnings are given, lawyers are interposed, charges are filed, and trials are conducted. Even if the nation is at war, we don’t inquire into whether the arrested person is an operative dispatched here by hostile forces to commit mass murder.

Aside from the sloppy legal work by Holder (including citing cases that have been since overturned by the Supreme Court), it is curious to see that the Obami are now retreating to the defense that “Bush did the same thing” (ignoring the instances in which Bush designated terrorists as enemy combatants). None of this seems to be working to shore up support for the criminal-justice model, which the Obami have insisted on employing, in part because the legal arguments are weak (e.g., disregarding the military-commission system, now in place to handle these cases) and in part because neither the public nor members of Obama’s own party think it makes sense to try KSM in a civilian court, Mirandize a terrorist, or ship Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. Joining the chorus of other mainstream critics of the Obama approach, Stuart Taylor calls Holder’s decisions to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber and to try KSM in a civilian court “two glaring mistakes” that require a serious course correction by Obama in his anti-terrorism policies.

In a piece in the New Yorker, which aptly describes the gathering storm of opposition, Holder doubles-down (“What we did is totally consistent with what has happened in every similar case”) and lashes out at former Vice President Dick Cheney (“On some level, and I’m not sure why, he lacks confidence in the American system of justice”). But Holder seems to be on thin ice and the White House might now view him as a liability. The New Yorker quotes a source close to the White House:

“The White House doesn’t trust his judgment, and doesn’t think he’s mindful enough of all the things he should be,” such as protecting the President from political fallout. “They think he wants to protect his own image, and to make himself untouchable politically, the way Reno did, by doing the righteous thing.”

Even more ominous for Holder: Rahm Emanuel is making it clear to all those concerned that he disagreed with a string of highly controversial and politically disastrous decisions by Holder. We learn: “Emanuel adamantly opposed a number of Holder’s decisions, including one that widened the scope of a special counsel who had begun investigating the C.I.A.’s interrogation program. Bush had appointed the special counsel, John Durham, to assess whether the C.I.A. had obstructed justice when it destroyed videotapes documenting waterboarding sessions.” And then there is the KSM trial:

At the White House, Emanuel, who is not a lawyer, opposed Holder’s position on the 9/11 cases. He argued that the Administration needed the support of key Republicans to help close Guantánamo, and that a fight over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could alienate them. “There was a lot of drama,” the informed source said. . . .  “Rahm felt very, very strongly that it was a mistake to prosecute the 9/11 people in the federal courts, and that it was picking an unnecessary fight with the military-commission people,” the informed source said. “Rahm had a good relationship with [Sen. Lindsay] Graham, and believed Graham when he said that if you don’t prosecute these people in military commissions I won’t support the closing of Guantánamo. . . . Rahm said, ‘If we don’t have Graham, we can’t close Guantánamo, and it’s on Eric!’ ”

Interesting that Emanuel and his spinners are now distancing the White House from their attorney general. One wonders where Obama stands in this drama. Isn’t he, after all, the commander in chief? Either the president was content to go along with Holder’s decisions until they went south or he subcontracted, with no oversight, some of the most critical decisions of his presidency to a lawyer who is prone to making the kind of mistakes a “first-year lawyer would get fired for.

Either way, Obama now must suffer the results of Holder’s ill-advised decisions. There will be much speculation, given Emanuel’s comments, as to whether the White House is getting ready to throw Holder under that proverbial bus. Now, as the Democrats join the Republicans to block the KSM trial and to deny funds for moving detainees to Illinois, it would be as good a time as any.

Andy McCarthy and I have both been looking at Attorney General Eric Holder’s latest effort to defend in a letter to Mitch McConnell the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bomber. McCarthy sums it up:

The fundamental problem with the attorney general’s line of argument is that it unfolds as though there were no war and no president. Abdulmutallab, Holder believes, is just like any other person arrested in the United States: When an arrest happens, government officials automatically employ “long-established and publicly known policies and practices.” It does not matter who sent the person or what he was arrested trying to do. Miranda warnings are given, lawyers are interposed, charges are filed, and trials are conducted. Even if the nation is at war, we don’t inquire into whether the arrested person is an operative dispatched here by hostile forces to commit mass murder.

Aside from the sloppy legal work by Holder (including citing cases that have been since overturned by the Supreme Court), it is curious to see that the Obami are now retreating to the defense that “Bush did the same thing” (ignoring the instances in which Bush designated terrorists as enemy combatants). None of this seems to be working to shore up support for the criminal-justice model, which the Obami have insisted on employing, in part because the legal arguments are weak (e.g., disregarding the military-commission system, now in place to handle these cases) and in part because neither the public nor members of Obama’s own party think it makes sense to try KSM in a civilian court, Mirandize a terrorist, or ship Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. Joining the chorus of other mainstream critics of the Obama approach, Stuart Taylor calls Holder’s decisions to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber and to try KSM in a civilian court “two glaring mistakes” that require a serious course correction by Obama in his anti-terrorism policies.

In a piece in the New Yorker, which aptly describes the gathering storm of opposition, Holder doubles-down (“What we did is totally consistent with what has happened in every similar case”) and lashes out at former Vice President Dick Cheney (“On some level, and I’m not sure why, he lacks confidence in the American system of justice”). But Holder seems to be on thin ice and the White House might now view him as a liability. The New Yorker quotes a source close to the White House:

“The White House doesn’t trust his judgment, and doesn’t think he’s mindful enough of all the things he should be,” such as protecting the President from political fallout. “They think he wants to protect his own image, and to make himself untouchable politically, the way Reno did, by doing the righteous thing.”

Even more ominous for Holder: Rahm Emanuel is making it clear to all those concerned that he disagreed with a string of highly controversial and politically disastrous decisions by Holder. We learn: “Emanuel adamantly opposed a number of Holder’s decisions, including one that widened the scope of a special counsel who had begun investigating the C.I.A.’s interrogation program. Bush had appointed the special counsel, John Durham, to assess whether the C.I.A. had obstructed justice when it destroyed videotapes documenting waterboarding sessions.” And then there is the KSM trial:

At the White House, Emanuel, who is not a lawyer, opposed Holder’s position on the 9/11 cases. He argued that the Administration needed the support of key Republicans to help close Guantánamo, and that a fight over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could alienate them. “There was a lot of drama,” the informed source said. . . .  “Rahm felt very, very strongly that it was a mistake to prosecute the 9/11 people in the federal courts, and that it was picking an unnecessary fight with the military-commission people,” the informed source said. “Rahm had a good relationship with [Sen. Lindsay] Graham, and believed Graham when he said that if you don’t prosecute these people in military commissions I won’t support the closing of Guantánamo. . . . Rahm said, ‘If we don’t have Graham, we can’t close Guantánamo, and it’s on Eric!’ ”

Interesting that Emanuel and his spinners are now distancing the White House from their attorney general. One wonders where Obama stands in this drama. Isn’t he, after all, the commander in chief? Either the president was content to go along with Holder’s decisions until they went south or he subcontracted, with no oversight, some of the most critical decisions of his presidency to a lawyer who is prone to making the kind of mistakes a “first-year lawyer would get fired for.

Either way, Obama now must suffer the results of Holder’s ill-advised decisions. There will be much speculation, given Emanuel’s comments, as to whether the White House is getting ready to throw Holder under that proverbial bus. Now, as the Democrats join the Republicans to block the KSM trial and to deny funds for moving detainees to Illinois, it would be as good a time as any.

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Cohen vs. Obama

When Richard Cohen sounds like Dick Cheney, the Obama administration is in a heap of trouble:

There is almost nothing the Obama administration does regarding terrorism that makes me feel safer. Whether it is guaranteeing captured terrorists that they will not be waterboarded, reciting terrorists their rights, or the legally meandering and confusing rule that some terrorists will be tried in military tribunals and some in civilian courts, what is missing is a firm recognition that what comes first is not the message sent to America’s critics but the message sent to Americans themselves.

Not even a generally sympathetic liberal columnist like Cohen buys the hooey that the administration didn’t “lose anything” when it Mirandized the Christmas Day bomber:

Administration officials defend what happened in Detroit and assert, against common sense and the holy truth itself, that they got valuable intelligence — and so what more would you want? But Abdulmutallab went silent before terrorism experts from Washington could get to him. It has been more than a month since he last opened his mouth, and even if he resumes cooperating — a deal may be in the works — he now knows just a bit more about the present-day location of various al-Qaeda operatives than does Regis Philbin.

It seems that there is now general agreement even from the liberal punditocracy that Obama got it very wrong. He and his minions in the Department of Justice forgot — or never understood – that, as Cohen puts it, ”the paramount civil liberty is a sense of security.” If not only the cabal of neocon critics but also card-carrying liberals agree that Obama has “shown poor judgment” and neglected citizens’ entirely justified concerns about their personal safety, then the president is in a perilous position indeed. He must scramble back from the limb he has crawled out on, reverse a host of policy choices, re-establish his bona fides as a resolute commander in chief, find personnel who can implement a not “Not Bush” policy, and devise new rhetoric to express appreciation for the security of those he swore an oath to defend.

That’s a tall order, certainly. But Obama can always tell us how “hard” these issues are, how long and intense was his rumination about them, and how none of this really vindicates his critics. Whatever rationalizations he needs, I’m sure he and his spinners can come up with them. But what is key is that he reverse his entire approach to terrorism — before he permanently loses the trust of not just pundits but the vast majority of voters, and more important, before we have not a close call but a disaster on his watch. If the unthinkable happens, there will be no one else to blame and, I suspect, no mercy shown by an electorate increasingly skeptical about Obama’s competence as the commander in chief in a war for the survival of our civilization.

When Richard Cohen sounds like Dick Cheney, the Obama administration is in a heap of trouble:

There is almost nothing the Obama administration does regarding terrorism that makes me feel safer. Whether it is guaranteeing captured terrorists that they will not be waterboarded, reciting terrorists their rights, or the legally meandering and confusing rule that some terrorists will be tried in military tribunals and some in civilian courts, what is missing is a firm recognition that what comes first is not the message sent to America’s critics but the message sent to Americans themselves.

Not even a generally sympathetic liberal columnist like Cohen buys the hooey that the administration didn’t “lose anything” when it Mirandized the Christmas Day bomber:

Administration officials defend what happened in Detroit and assert, against common sense and the holy truth itself, that they got valuable intelligence — and so what more would you want? But Abdulmutallab went silent before terrorism experts from Washington could get to him. It has been more than a month since he last opened his mouth, and even if he resumes cooperating — a deal may be in the works — he now knows just a bit more about the present-day location of various al-Qaeda operatives than does Regis Philbin.

It seems that there is now general agreement even from the liberal punditocracy that Obama got it very wrong. He and his minions in the Department of Justice forgot — or never understood – that, as Cohen puts it, ”the paramount civil liberty is a sense of security.” If not only the cabal of neocon critics but also card-carrying liberals agree that Obama has “shown poor judgment” and neglected citizens’ entirely justified concerns about their personal safety, then the president is in a perilous position indeed. He must scramble back from the limb he has crawled out on, reverse a host of policy choices, re-establish his bona fides as a resolute commander in chief, find personnel who can implement a not “Not Bush” policy, and devise new rhetoric to express appreciation for the security of those he swore an oath to defend.

That’s a tall order, certainly. But Obama can always tell us how “hard” these issues are, how long and intense was his rumination about them, and how none of this really vindicates his critics. Whatever rationalizations he needs, I’m sure he and his spinners can come up with them. But what is key is that he reverse his entire approach to terrorism — before he permanently loses the trust of not just pundits but the vast majority of voters, and more important, before we have not a close call but a disaster on his watch. If the unthinkable happens, there will be no one else to blame and, I suspect, no mercy shown by an electorate increasingly skeptical about Obama’s competence as the commander in chief in a war for the survival of our civilization.

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An About-Face?

The New York Times, among other outlets, is reporting that the KSM trial may be heading out of New York:

As a growing chorus of New York politicians joined the opposition to a Manhattan trial for the accused Sept. 11 conspirators, a White House spokesman said on Thursday that President still believed a civilian criminal trial could be held “successfully and securely in the United States.” But Mr. Obama left any decision on moving the trial to the Justice Department, and administration officials said they had begun to discuss contingency plans for possible new locations.

It is absurd, of course, that a decision of this magnitude — as we were told, was the original decision to try KSM in New York — should be delegated to the Justice Department. Certainly Obama has become expert at evading responsibility, but at some point one would think the commander in chief would step forward and shoulder the responsibility for making the call.

The election of Scott Brown seems to have shaken some skeptics and chased them from their hiding spots. Mayor Bloomberg, Sen. Kirsten Gillbrand, and other Democratic lawmakers are piping up:

Republicans in the Senate and House said they would try to block financing for civilian criminal trials for the alleged terrorists, seeking to force the administration to place them on trial before a military commission in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, or on a military base elsewhere. Opponents of civilian trials said they hoped new doubts about a New York trial and increased fears of terrorism since the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day would win more Democratic support for such measures.

Even Sen Chuck Schumer is asking the White House to look for alternatives. But where? After New York chases what is sure to be a three-ring circus out of town, what other jurisdiction would want it? Better, say the Republicans, to return this issue to a military tribunal on a secure military base. (Hey, there is one in Guantanamo. How about that?) The Times reports:

Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, introduced legislation on Wednesday that would block financing for civilian trials for those accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks, and Senator Lindsay Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said he would introduce a parallel bill in the Senate next week.

Mr. Graham, an experienced military prosecutor who has long argued that foreign terrorists should be treated as enemy combatants, proposed a similar amendment in November but it failed to pass the Senate by 54 to 45. He said he believed the same measure could pass today.

This would be a monumental admission of error by Obama and, more importantly, by his attorney general, who assured us all that this would be a slam dunk, a safe and pain free proceeding. Now that Obama has lost his mystical powers to silence his own party, the truth is seeping out: this is an expensive, dangerous, and entirely unnecessary deviation from historical practice. Obama is colliding with reality.

On Guantanamo, the KSM trial, and the Mirandizing of the Christmas Day bomber, the public and a congressional bipartisan consensus are taking the lead. The Obami’s leftward lark on national security, I suspect, is about to end. The Bush-era policies have been vindicated by none other than Obama, who proved the alternatives to be unworkable, foolish, and politically untenable. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney must be smiling broadly.

The New York Times, among other outlets, is reporting that the KSM trial may be heading out of New York:

As a growing chorus of New York politicians joined the opposition to a Manhattan trial for the accused Sept. 11 conspirators, a White House spokesman said on Thursday that President still believed a civilian criminal trial could be held “successfully and securely in the United States.” But Mr. Obama left any decision on moving the trial to the Justice Department, and administration officials said they had begun to discuss contingency plans for possible new locations.

It is absurd, of course, that a decision of this magnitude — as we were told, was the original decision to try KSM in New York — should be delegated to the Justice Department. Certainly Obama has become expert at evading responsibility, but at some point one would think the commander in chief would step forward and shoulder the responsibility for making the call.

The election of Scott Brown seems to have shaken some skeptics and chased them from their hiding spots. Mayor Bloomberg, Sen. Kirsten Gillbrand, and other Democratic lawmakers are piping up:

Republicans in the Senate and House said they would try to block financing for civilian criminal trials for the alleged terrorists, seeking to force the administration to place them on trial before a military commission in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, or on a military base elsewhere. Opponents of civilian trials said they hoped new doubts about a New York trial and increased fears of terrorism since the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day would win more Democratic support for such measures.

Even Sen Chuck Schumer is asking the White House to look for alternatives. But where? After New York chases what is sure to be a three-ring circus out of town, what other jurisdiction would want it? Better, say the Republicans, to return this issue to a military tribunal on a secure military base. (Hey, there is one in Guantanamo. How about that?) The Times reports:

Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, introduced legislation on Wednesday that would block financing for civilian trials for those accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks, and Senator Lindsay Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said he would introduce a parallel bill in the Senate next week.

Mr. Graham, an experienced military prosecutor who has long argued that foreign terrorists should be treated as enemy combatants, proposed a similar amendment in November but it failed to pass the Senate by 54 to 45. He said he believed the same measure could pass today.

This would be a monumental admission of error by Obama and, more importantly, by his attorney general, who assured us all that this would be a slam dunk, a safe and pain free proceeding. Now that Obama has lost his mystical powers to silence his own party, the truth is seeping out: this is an expensive, dangerous, and entirely unnecessary deviation from historical practice. Obama is colliding with reality.

On Guantanamo, the KSM trial, and the Mirandizing of the Christmas Day bomber, the public and a congressional bipartisan consensus are taking the lead. The Obami’s leftward lark on national security, I suspect, is about to end. The Bush-era policies have been vindicated by none other than Obama, who proved the alternatives to be unworkable, foolish, and politically untenable. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney must be smiling broadly.

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Foreign Policy AWOL in SOTU

I realize that Barack Obama, like most of his predecessors, came to the Oval Office primarily focused on his domestic agenda, not foreign policy, but I nevertheless find it stunning how little coverage national-security affairs received in this State of the Union. By my count, in a speech of 7,077 words, only 932 — 13 percent — were devoted to America’s role abroad, despite the fact that Obama’s most important responsibility is to act as commander in chief in wartime.

Not surprisingly, given how little room he devoted to foreign affairs, the State of the Union address was more remarkable for what he didn’t say than for what he did. This was his message on Afghanistan: “We are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home.” Really? That’s why he sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing our troop total eventually to some 100,000 — so they can come home? If that was the goal, why not keep them in the United States? Obviously there are pressing reasons why the lives of these soldiers are being risked in combat, but Obama did not spell them out. He should have, because his West Point address raised more questions than it answered about what end-state the U.S. is seeking and what specific policies should be enacted to achieve it. But he did nothing to dispel that confusion, which is prevalent among U.S. commanders on the ground, as well as among both our allies and enemies in the region.

Nor, predictably, did he offer any objective in Iraq beyond “responsibly leaving Iraq to its people.” He did say something commendable — “We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity.” But he said nothing more about the promise of Iraqi democracy, which so many Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much to bring about. Instead he reiterated his top objective, which is heading for the exits: “But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.”

He then went on to plug his pet project — the utopian goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. He claimed without any evidence that “these diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons.” He suggested that North Korea “now faces increased isolation” — hard to imagine given that, if Pyongyang were any more isolated from the rest of the world, it would be located on the moon. He also claimed that Iran is getting “more isolated” and will face “growing consequences” that remain unspecified. The Green Movement in Iran, which offers the best chance of ending Iran’s nuclear program by overthrowing its despotic regime, got barely a mention — squeezed in between the (praiseworthy) effort to help Haiti and a puzzling reference to American advocacy on behalf of “the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea.” Is corruption in Guinea really on a par as an American foreign-policy priority with Tehran’s repression of human rights and support for terrorism and nuclear proliferation?

Rather than offer any specific support for Iranian democrats or call for the overthrow of their oppressors, Obama devoted far more time to promoting “our incredible diversity” at home — including an effort to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which may make sense but is sure to bring him into conflict with substantial numbers of the soldiers under his command.

I would have thought that by now Obama, like most presidents, would have made the pivot toward foreign policy — that he would have realized he needs to focus more on dealing with real crises abroad rather than manufactured crises, such as health care, at home. Judging by this State of the Union, that hasn’t happened yet.

I realize that Barack Obama, like most of his predecessors, came to the Oval Office primarily focused on his domestic agenda, not foreign policy, but I nevertheless find it stunning how little coverage national-security affairs received in this State of the Union. By my count, in a speech of 7,077 words, only 932 — 13 percent — were devoted to America’s role abroad, despite the fact that Obama’s most important responsibility is to act as commander in chief in wartime.

Not surprisingly, given how little room he devoted to foreign affairs, the State of the Union address was more remarkable for what he didn’t say than for what he did. This was his message on Afghanistan: “We are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home.” Really? That’s why he sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing our troop total eventually to some 100,000 — so they can come home? If that was the goal, why not keep them in the United States? Obviously there are pressing reasons why the lives of these soldiers are being risked in combat, but Obama did not spell them out. He should have, because his West Point address raised more questions than it answered about what end-state the U.S. is seeking and what specific policies should be enacted to achieve it. But he did nothing to dispel that confusion, which is prevalent among U.S. commanders on the ground, as well as among both our allies and enemies in the region.

Nor, predictably, did he offer any objective in Iraq beyond “responsibly leaving Iraq to its people.” He did say something commendable — “We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity.” But he said nothing more about the promise of Iraqi democracy, which so many Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much to bring about. Instead he reiterated his top objective, which is heading for the exits: “But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.”

He then went on to plug his pet project — the utopian goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. He claimed without any evidence that “these diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons.” He suggested that North Korea “now faces increased isolation” — hard to imagine given that, if Pyongyang were any more isolated from the rest of the world, it would be located on the moon. He also claimed that Iran is getting “more isolated” and will face “growing consequences” that remain unspecified. The Green Movement in Iran, which offers the best chance of ending Iran’s nuclear program by overthrowing its despotic regime, got barely a mention — squeezed in between the (praiseworthy) effort to help Haiti and a puzzling reference to American advocacy on behalf of “the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea.” Is corruption in Guinea really on a par as an American foreign-policy priority with Tehran’s repression of human rights and support for terrorism and nuclear proliferation?

Rather than offer any specific support for Iranian democrats or call for the overthrow of their oppressors, Obama devoted far more time to promoting “our incredible diversity” at home — including an effort to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which may make sense but is sure to bring him into conflict with substantial numbers of the soldiers under his command.

I would have thought that by now Obama, like most presidents, would have made the pivot toward foreign policy — that he would have realized he needs to focus more on dealing with real crises abroad rather than manufactured crises, such as health care, at home. Judging by this State of the Union, that hasn’t happened yet.

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No Way to Run a War

It seems that even on Afghanistan, arguably the high point of Obama’s foreign policy to date (everything in politics is relative), things are not going smoothly. Jamie Fly observes: “With the president having decided to send Gen. McChrystal the bulk of the additional forces he requested, one would think that all is settled, right? Well, it seems that key White House officials don’t think so. They continue to snipe at Gen. McChrystal as he sets out to implement the strategy that the president announced at West Point on December 1.”

First we saw Joe Biden denying that the president had adopted an insurgency strategy and reinforcing the notion that a withdrawal in 18 months would amount to a quick drawdown in forces, not at all what McChrystal, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Gates had explained. Fly notes another round of leaking via the New York Times in which it appears that “White House officials are supposedly upset because an essential component of a fast drawdown in 2011 is getting the initial surge there as soon as possible to begin to make progress. The Pentagon agrees with the need to make progress quickly, but is dealing with real-world logistical challenges of implementing what is essentially a politically-imposed timeline.” Fly concludes that the ever-so-helpful Joe Biden is up to no good:

It seems that Biden et al. are still frustrated that the lost the battle during the Afghanistan policy review (Biden was also on the losing side of the first review back in March as well) and are looking for ways to further their agenda and sow doubt about what can be accomplished prior to July 2011.

This illustrates several unfortunate aspects of the Obama White House, the first being Joe Biden. Yes, he’s Obama’s choice and he’s proved to be a gaffe machine, a policy disaster, and the source of much angst. (Do we think Hillary is betting he’ll be bounced in 2012? ) But more fundamentally, it shows that the president often seems to be a bystander in his own administration. Where is his forceful follow-up on the West Point speech? Why wasn’t he reinforcing McChrystal’s position. Well, recall that no sooner had he delivered the West Point address than he was on 60 Minutes bad-mouthing triumphalism and emphasizing that he didn’t much care for those open-ended commitments. So really, if there’s a vacuum in presidential leadership, we shouldn’t be surprised to see it filled by Biden or others.

And finally, we see how very hard it is for the White House to turn that corner that many conservatives keep spotting. Obama really is stepping up to the plate and embracing the job of commander in chief, we were told. But it’s never quite clear that his heart is in it. He described Afghanistan as “a critical war” . . . but . . . it’s also one the president keeps telling us has a time frame. Obama has backed his military advisers over political flunkies . . . but . . .  he can’t manage to keep the latter under wraps.

If Obama appears to domestic observers to be both conflicted and peripheral in the decision-making process for a “critical” battleground in the war against Islamic fascists, how must all this appear to our Afghan partners? Or to our enemies? Once again, Obama seems to have convinced himself that all that was required on this issue was a single decision and a speech. But of course, being commander in chief requires much more. It entails an ongoing process of rallying the country, explaining our mission, tamping down infighting, publicly supporting our military commanders, and assuring friends and foes that we’re committed to victory. Unfortunately, Obama seems to have other things to do. The country and his own image will suffer as a result.

It seems that even on Afghanistan, arguably the high point of Obama’s foreign policy to date (everything in politics is relative), things are not going smoothly. Jamie Fly observes: “With the president having decided to send Gen. McChrystal the bulk of the additional forces he requested, one would think that all is settled, right? Well, it seems that key White House officials don’t think so. They continue to snipe at Gen. McChrystal as he sets out to implement the strategy that the president announced at West Point on December 1.”

First we saw Joe Biden denying that the president had adopted an insurgency strategy and reinforcing the notion that a withdrawal in 18 months would amount to a quick drawdown in forces, not at all what McChrystal, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Gates had explained. Fly notes another round of leaking via the New York Times in which it appears that “White House officials are supposedly upset because an essential component of a fast drawdown in 2011 is getting the initial surge there as soon as possible to begin to make progress. The Pentagon agrees with the need to make progress quickly, but is dealing with real-world logistical challenges of implementing what is essentially a politically-imposed timeline.” Fly concludes that the ever-so-helpful Joe Biden is up to no good:

It seems that Biden et al. are still frustrated that the lost the battle during the Afghanistan policy review (Biden was also on the losing side of the first review back in March as well) and are looking for ways to further their agenda and sow doubt about what can be accomplished prior to July 2011.

This illustrates several unfortunate aspects of the Obama White House, the first being Joe Biden. Yes, he’s Obama’s choice and he’s proved to be a gaffe machine, a policy disaster, and the source of much angst. (Do we think Hillary is betting he’ll be bounced in 2012? ) But more fundamentally, it shows that the president often seems to be a bystander in his own administration. Where is his forceful follow-up on the West Point speech? Why wasn’t he reinforcing McChrystal’s position. Well, recall that no sooner had he delivered the West Point address than he was on 60 Minutes bad-mouthing triumphalism and emphasizing that he didn’t much care for those open-ended commitments. So really, if there’s a vacuum in presidential leadership, we shouldn’t be surprised to see it filled by Biden or others.

And finally, we see how very hard it is for the White House to turn that corner that many conservatives keep spotting. Obama really is stepping up to the plate and embracing the job of commander in chief, we were told. But it’s never quite clear that his heart is in it. He described Afghanistan as “a critical war” . . . but . . . it’s also one the president keeps telling us has a time frame. Obama has backed his military advisers over political flunkies . . . but . . .  he can’t manage to keep the latter under wraps.

If Obama appears to domestic observers to be both conflicted and peripheral in the decision-making process for a “critical” battleground in the war against Islamic fascists, how must all this appear to our Afghan partners? Or to our enemies? Once again, Obama seems to have convinced himself that all that was required on this issue was a single decision and a speech. But of course, being commander in chief requires much more. It entails an ongoing process of rallying the country, explaining our mission, tamping down infighting, publicly supporting our military commanders, and assuring friends and foes that we’re committed to victory. Unfortunately, Obama seems to have other things to do. The country and his own image will suffer as a result.

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Words, Words, Words — Obama’s Foreign-Policy Obsession

Eliot Cohen gives Obama’s foreign policy the Dickensian title of ”Bumble, Stumble, and Skid.” His review of the 2009 low-lights is, alas, not so funny:

It began with apologies to the Muslim world that went nowhere, a doomed attempt to beat Israel into line, utopian pleas to abolish nuclear weapons, unreciprocated concessions to Russia, and a curt note to the British to take back the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office. It continued with principled offers of serious negotiation to an Iranian regime too busy torturing, raping and killing demonstrators, and building new underground nuclear facilities, to take them up. Subsequently Beijing smothered domestic coverage of a presidential visit but did give the world the spectacle of the American commander in chief getting a talking-to about fiscal responsibility from a Communist chieftain.

As Cohen observes, some of this is traceable to novice foreign-policy practitioners, but much of it seems to flow directly from Obama’s worldview and own hubris. He came to office convinced that George W. Bush had been the biggest obstacle to more productive relations with the rest of the world, that differences between nations could be papered over in a blizzard of words, and that “smart diplomacy” required that we sublimate traditional American values and support for human rights and democracy. It is a view not uncommon in liberal-elite circles (which eschew hard power or even the threat of hard power). And it seems to flow directly from Obama’s historic illiteracy (e.g., FDR met with our enemies rather than defeating them in WWII, the Emperor of Japan surrendered on the USS Missouri, and the Cold War was won seemingly without a massive defense buildup by the U.S.), and his narcissistic personality. Cohen explains:

It was nonetheless a year of international displays of presidential ego, sometimes disguised as cosmic modesty (“I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war”), but mainly of one slip after another. The decision to reinforce our military in Afghanistan came after an excruciating dither that undermined the confidence of our allies. Mr. Obama’s loose talk of withdrawal beginning in 18 months then undid much of the good in his decision to send troops.

One senses that Obama uses speeches to get the critics off his back (as at Oslo and with his belated ”the buck stops here” Christmas Day response, for example), while he never takes the substance of his critics’ objections very seriously. He is infatuated with words, generally his own. He assumes that they will persuade foes and hush critics. But both tend to look at what the president does. And when it comes to words, critics look to see whether those words (on human rights, for example) are addressed to adversaries when it matters or to rally allies to action when it is needed. Why didn’t Obama use his eloquence to explain to the world that Guantanamo is, as he concedes privately, a humane and professionally run facility? Why didn’t Obama use the revelation of the Qom site to rally eager allies and pivot away from a failing Iran engagement strategy?

Obama will have to do better than reactive addresses and empty platitudes if 2010 is to be a less harrowing year for his foreign-policy team. A dramatic change in perception and some deep soul-searching are always possible. They just aren’t likely, especially with a president as convinced of his own intellectual prowess as this one.

Eliot Cohen gives Obama’s foreign policy the Dickensian title of ”Bumble, Stumble, and Skid.” His review of the 2009 low-lights is, alas, not so funny:

It began with apologies to the Muslim world that went nowhere, a doomed attempt to beat Israel into line, utopian pleas to abolish nuclear weapons, unreciprocated concessions to Russia, and a curt note to the British to take back the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office. It continued with principled offers of serious negotiation to an Iranian regime too busy torturing, raping and killing demonstrators, and building new underground nuclear facilities, to take them up. Subsequently Beijing smothered domestic coverage of a presidential visit but did give the world the spectacle of the American commander in chief getting a talking-to about fiscal responsibility from a Communist chieftain.

As Cohen observes, some of this is traceable to novice foreign-policy practitioners, but much of it seems to flow directly from Obama’s worldview and own hubris. He came to office convinced that George W. Bush had been the biggest obstacle to more productive relations with the rest of the world, that differences between nations could be papered over in a blizzard of words, and that “smart diplomacy” required that we sublimate traditional American values and support for human rights and democracy. It is a view not uncommon in liberal-elite circles (which eschew hard power or even the threat of hard power). And it seems to flow directly from Obama’s historic illiteracy (e.g., FDR met with our enemies rather than defeating them in WWII, the Emperor of Japan surrendered on the USS Missouri, and the Cold War was won seemingly without a massive defense buildup by the U.S.), and his narcissistic personality. Cohen explains:

It was nonetheless a year of international displays of presidential ego, sometimes disguised as cosmic modesty (“I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war”), but mainly of one slip after another. The decision to reinforce our military in Afghanistan came after an excruciating dither that undermined the confidence of our allies. Mr. Obama’s loose talk of withdrawal beginning in 18 months then undid much of the good in his decision to send troops.

One senses that Obama uses speeches to get the critics off his back (as at Oslo and with his belated ”the buck stops here” Christmas Day response, for example), while he never takes the substance of his critics’ objections very seriously. He is infatuated with words, generally his own. He assumes that they will persuade foes and hush critics. But both tend to look at what the president does. And when it comes to words, critics look to see whether those words (on human rights, for example) are addressed to adversaries when it matters or to rally allies to action when it is needed. Why didn’t Obama use his eloquence to explain to the world that Guantanamo is, as he concedes privately, a humane and professionally run facility? Why didn’t Obama use the revelation of the Qom site to rally eager allies and pivot away from a failing Iran engagement strategy?

Obama will have to do better than reactive addresses and empty platitudes if 2010 is to be a less harrowing year for his foreign-policy team. A dramatic change in perception and some deep soul-searching are always possible. They just aren’t likely, especially with a president as convinced of his own intellectual prowess as this one.

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The Inactive President

It’s been quite a week. Democrats are fleeing for retirement. The president has spent days in meetings with national-security advisers and fending off claims that he does not take his job as commander in chief seriously. The Republican Senate candidate in Massachusetts has the momentum. And C-SPAN, joined by the rest of the media, is bashing the Obami for reneging on their promise to televise the health-care negotiations. Who’d have thought that this is what the Obama presidency would look like?

Obama and his party seem to be careering from one political debacle to the next, waiting for the next high-profile incumbent to drop out and bracing themselves for the next round of criticism, which is sure to follow another in a series of damage-control statements. The “No Drama Obama” has been replaced by the Perils of Pauline presidency. (Or is it the Keystone Kops?) The aura of competence has been shattered, replaced by the realization that the president finds governance very, very hard and has accomplished quite little despite large congressional majorities.

It’s ironic that Obama most likely sealed his election win during those fateful days in September 2008 when the financial sector seemed to melt before our eyes. Sen. John McCain was the frantic one then. (The campaign is off! It’s on!) Obama did virtually nothing – merely staging thoughtful meetings with Paul Volker and Warren Buffett and saying rather little. That, with the help of a fawning media, was enough to convince a majority of voters that he was good in a crisis, calm and reflective. What he wasn’t then — and what he has not been since taking office — was assertive, bold, decisive, or innovative. He just had a lot of meetings.

And that’s what he does now — have meetings (endlessly) on Afghanistan, the Christmas Day bombing, jobs, and the rest. There is a professorial or perhaps bureaucratic quality to it, as if the meetings themselves were the solution or the appearance of thoughtful discussion would soothe the public. But that’s what gets you through a campaign. Now, when he’s invested with the full power and responsibility of the presidency, he doesn’t appear to be leading or setting policy. Rather, he’s buffeted by one or another crisis.

His policies may be wrongheaded and may have put off many voters. Certainly that’s part of what ails him and what’s caused his poll numbers to plummet. But it’s his persona that is especially disconcerting. There is a void, an absence of resolute leadership. It’s not enough to seem calm and have meetings. He needs to do something. Right now, what he’s doing mainly is reacting to events and hoping the public and media will calm down. And that’s not what we expect of our president.

George W. Bush was mocked when he referred to himself as the ”Decider.” But come to think of it, that’s what we could use — a no-nonsense and decisive leader who can (as Bush did on the Iraq war) see when policy has gone awry, fire advisers, and communicate complete determination to achieve his aims. We could use some of that now. And fewer meetings.

It’s been quite a week. Democrats are fleeing for retirement. The president has spent days in meetings with national-security advisers and fending off claims that he does not take his job as commander in chief seriously. The Republican Senate candidate in Massachusetts has the momentum. And C-SPAN, joined by the rest of the media, is bashing the Obami for reneging on their promise to televise the health-care negotiations. Who’d have thought that this is what the Obama presidency would look like?

Obama and his party seem to be careering from one political debacle to the next, waiting for the next high-profile incumbent to drop out and bracing themselves for the next round of criticism, which is sure to follow another in a series of damage-control statements. The “No Drama Obama” has been replaced by the Perils of Pauline presidency. (Or is it the Keystone Kops?) The aura of competence has been shattered, replaced by the realization that the president finds governance very, very hard and has accomplished quite little despite large congressional majorities.

It’s ironic that Obama most likely sealed his election win during those fateful days in September 2008 when the financial sector seemed to melt before our eyes. Sen. John McCain was the frantic one then. (The campaign is off! It’s on!) Obama did virtually nothing – merely staging thoughtful meetings with Paul Volker and Warren Buffett and saying rather little. That, with the help of a fawning media, was enough to convince a majority of voters that he was good in a crisis, calm and reflective. What he wasn’t then — and what he has not been since taking office — was assertive, bold, decisive, or innovative. He just had a lot of meetings.

And that’s what he does now — have meetings (endlessly) on Afghanistan, the Christmas Day bombing, jobs, and the rest. There is a professorial or perhaps bureaucratic quality to it, as if the meetings themselves were the solution or the appearance of thoughtful discussion would soothe the public. But that’s what gets you through a campaign. Now, when he’s invested with the full power and responsibility of the presidency, he doesn’t appear to be leading or setting policy. Rather, he’s buffeted by one or another crisis.

His policies may be wrongheaded and may have put off many voters. Certainly that’s part of what ails him and what’s caused his poll numbers to plummet. But it’s his persona that is especially disconcerting. There is a void, an absence of resolute leadership. It’s not enough to seem calm and have meetings. He needs to do something. Right now, what he’s doing mainly is reacting to events and hoping the public and media will calm down. And that’s not what we expect of our president.

George W. Bush was mocked when he referred to himself as the ”Decider.” But come to think of it, that’s what we could use — a no-nonsense and decisive leader who can (as Bush did on the Iraq war) see when policy has gone awry, fire advisers, and communicate complete determination to achieve his aims. We could use some of that now. And fewer meetings.

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Will They Give up on Closing Guantanamo?

The rationale for closing Guantanamo was always thin. It was, the Obami said, a “recruiting tool” — although terrorists hardly needed yet another reason to slaughter us. They have so many after all and didn’t need Guantanamo to recruit terrorists throughout the 1990s and for 9/11. It had a “bad reputation” — although much of that was based on misinformation, and the Obama team concedes it is a professionally run, humane, and secure facility. Now comes word that the detainees don’t want to leave. After all, even leftist advocacy groups realize the change of venue doesn’t mean much. (A Human Rights Watch rep tells Newsweek “Moving more than 100 detainees — the vast majority of whom would end up being held without charge — to a U.S. facility that is already being dubbed ‘Gitmo North’ will blunt the positive message Obama hoped to send by shutting Guantanamo in the first place.”)

It doesn’t really make any sense if we want to “improve our image” when the detainees and their lawyers now contend that a SuperMax facility is worse than the current rather comfy environs:

[T]he final irony is that many of the detainees may not even want to be transferred to Thomson and could conceivably even raise their own legal roadblocks to allow them to stay at Gitmo. [Detainee lawyer Marc] Falkoff notes that many of his clients, while they clearly want to go home, are at least being held under Geneva Convention conditions in Guantánamo. At Thomson, he notes, the plans call for them to be thrown into the equivalent of a “supermax” security prison under near-lockdown conditions.

“As far as our clients are concerned, it’s probably preferable for them to remain at Guantánamo,” he says.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Obamis insisted on closing Guantanamo as part of their fixation from the campaign — now embedded in Obama’s governance — with being “not Bush.” As one after another of their rationales collapses, as it has become untenable even to send the large number of detainees from Yemen back home, and as the public grows increasingly wary of shuffling the detainees to the heartland of America, one wonders just how long the Obama team will keep at this.

At some point the invocation of his still-unfulfilled promise to close Guantanamo simply reinforces the image of Obama as an out-of-touch and ineffectual commander in chief in the war against Islamic fundamentalists. Sometimes it’s best to admit that there is a vast difference between campaigning and governing. After all, they dumped the promise to allow C-SPAN to televise health-care negotiations, so why not give up the much dumber idea of closing Guantanamo?

The rationale for closing Guantanamo was always thin. It was, the Obami said, a “recruiting tool” — although terrorists hardly needed yet another reason to slaughter us. They have so many after all and didn’t need Guantanamo to recruit terrorists throughout the 1990s and for 9/11. It had a “bad reputation” — although much of that was based on misinformation, and the Obama team concedes it is a professionally run, humane, and secure facility. Now comes word that the detainees don’t want to leave. After all, even leftist advocacy groups realize the change of venue doesn’t mean much. (A Human Rights Watch rep tells Newsweek “Moving more than 100 detainees — the vast majority of whom would end up being held without charge — to a U.S. facility that is already being dubbed ‘Gitmo North’ will blunt the positive message Obama hoped to send by shutting Guantanamo in the first place.”)

It doesn’t really make any sense if we want to “improve our image” when the detainees and their lawyers now contend that a SuperMax facility is worse than the current rather comfy environs:

[T]he final irony is that many of the detainees may not even want to be transferred to Thomson and could conceivably even raise their own legal roadblocks to allow them to stay at Gitmo. [Detainee lawyer Marc] Falkoff notes that many of his clients, while they clearly want to go home, are at least being held under Geneva Convention conditions in Guantánamo. At Thomson, he notes, the plans call for them to be thrown into the equivalent of a “supermax” security prison under near-lockdown conditions.

“As far as our clients are concerned, it’s probably preferable for them to remain at Guantánamo,” he says.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Obamis insisted on closing Guantanamo as part of their fixation from the campaign — now embedded in Obama’s governance — with being “not Bush.” As one after another of their rationales collapses, as it has become untenable even to send the large number of detainees from Yemen back home, and as the public grows increasingly wary of shuffling the detainees to the heartland of America, one wonders just how long the Obama team will keep at this.

At some point the invocation of his still-unfulfilled promise to close Guantanamo simply reinforces the image of Obama as an out-of-touch and ineffectual commander in chief in the war against Islamic fundamentalists. Sometimes it’s best to admit that there is a vast difference between campaigning and governing. After all, they dumped the promise to allow C-SPAN to televise health-care negotiations, so why not give up the much dumber idea of closing Guantanamo?

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Why Obama Doesn’t Seize the Day

Plainly, Obama doesn’t relish the job of being commander in chief, and more specifically, leading the West in the war against Islamic jihadists. Now, it’s true that his cool demeanor and rather grumpy countenance over the last few months suggest that there may be little he really relishes about the presidency — doing the job as opposed to obtaining the job. But at least on domestic policy, he seems to be engaged and invested. However, this is not a president who seeks to define himself as the protector of Western civilization or who leaps to the metaphorical rubble heap to seize the moment, rally the country, and level a steely warning to our enemies. He can barely be bothered to interrupt his vacation. There are several explanations for this — temperamental, ideological, and political.

As for the temperament, this is a president whom we’ve reluctantly come to see as fancying himself above gut emotions. His professorial pretensions now verge on zombie-like detachment. As John Brummett writes:

I get No-Drama Obama. I see what it’s about and agree with it usually. But I don’t much care for it when an al-Qaida-trained terrorist nearly blows up one of our airplanes on approach to Detroit on Christmas Day. In that case, the drama is already out of the bag. I want somebody to get dramatic in my behalf — outraged, I mean — and to do so instinctively and quickly, if not quite impulsively. . . You can’t avoid drama when drama already has occurred, and a terrorist attack by persons warring against you is bona fide drama already. We lull ourselves into a false sense of security when we downplay that people are trying to kill us. And while it scares us, yes, to ponder such a world, it, more to the point, makes us fighting mad.

Well, Brummett and others hoping for some feistier leadership will continue to be disappointed, I think. For this is not a president to react with outrage (pique at Fox News, maybe, but not outrage) or to even acknowledge that outrage is the appropriate reaction to his fellow citizens’ being threatened. He is not going to get fighting mad on our behalf, so we are left to be mad on our own. His detachment separates him from the country and shows a measure of his condescension toward the rest of us who think that leadership is about more than ordering up a dizzying array of bureaucratic reports after nearly 300 people come close to getting incinerated in mid-air.

Beneath Obama’s disdain for the emotional content of wartime leadership lurks, as we have seen, a stubborn reluctance to acknowledge exactly who we are up against. Marty Peretz notes:

If the president were truly sentient, he would not be content to enumerate the macrophysics of what we have done: “Our progress has been unmistakable… We’ve disrupted terrorist financing, cut off recruiting chains, inflicted major losses on al-Qaeda’s leadership, thwarted plots here in the United States, and saved countless American lives.”

….

But what has been the animating motive for the terrorist efforts to dispose of Americans and Europeans, Hindus and Christians, Jews and non-believers, and, of course, Muslims, albeit from antagonistic or divergent sects — infidels and heretics, really — in the religious vocabulary? It is an ideological certainty laced through the Islamic tradition and the Islamic present. . . So, in rendering the gross and the mad, we must be truthful about the essentials and about the shadings. No, it is not everybody — not by a long shot. But it is plenty. We must know whom we are fighting. Alas, if we don’t also know what we are fighting and what we are fighting for, we are fighting blind.

But this is not a president who wants to educate and inform the public about our adversaries’ motives. He prefers the perspective of a benign Muslim world that must be reassured and engaged and to which America must prove its sincerity and goodwill. He couldn’t label Major Nadal Hassan a jihadist, and he resists even in his most robust comments using the words “Islamic fundamentalist” or “Islamic jihadist.” It plainly rankles him to identify specifically who these “extremists” are and what their “far-reaching network of violence and hatred” is really all about.

And finally, much of this seems to concern a political disposition — a desire to be anti-Bush, to focus on a rather radical domestic agenda, and to husband resources (both political and economic) for the domestic proposals that animate the new president. One senses that even after a year in office, during which there have been three domestic terror attacks and two wars, he just wants to get “beyond all this.” It simply isn’t what he wants to do. He sees no political upside in it, and it isn’t how he thinks he’s going to earn a second term. Yes, his most successful and popular political decision (albeit a halting and conflicted one) in recent months was committing troops to Afghanistan. But the potential positive impact of that decision seems not to have registered. Soon after the West Point speech, he popped up on 60 Minutes to assure us that the commitment was limited and that his eye was fixed on our domestic needs.

Unfortunately we are engaged in two wars and do face a fanatical enemy. We could use a president who grasps the emotional content of wartime leadership, who understands the ideological nature of our foes, and who comprehends that no president can be successful unless he excels as commander in chief. Maybe Obama can become that president. But candidly, it will be a stretch.

Plainly, Obama doesn’t relish the job of being commander in chief, and more specifically, leading the West in the war against Islamic jihadists. Now, it’s true that his cool demeanor and rather grumpy countenance over the last few months suggest that there may be little he really relishes about the presidency — doing the job as opposed to obtaining the job. But at least on domestic policy, he seems to be engaged and invested. However, this is not a president who seeks to define himself as the protector of Western civilization or who leaps to the metaphorical rubble heap to seize the moment, rally the country, and level a steely warning to our enemies. He can barely be bothered to interrupt his vacation. There are several explanations for this — temperamental, ideological, and political.

As for the temperament, this is a president whom we’ve reluctantly come to see as fancying himself above gut emotions. His professorial pretensions now verge on zombie-like detachment. As John Brummett writes:

I get No-Drama Obama. I see what it’s about and agree with it usually. But I don’t much care for it when an al-Qaida-trained terrorist nearly blows up one of our airplanes on approach to Detroit on Christmas Day. In that case, the drama is already out of the bag. I want somebody to get dramatic in my behalf — outraged, I mean — and to do so instinctively and quickly, if not quite impulsively. . . You can’t avoid drama when drama already has occurred, and a terrorist attack by persons warring against you is bona fide drama already. We lull ourselves into a false sense of security when we downplay that people are trying to kill us. And while it scares us, yes, to ponder such a world, it, more to the point, makes us fighting mad.

Well, Brummett and others hoping for some feistier leadership will continue to be disappointed, I think. For this is not a president to react with outrage (pique at Fox News, maybe, but not outrage) or to even acknowledge that outrage is the appropriate reaction to his fellow citizens’ being threatened. He is not going to get fighting mad on our behalf, so we are left to be mad on our own. His detachment separates him from the country and shows a measure of his condescension toward the rest of us who think that leadership is about more than ordering up a dizzying array of bureaucratic reports after nearly 300 people come close to getting incinerated in mid-air.

Beneath Obama’s disdain for the emotional content of wartime leadership lurks, as we have seen, a stubborn reluctance to acknowledge exactly who we are up against. Marty Peretz notes:

If the president were truly sentient, he would not be content to enumerate the macrophysics of what we have done: “Our progress has been unmistakable… We’ve disrupted terrorist financing, cut off recruiting chains, inflicted major losses on al-Qaeda’s leadership, thwarted plots here in the United States, and saved countless American lives.”

….

But what has been the animating motive for the terrorist efforts to dispose of Americans and Europeans, Hindus and Christians, Jews and non-believers, and, of course, Muslims, albeit from antagonistic or divergent sects — infidels and heretics, really — in the religious vocabulary? It is an ideological certainty laced through the Islamic tradition and the Islamic present. . . So, in rendering the gross and the mad, we must be truthful about the essentials and about the shadings. No, it is not everybody — not by a long shot. But it is plenty. We must know whom we are fighting. Alas, if we don’t also know what we are fighting and what we are fighting for, we are fighting blind.

But this is not a president who wants to educate and inform the public about our adversaries’ motives. He prefers the perspective of a benign Muslim world that must be reassured and engaged and to which America must prove its sincerity and goodwill. He couldn’t label Major Nadal Hassan a jihadist, and he resists even in his most robust comments using the words “Islamic fundamentalist” or “Islamic jihadist.” It plainly rankles him to identify specifically who these “extremists” are and what their “far-reaching network of violence and hatred” is really all about.

And finally, much of this seems to concern a political disposition — a desire to be anti-Bush, to focus on a rather radical domestic agenda, and to husband resources (both political and economic) for the domestic proposals that animate the new president. One senses that even after a year in office, during which there have been three domestic terror attacks and two wars, he just wants to get “beyond all this.” It simply isn’t what he wants to do. He sees no political upside in it, and it isn’t how he thinks he’s going to earn a second term. Yes, his most successful and popular political decision (albeit a halting and conflicted one) in recent months was committing troops to Afghanistan. But the potential positive impact of that decision seems not to have registered. Soon after the West Point speech, he popped up on 60 Minutes to assure us that the commitment was limited and that his eye was fixed on our domestic needs.

Unfortunately we are engaged in two wars and do face a fanatical enemy. We could use a president who grasps the emotional content of wartime leadership, who understands the ideological nature of our foes, and who comprehends that no president can be successful unless he excels as commander in chief. Maybe Obama can become that president. But candidly, it will be a stretch.

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Enough with the Yemen Terrorist Pipeline

The Obami are a stubborn lot. Even new and troubling evidence regarding the inanity of releasing dangerous Guantanamo detainees cannot shake them from their fixation with closing the facility. Administration background briefers tell the media — still – that we have to shut Guantanamo to protect our “values.” (Does “common sense” or “the right of self-defense” make the list of values?) “Close Guantanamo!” was a campaign slogan devised with little information and pronounced in the heady opening days of the new Obama administration, before the commander in chief could survey the obvious political and practical problems of shuttering a secure, humane facility that could indefinitely hold those who would surely, if given the chance, return to kill more Americans.

Not only Republicans but  Senate Intelligence Chairman Diane Feinstein are pleading with the administration to at the very least halt the release of detainees to Yemen, something which conservatives including Rep. Frank Wolf has been strenuously objecting to for some time. The facts about the Yemen connection are just beginning to emerge:

The al Qaeda chapter in Yemen has re-emerged under the leadership of a former secretary to Osama bin Laden. Along with a dozen other al Qaeda members, he was allowed to escape from a Yemeni jail in 2006. His deputy, Said Ali al-Shihri, was a Saudi inmate at Gitmo who after his release “graduated” from that country’s terrorist “rehabilitation” program before moving to Yemen last year. About a fifth of the so-called graduates have ended back on the Saudi terror most-wanted list, according to a GAO study this year.

And we are told that investigators (to the extent they can get information from the now-lawyered up “defendant” and from other sources) are exploring whether Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab “was in contact with al-Shihri and another Guantanamo alum who turned up at the AQAP, Muhammad al-Awfi.” We also know from an earlier release study that “one in seven freed Gitmo detainees—61 in all—returned to terrorism. Al-Shihri and Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul, the Taliban’s operations leader in southern Afghanistan, are merely the best known. The Pentagon has since updated its findings, and we’re told the numbers are even worse.” It would be nice to know more about the extent of the Yemen recidivism problem, but as Stephen Hayes has reported, the Obama administration has refused to release that data to members of Congress and the public at large. (We can guess why.) And, finally, it appears that Anwar Al-Awlaki, Major Nadal Hassan’s favorite imam, who recently escaped a raid in Yemen, provided some “spiritual guidance” to Abdulmutallab, as well.

It is remarkable that before the Christmas Day bombing, the administration thought it was a good idea to dump detainees back into Yemen. After all, the administration — one supposes the president, specifically — did order a predator bombing in that country to strike a hotbed of terrorist activity. So why would they then and even after the Abdulmutallab bombing attack want to persist in effect with resupplying places like Yemen with Guantanamo detainees? It is nothing short of jaw-dropping, really. And it reveals the degree to which ideology has overtaken sound judgment.

The Obami are a stubborn lot. Even new and troubling evidence regarding the inanity of releasing dangerous Guantanamo detainees cannot shake them from their fixation with closing the facility. Administration background briefers tell the media — still – that we have to shut Guantanamo to protect our “values.” (Does “common sense” or “the right of self-defense” make the list of values?) “Close Guantanamo!” was a campaign slogan devised with little information and pronounced in the heady opening days of the new Obama administration, before the commander in chief could survey the obvious political and practical problems of shuttering a secure, humane facility that could indefinitely hold those who would surely, if given the chance, return to kill more Americans.

Not only Republicans but  Senate Intelligence Chairman Diane Feinstein are pleading with the administration to at the very least halt the release of detainees to Yemen, something which conservatives including Rep. Frank Wolf has been strenuously objecting to for some time. The facts about the Yemen connection are just beginning to emerge:

The al Qaeda chapter in Yemen has re-emerged under the leadership of a former secretary to Osama bin Laden. Along with a dozen other al Qaeda members, he was allowed to escape from a Yemeni jail in 2006. His deputy, Said Ali al-Shihri, was a Saudi inmate at Gitmo who after his release “graduated” from that country’s terrorist “rehabilitation” program before moving to Yemen last year. About a fifth of the so-called graduates have ended back on the Saudi terror most-wanted list, according to a GAO study this year.

And we are told that investigators (to the extent they can get information from the now-lawyered up “defendant” and from other sources) are exploring whether Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab “was in contact with al-Shihri and another Guantanamo alum who turned up at the AQAP, Muhammad al-Awfi.” We also know from an earlier release study that “one in seven freed Gitmo detainees—61 in all—returned to terrorism. Al-Shihri and Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul, the Taliban’s operations leader in southern Afghanistan, are merely the best known. The Pentagon has since updated its findings, and we’re told the numbers are even worse.” It would be nice to know more about the extent of the Yemen recidivism problem, but as Stephen Hayes has reported, the Obama administration has refused to release that data to members of Congress and the public at large. (We can guess why.) And, finally, it appears that Anwar Al-Awlaki, Major Nadal Hassan’s favorite imam, who recently escaped a raid in Yemen, provided some “spiritual guidance” to Abdulmutallab, as well.

It is remarkable that before the Christmas Day bombing, the administration thought it was a good idea to dump detainees back into Yemen. After all, the administration — one supposes the president, specifically — did order a predator bombing in that country to strike a hotbed of terrorist activity. So why would they then and even after the Abdulmutallab bombing attack want to persist in effect with resupplying places like Yemen with Guantanamo detainees? It is nothing short of jaw-dropping, really. And it reveals the degree to which ideology has overtaken sound judgment.

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Will They Do What Must Be Done?

In the case of the Christmas Day terror attack, the Obama administration has gone from denying error to acknowledging a systematic failure of intelligence. But nothing the president and his hapless advisers have said, nor the reviews ordered by the president, suggest that they are re-examining the fundamental policy errors that, if unaddressed, will continue to undermine the safety and security of Americans. Yes, we should fire the ball-droppers (Dennis Blair should be preparing to “spend more time with his family”). And we should figure out how to elevate suspected terrorists to the “no fly” watch list when their parents turn them in to the CIA. But there is more to the problem than that. Unfortunately, one has the sense that in all the new-found frenzy to “report what went wrong,” no one will report that the president’s own ideological predispositions and outlook are at the root of the problem. Three of these come to mind.

First, if we persist in treating terrorists as criminal defendants, we will not get the maximum amount of information required to prevent further attacks. Andy McCarthy explains:

A terrorist submitted to the criminal justice system immediately after arrest must be brought to court and have counsel assigned promptly — generally, within six hours. As a defendant, the terrorist is empowered because once he has counsel and a case to fight, he realizes he has cards to play — he is incentivized to hold back the most critical, fresh, operational intelligence in order to pressure the prosecutors into dropping charges, dropping the death penalty, and agreeing to various other accommodations. His confederates are empowered because the discovery provided for his criminal case, and then the public trial, provide a window into what the government knows about the enemy.

Second, we cannot, as Cliff May puts it, make ourselves “inoffensive” to our enemies:

President Obama’s Cairo speech, his respectful outreach to Iran’s radical mullahs, his pledge to close Guantanamo, his ban on coercive interrogations, his multicultural family history and his middle name — none of this has had the slightest impact on those dedicated to waging holy war against what they see as the “Satanic” West.

Our enemies have many grievances — from our support of Israel to our interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen to our laissez-faire attitudes toward women and homosexuals. Nothing we do to appease them will be enough because what they really want is to humiliate, defeat, and dominate us; to force us to live under sharia law, embrace their religion as they interpret it, or suffer the consequences due arrogant infidels. We know this because they tell us.

And third, by refusing to identify our enemies — Islamic fundamentalists — we encourage officials (from Major Nadal Hassan’s colleagues to State Department bureaucrats) to ignore red flags that suggest a radicalized jihadist may be ready to strike. We refuse to profile terrorists when we know their profiles. (As Newt Gingrich noted, “Today, because our elites fear politically incorrect honesty, they believe that it is better to harass the innocent, delay the harmless, and risk the lives of every American than to do the obvious, the effective, and the necessary.”) Yes, that means going into mosques when we believe there is intelligence to be gathered there. It means empowering, not penalizing, members of the armed services who report that one of their own may have fallen under the sway of jihadism. The cult of political correctness, which excuses aberrant behavior, has to end. And that cannot happen if the commander in chief refuses to speak candidly about the identity of our enemies and their ideological motivations.

All of this would, of course, require that the Obami rethink their “not Bush” approach to the war on terror. That would be a bitter bill indeed to swallow. But unless and until they do so, they are gambling with the lives of Americans, and with their own political futures. The country would forgive them a reversal in policy; it will likely not forgive them should a terrorist catastrophe occur.

In the case of the Christmas Day terror attack, the Obama administration has gone from denying error to acknowledging a systematic failure of intelligence. But nothing the president and his hapless advisers have said, nor the reviews ordered by the president, suggest that they are re-examining the fundamental policy errors that, if unaddressed, will continue to undermine the safety and security of Americans. Yes, we should fire the ball-droppers (Dennis Blair should be preparing to “spend more time with his family”). And we should figure out how to elevate suspected terrorists to the “no fly” watch list when their parents turn them in to the CIA. But there is more to the problem than that. Unfortunately, one has the sense that in all the new-found frenzy to “report what went wrong,” no one will report that the president’s own ideological predispositions and outlook are at the root of the problem. Three of these come to mind.

First, if we persist in treating terrorists as criminal defendants, we will not get the maximum amount of information required to prevent further attacks. Andy McCarthy explains:

A terrorist submitted to the criminal justice system immediately after arrest must be brought to court and have counsel assigned promptly — generally, within six hours. As a defendant, the terrorist is empowered because once he has counsel and a case to fight, he realizes he has cards to play — he is incentivized to hold back the most critical, fresh, operational intelligence in order to pressure the prosecutors into dropping charges, dropping the death penalty, and agreeing to various other accommodations. His confederates are empowered because the discovery provided for his criminal case, and then the public trial, provide a window into what the government knows about the enemy.

Second, we cannot, as Cliff May puts it, make ourselves “inoffensive” to our enemies:

President Obama’s Cairo speech, his respectful outreach to Iran’s radical mullahs, his pledge to close Guantanamo, his ban on coercive interrogations, his multicultural family history and his middle name — none of this has had the slightest impact on those dedicated to waging holy war against what they see as the “Satanic” West.

Our enemies have many grievances — from our support of Israel to our interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen to our laissez-faire attitudes toward women and homosexuals. Nothing we do to appease them will be enough because what they really want is to humiliate, defeat, and dominate us; to force us to live under sharia law, embrace their religion as they interpret it, or suffer the consequences due arrogant infidels. We know this because they tell us.

And third, by refusing to identify our enemies — Islamic fundamentalists — we encourage officials (from Major Nadal Hassan’s colleagues to State Department bureaucrats) to ignore red flags that suggest a radicalized jihadist may be ready to strike. We refuse to profile terrorists when we know their profiles. (As Newt Gingrich noted, “Today, because our elites fear politically incorrect honesty, they believe that it is better to harass the innocent, delay the harmless, and risk the lives of every American than to do the obvious, the effective, and the necessary.”) Yes, that means going into mosques when we believe there is intelligence to be gathered there. It means empowering, not penalizing, members of the armed services who report that one of their own may have fallen under the sway of jihadism. The cult of political correctness, which excuses aberrant behavior, has to end. And that cannot happen if the commander in chief refuses to speak candidly about the identity of our enemies and their ideological motivations.

All of this would, of course, require that the Obami rethink their “not Bush” approach to the war on terror. That would be a bitter bill indeed to swallow. But unless and until they do so, they are gambling with the lives of Americans, and with their own political futures. The country would forgive them a reversal in policy; it will likely not forgive them should a terrorist catastrophe occur.

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Obama’s Missed Moment

Obama’s initial reaction to the Fort Hood attack was odd, as many remarked. He seemed unwilling to depart from his Interior Department script and strangely disconnected from the gravity of the situation. This time, Obama had several days to prepare after a domestic terror attempt. But again, his delivery was not compelling. As Charles Hurt remarked: “It was three days late and Obama mailed it in. Unaided by his trusty TelePrompTers, the president read through his statement like a schoolkid dutifully treading through his book report.”

The explanations for the latest laconic offering vary.  Obama was miffed about having to interrupt his vacation. He doesn’t really like all this national-security stuff (As Rich Lowry noted, “the administration’s body language says it would prefer to keep counterterrorism on a back-burner while it engages in the more important work of nationalizing health care and fighting global warming.”).  And then it didn’t help that after vowing to get the terror plotters, Obama jumped into the golf cart and was back to the links.

His spinners suggested he was trying to prevent panic or project an aura of cool determination. But if there are unsteady nerves out there, I would suggest they stem from the queasy realization that the president does not comprehend the rhetorical and atmospheric requirements of being commander in chief. He didn’t seem to understand that months of public dithering over the Afghanistan war strategy took a toll on both his image and our country. He didn’t grasp the fact that the West Point speech was detached, unemotional, and unduly equivocal at the very moment our troops, allies, and enemies were watching for a hint of steely determination from the president. And when terror strikes the homeland, there is no compelling moment, no grab-the-bullhorn-on the-rubble occasion, in which we sense that he knows we are in a war and intends to persevere against enemies determined to attack the U.S. and, more broadly, Western civilization. There is no emotional core to emerge.

After a year in office, Obama either doesn’t grasp the nature of the war we are in (and the necessity to show our resolve to our enemies) or he lacks the ability to project the qualities that Americans look for in a commander in chief. Either way, it is deeply troubling and a reminder of the risk the country takes when it elects someone with no national-security, no military, and no executive-leadership experience.

Obama’s initial reaction to the Fort Hood attack was odd, as many remarked. He seemed unwilling to depart from his Interior Department script and strangely disconnected from the gravity of the situation. This time, Obama had several days to prepare after a domestic terror attempt. But again, his delivery was not compelling. As Charles Hurt remarked: “It was three days late and Obama mailed it in. Unaided by his trusty TelePrompTers, the president read through his statement like a schoolkid dutifully treading through his book report.”

The explanations for the latest laconic offering vary.  Obama was miffed about having to interrupt his vacation. He doesn’t really like all this national-security stuff (As Rich Lowry noted, “the administration’s body language says it would prefer to keep counterterrorism on a back-burner while it engages in the more important work of nationalizing health care and fighting global warming.”).  And then it didn’t help that after vowing to get the terror plotters, Obama jumped into the golf cart and was back to the links.

His spinners suggested he was trying to prevent panic or project an aura of cool determination. But if there are unsteady nerves out there, I would suggest they stem from the queasy realization that the president does not comprehend the rhetorical and atmospheric requirements of being commander in chief. He didn’t seem to understand that months of public dithering over the Afghanistan war strategy took a toll on both his image and our country. He didn’t grasp the fact that the West Point speech was detached, unemotional, and unduly equivocal at the very moment our troops, allies, and enemies were watching for a hint of steely determination from the president. And when terror strikes the homeland, there is no compelling moment, no grab-the-bullhorn-on the-rubble occasion, in which we sense that he knows we are in a war and intends to persevere against enemies determined to attack the U.S. and, more broadly, Western civilization. There is no emotional core to emerge.

After a year in office, Obama either doesn’t grasp the nature of the war we are in (and the necessity to show our resolve to our enemies) or he lacks the ability to project the qualities that Americans look for in a commander in chief. Either way, it is deeply troubling and a reminder of the risk the country takes when it elects someone with no national-security, no military, and no executive-leadership experience.

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Time to Distance From the White House?

One would think that responding to a terror attack with less moral clarity and forcefulness than that displayed after the Fort Hood attack would have taken some doing. But the Obami have managed to pull it off. Between Janet Napolitano and the president, they’ve managed to convey confusion, denial, and willful indifference to the nature of our enemies. So the trick then for Obama supporters is to make criticism of that dismal performance seem unseemly or “partisan.” The ever-helpful media isn’t wasting time on that front. A case in point is this gasping Politico account:

Republicans have wasted no time in attacking Democrats on intelligence and screening failures leading up to the failed Christmas Day bombing of Flight 253 — a significant departure from the calibrated, less partisan responses that have followed other recent terrorist activity. The strategy — coming as the Republican leadership seeks to exploit Democratic weaknesses heading into the 2010 midterms — is in many ways a natural for a party that views protecting the U.S. homeland as its ideological raison d’etre and electoral franchise.

Well, I suppose we should be thankful that at least one party has as its ”ideological raison d’etre” keeping Americans from being slaughtered by Islamic fanatics. The implication is that there is something nefarious about pointing out how badly the administration is responding to serious threats to Americans. Heaven forbid that elected officials should be concerned that the administration is (once again) not getting it when it comes to the war against Islamic fanatics.

But I would think that Democrats must be awfully nervous. They’ve spent years and years trying to live down the reputation as being ”weak on defense” and then along comes a president who seems at best a reluctant commander in chief and at worst devoted to returning to a pre-9/11 mentality – which, after all, left us vulnerable on 9/11 in the first place. Nevertheless, it is up to a not-really Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman, to sound serious:

“We were very lucky this time, but we may not be so lucky next time, which is why our defenses must be strengthened,” said committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in a statement. “I view Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a terrorist who evaded our homeland security defenses and who would have killed hundreds of people if the explosives he tried to detonate had worked.”

Where is the Democratic congressional leadership? Largely silent. Perhaps the reason why the criticism of the White House’s bungling seems to be coming almost entirely from one side of the political aisle is that the Democrats are largely mute, hoping (and no doubt praying) that the White House will get its act together. But that might not be wise. Many of them, after all, are going to be on the ballot and they might not want to concede that there is only one political party fully dedicated to preventing the murder of their fellow citizens.

They might start by re-examining and then putting a halt to some of the more egregiously irresponsible actions of the Obama administration, including the decision to proceed with a civilian trial for KSM. Certainly they don’t want to have to explain to the American people that they enabled an administration engaged in a deeply misguided effort to reject the policies that kept us safe for seven and a half years.

One would think that responding to a terror attack with less moral clarity and forcefulness than that displayed after the Fort Hood attack would have taken some doing. But the Obami have managed to pull it off. Between Janet Napolitano and the president, they’ve managed to convey confusion, denial, and willful indifference to the nature of our enemies. So the trick then for Obama supporters is to make criticism of that dismal performance seem unseemly or “partisan.” The ever-helpful media isn’t wasting time on that front. A case in point is this gasping Politico account:

Republicans have wasted no time in attacking Democrats on intelligence and screening failures leading up to the failed Christmas Day bombing of Flight 253 — a significant departure from the calibrated, less partisan responses that have followed other recent terrorist activity. The strategy — coming as the Republican leadership seeks to exploit Democratic weaknesses heading into the 2010 midterms — is in many ways a natural for a party that views protecting the U.S. homeland as its ideological raison d’etre and electoral franchise.

Well, I suppose we should be thankful that at least one party has as its ”ideological raison d’etre” keeping Americans from being slaughtered by Islamic fanatics. The implication is that there is something nefarious about pointing out how badly the administration is responding to serious threats to Americans. Heaven forbid that elected officials should be concerned that the administration is (once again) not getting it when it comes to the war against Islamic fanatics.

But I would think that Democrats must be awfully nervous. They’ve spent years and years trying to live down the reputation as being ”weak on defense” and then along comes a president who seems at best a reluctant commander in chief and at worst devoted to returning to a pre-9/11 mentality – which, after all, left us vulnerable on 9/11 in the first place. Nevertheless, it is up to a not-really Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman, to sound serious:

“We were very lucky this time, but we may not be so lucky next time, which is why our defenses must be strengthened,” said committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in a statement. “I view Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a terrorist who evaded our homeland security defenses and who would have killed hundreds of people if the explosives he tried to detonate had worked.”

Where is the Democratic congressional leadership? Largely silent. Perhaps the reason why the criticism of the White House’s bungling seems to be coming almost entirely from one side of the political aisle is that the Democrats are largely mute, hoping (and no doubt praying) that the White House will get its act together. But that might not be wise. Many of them, after all, are going to be on the ballot and they might not want to concede that there is only one political party fully dedicated to preventing the murder of their fellow citizens.

They might start by re-examining and then putting a halt to some of the more egregiously irresponsible actions of the Obama administration, including the decision to proceed with a civilian trial for KSM. Certainly they don’t want to have to explain to the American people that they enabled an administration engaged in a deeply misguided effort to reject the policies that kept us safe for seven and a half years.

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