Commentary Magazine


Topic: Guantanamo Bay

What Obama Should Have Said About the Gitmo Hunger Strikes

In 1981, when IRA terrorist Bobby Sands was starving himself to death while in a British prison, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did not order him force fed, she did not give in to his political demands (to be recognized as a political prisoner, not a common criminal)–and she did not mourn his passing. She declared on the floor of the House of Commons: “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organization did not allow to many of its victims.” With statements like that, Thatcher established her reputation as the Iron Lady–a leader not to be trifled with.

What reputation, one wonders, is President Obama establishing with his response to the hunger strike mounted by 100 or so of the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay? Instead of saying that terrorists are welcome to starve themselves to death if they so desire, Obama predictably expressed a desire to cave in to their demands–if he could. At a news conference on Tuesday, he reiterated his desire to close Gitmo, something that Congress has not allowed him to do. This is what he said:

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In 1981, when IRA terrorist Bobby Sands was starving himself to death while in a British prison, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did not order him force fed, she did not give in to his political demands (to be recognized as a political prisoner, not a common criminal)–and she did not mourn his passing. She declared on the floor of the House of Commons: “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organization did not allow to many of its victims.” With statements like that, Thatcher established her reputation as the Iron Lady–a leader not to be trifled with.

What reputation, one wonders, is President Obama establishing with his response to the hunger strike mounted by 100 or so of the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay? Instead of saying that terrorists are welcome to starve themselves to death if they so desire, Obama predictably expressed a desire to cave in to their demands–if he could. At a news conference on Tuesday, he reiterated his desire to close Gitmo, something that Congress has not allowed him to do. This is what he said:

The notion that we’re going to continue to keep over a hundred individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity, even at a time when we’ve wound down the war in Iraq, we’re winding down the war in Afghanistan, we’re having success defeating al Qaeda core, we’ve kept the pressure up on all these transnational terrorist networks, when we’ve transferred detention authority in Afghanistan — the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop…. I don’t want these individuals to die. Obviously, the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best as they can. But I think all of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? Why are we doing this?

Not exactly Thatcherite–to say nothing of Churchillian–defiance of the terrorists’ demands, to say the least. He could easily have explained why we are doing this: Because there is a group of terrorists who cannot be convicted in a civilian court but who must remain locked up because they represent a continuing threat. He could have gone on to point out that a long list of detainees released from Gitmo have returned to terrorism, and he could have concluded by making clear that he would do whatever is necessary to keep Americans safe–even if it provokes protest from those locked up.

The president is a master orator who could easily have used his eloquence and his global reputation to defend America’s counter-terrorism efforts. Instead, he seemed to agree with the detainees’ claim that the U.S. is doing something wrong by keeping them locked up–a policy ratified by overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress and by the American people.

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The Constitution Project’s Dangerous Complacency on Terror

It is ironic that the Boston Marathon bombing occurred the same day that a Washington think tank called the Constitution Project unveiled a report, signed by a bipartisan group of retired worthies, excoriating many of the tactics used to fight terrorism. The headline finding, which earned front-page coverage in the New York Times, is that “U.S. forces, in many instances, used interrogation techniques on detainees that constitute torture.”

I cannot help but agree with this conclusion: Bush administration whitewash about “enhanced interrogation techniques” notwithstanding, many of the measures employed by interrogators on a small number of terrorism suspects, such as the use of waterboarding, did amount to torture as commonly understood. Where I part company with the self-righteous commission is in its excoriation of administration officials for ordering steps that they believed necessary to defend the United States and which arguably were necessary if one believes the testimony of former officials that “enhanced interrogation techniques” were responsible for uncovering Osama bin Laden. Instead of showing any understanding for or sympathy toward the mindset of those charged with protecting us after 9/11, however, the commission writes:

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It is ironic that the Boston Marathon bombing occurred the same day that a Washington think tank called the Constitution Project unveiled a report, signed by a bipartisan group of retired worthies, excoriating many of the tactics used to fight terrorism. The headline finding, which earned front-page coverage in the New York Times, is that “U.S. forces, in many instances, used interrogation techniques on detainees that constitute torture.”

I cannot help but agree with this conclusion: Bush administration whitewash about “enhanced interrogation techniques” notwithstanding, many of the measures employed by interrogators on a small number of terrorism suspects, such as the use of waterboarding, did amount to torture as commonly understood. Where I part company with the self-righteous commission is in its excoriation of administration officials for ordering steps that they believed necessary to defend the United States and which arguably were necessary if one believes the testimony of former officials that “enhanced interrogation techniques” were responsible for uncovering Osama bin Laden. Instead of showing any understanding for or sympathy toward the mindset of those charged with protecting us after 9/11, however, the commission writes:

The nation’s most senior officials, through some of their actions and failures to act in the months and years immediately following the September 11 attacks, bear ultimate responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of illegal and improper interrogation techniques used by some U.S. personnel on detainees in several theaters.

Nowhere does the report offer any credit to those same officials for preventing more attacks on the American homeland. Nor does the report seriously entertain the possibility–which I think a probability–that the use of torture was related to the success in defending our homeland from follow-up attacks.

This is a sign, in my view, of the dangerous triumphalism and complacency which has taken control of the public discourse because there were no more 9/11s and because the architects of those attacks have been either captured or killed. Perhaps the Boston Marathon bombing will instill some renewed urgency into the public debate about countering terrorism, but I doubt it–bad as the Boston bombing was, it was not deadly enough to change our mindset in the way that 9/11 did.

We are feeling secure now, and in our security we are seeing a tendency, exemplified by the Constitution Project, to turn on those who were responsible for fighting al-Qaeda at a time when it appeared to be a far more potent threat than it is today.

The project’s report seeks to undo many of the steps taken to fight al-Qaeda, with a majority of its members urging that the U.S. declare formal hostilities with al-Qaeda to be over at the end of 2014 when U.S. combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan–a step that would necessitate closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and releasing or transferring its detainees. If only we could elicit a binding commitment from al-Qaeda to stop fighting us after 2014!

This measure was opposed by a minority of the panel (presumably the Republicans), but the entire group signed on to say “that the United States has violated its international legal obligations in its practice of the enforced disappearances”–otherwise known as the “rendition” of terrorist suspects begun under the Clinton administration. By calling the capture of these suspected terrorists “enforced disappearances” the panel seems to be suggesting that U.S. actions are similar to those of the Argentinean junta during its “Dirty War” which left tens of thousands of Argentineans dead.

This is only a small sampling of the problems with the Constitution Project report, which seems to be written as if the terrorist threat is over and we are now in a postwar period. The Boston bombing shows otherwise. I only hope we do not experience even more convincing refutations of our complacency anytime soon.

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Bin Laden’s Son-in-Law and U.S. Detention Policy

It’s been more than a decade since 9/11, but we still haven’t figured out how to treat captured terrorists. The latest evidence comes from the extradition of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and onetime mouthpiece, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. Arrested in Turkey, he was turned over to U.S. authorities in Jordan and flown to New York where he was remanded to federal custody. He will now presumably face trial in the Southern District of New York where many previous terrorists have been convicted for their crimes.

Odds are that Ghaith, too, will ultimately be found guilty by a jury that will not be terribly sympathetic to Osama bin Laden’s relatives. But other potential terrorists are not so easily convicted. That is why approximately 167 detainees remain at Guantanamo where they are held as unlawful enemy combatants, not as criminal defendants. Some of them will be tried by military tribunals; others will be held indefinitely until the cessation of hostilities. But no detainees have been added at Gitmo since 2006.

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It’s been more than a decade since 9/11, but we still haven’t figured out how to treat captured terrorists. The latest evidence comes from the extradition of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and onetime mouthpiece, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. Arrested in Turkey, he was turned over to U.S. authorities in Jordan and flown to New York where he was remanded to federal custody. He will now presumably face trial in the Southern District of New York where many previous terrorists have been convicted for their crimes.

Odds are that Ghaith, too, will ultimately be found guilty by a jury that will not be terribly sympathetic to Osama bin Laden’s relatives. But other potential terrorists are not so easily convicted. That is why approximately 167 detainees remain at Guantanamo where they are held as unlawful enemy combatants, not as criminal defendants. Some of them will be tried by military tribunals; others will be held indefinitely until the cessation of hostilities. But no detainees have been added at Gitmo since 2006.

The Obama administration may have failed to close Gitmo, but nor is it taking advantage of its facilities to incarcerate more suspected terrorists. Instead, the administration prefers to zap terrorists with drones. That’s perfectly lawful and appropriate but, where possible, it would be nice if terrorists could be captured and interrogated rather than simply killed–interrogation is the best way to unravel their plots.

Instead, we are in a legal no man’s land where it is easier to kill a terrorist than to lock him up. That is a nonsensical state of affairs that could be fixed by the Obama administration availing itself of the facilities and procedures that already exist at Gitmo. This is not just a question of logistics–detainees held at Gitmo can be interrogated without being read their Miranda rights and can be held even if there is not proof beyond reasonable doubt of their guilt that can be presented in open court. These are important advantages in the war on terror that the Obama administration should not throw away.

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Obama Takes Moral Step Backward in Treatment of Suspected Terrorists

“No part of President Obama’s agenda has been as thoroughly repudiated as the one regarding terrorist detainees,” the Wall Street Journal has editorialized. That verdict seems reasonable given Mr. Obama’s unfulfilled pledge to close Guantanamo Bay, the administration’s reversal of the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan, and the near acquittal of Ahmed Ghailani in a civilian trial earlier this year.

But the editorial also reports this: White House aides say they are working up an executive order to allow the U.S. to hold enemy combatants indefinitely. “One reason Mr. Obama has been forced to allow indefinite detention is because he seems unwilling to allow more military commission trials at Guantanamo,” according to the Journal.

That is an extraordinary turn of events. Mr. Obama ran for president by lacerating his predecessor for acting in ways that were, he said, lawless and unconstitutional, in violation of basic human rights, and an affront to international law, and in ways that discredited and disgraced America’s name around the globe. And now we learn that Mr. Upholder of International Law himself, Barack Obama, is going to continue his policy of holding enemy combatants indefinitely.

At least the Bush policy of military tribunals, which was based on wartime precedent and previous Supreme Court rulings, allowed suspects a lawyer and a trial by jury. When in 2006 the Supreme Court struck down military tribunals (in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld), the Bush administration and Congress effectively rewrote the law, passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The administration was trying to find the right balance between indefinite detention on the one hand and not providing suspected terrorists with the full array of constitutional rights an American citizen possesses on the other. (The Supreme Court’s 2008 terribly misguided ruling in Boumediene v. Bush, which for the first time in our history conferred a constitutional right to habeas corpus to alien enemies detained abroad by our military force in an ongoing war, made striking this balance far more complicated.)

President Obama, because he appears unwilling to allow military commission trials at Guantanamo, seems to have settled on indefinite detention. This is a significant moral step backward.

Under the Obama regime, suspected terrorists have no rights and no recourse. It also means that terrorists who deserve to be convicted and punished for their malevolent acts will avoid that judgment. In the withering words of the Journal editorial, “Nazis Hermann Goering and Adolf Eichmann were sentenced to hang for their crimes, but KSM and Ramzi bin al Shibh get three squares a day and the hope that someday they might be released.”

Even allowing for the fact that governing is a good deal more difficult than issuing campaign promises, the Obama administration’s incompetence is striking, its course of action indefensible. The president has once again made a hash of things.

“No part of President Obama’s agenda has been as thoroughly repudiated as the one regarding terrorist detainees,” the Wall Street Journal has editorialized. That verdict seems reasonable given Mr. Obama’s unfulfilled pledge to close Guantanamo Bay, the administration’s reversal of the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan, and the near acquittal of Ahmed Ghailani in a civilian trial earlier this year.

But the editorial also reports this: White House aides say they are working up an executive order to allow the U.S. to hold enemy combatants indefinitely. “One reason Mr. Obama has been forced to allow indefinite detention is because he seems unwilling to allow more military commission trials at Guantanamo,” according to the Journal.

That is an extraordinary turn of events. Mr. Obama ran for president by lacerating his predecessor for acting in ways that were, he said, lawless and unconstitutional, in violation of basic human rights, and an affront to international law, and in ways that discredited and disgraced America’s name around the globe. And now we learn that Mr. Upholder of International Law himself, Barack Obama, is going to continue his policy of holding enemy combatants indefinitely.

At least the Bush policy of military tribunals, which was based on wartime precedent and previous Supreme Court rulings, allowed suspects a lawyer and a trial by jury. When in 2006 the Supreme Court struck down military tribunals (in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld), the Bush administration and Congress effectively rewrote the law, passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The administration was trying to find the right balance between indefinite detention on the one hand and not providing suspected terrorists with the full array of constitutional rights an American citizen possesses on the other. (The Supreme Court’s 2008 terribly misguided ruling in Boumediene v. Bush, which for the first time in our history conferred a constitutional right to habeas corpus to alien enemies detained abroad by our military force in an ongoing war, made striking this balance far more complicated.)

President Obama, because he appears unwilling to allow military commission trials at Guantanamo, seems to have settled on indefinite detention. This is a significant moral step backward.

Under the Obama regime, suspected terrorists have no rights and no recourse. It also means that terrorists who deserve to be convicted and punished for their malevolent acts will avoid that judgment. In the withering words of the Journal editorial, “Nazis Hermann Goering and Adolf Eichmann were sentenced to hang for their crimes, but KSM and Ramzi bin al Shibh get three squares a day and the hope that someday they might be released.”

Even allowing for the fact that governing is a good deal more difficult than issuing campaign promises, the Obama administration’s incompetence is striking, its course of action indefensible. The president has once again made a hash of things.

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Afternoon Commentary

Vladmir Putin’s political opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted of money laundering and embezzlement yesterday in what many have denounced as a show-trial. The verdict came as no surprise to Khodorkovsky, who calmly read a book as the judge issued the decision. U.S. officials have offered some token condemnations of the conviction, but clearly the Obama administration is unwilling to take any action that might disrupt the “reset” process with Russia just days after the New START treaty was ratified by Congress.

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai may be brought up on treason charges, after WikiLeaks cables revealed that he privately asked the U.S. to keep sanctions against his country in place: “State media reports have said hardline supporters of the president, Robert Mugabe, want an official inquiry into Tsvangirai’s discussion of international sanctions with the US ambassador in Harare. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party said last week the government should draft a law that makes it a treasonable offence to call for sanctions.” The punishment for high treason is the death penalty in Zimbabwe. Tsvangarai, a longtime foe of the dictatorial Mugabe, has discovered that being inside his government may be as dangerous as being outside of it.

President Obama continues to use the argument that Guantanamo Bay is al Qaeda’s “number one recruitment tool.” But how often do terror leaders actually mention Gitmo? At the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn scours the transcripts of the public speeches of al Qaeda leaders since 2009, and finds that very few refer to the detention facility.

The unwillingness of many libertarians to compromise ideological principles – even among themselves – prevents the movement from gaining any serious political power, writes Christopher Beam in New York magazine: “It’s no coincidence that most libertarians discover the philosophy as teenagers. At best, libertarianism means pursuing your own self-interest, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. At worst, as in Ayn Rand’s teachings, it’s an explicit celebration of narcissism. ‘Man’s first duty is to himself,’ says the young architect Howard Roark in his climactic speech in The Fountainhead. ‘His moral obligation is to do what he wishes.’ Roark utters these words after dynamiting his own project, since his vision for the structure had been altered without his permission. The message: Never compromise.”

In case you needed a reminder on what a joke the UN is, Mary Katharine Ham rounded up the top 10 most “UN-believable” moments of 2010. Number 4: “The UN narrowly avoided putting Iran on its Commission on the Status of Women — a sort of sop to the Islamic Republic in the wake of its rejection for the Human Rights Council — thanks to loud push-back from the U.S. and human-rights groups. Perhaps stoning was a bridge too far. But it does now boast Saudi Arabia as a member of the commission. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, must always wear abaya in public, and are punished for being in public without a male relative as an escort.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticizes Israel as an obstacle to peace, and promises that an independent state of Palestine won’t allow a single Israeli within its borders. “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it,” Abbas told reporters on Saturday. (Cue crickets chirping from the left).

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Goldberg groundlessly worries about whether Israel will soon cease being a democracy: “Let’s just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman’s government (don’t laugh, it’s not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let’s say that Lieberman’s government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won’t be voting in Israel. What happens then?” Say what you will about Lieberman but, actually, his position has always been that some Arab towns and villages that are part of Israel should be given to a Palestinian state while Jewish settlement blocs are annexed to Israel. That may not be what the Palestinians want or even what many Israelis want but the outcome Lieberman desires would be a democratic and Jewish state.

Vladmir Putin’s political opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted of money laundering and embezzlement yesterday in what many have denounced as a show-trial. The verdict came as no surprise to Khodorkovsky, who calmly read a book as the judge issued the decision. U.S. officials have offered some token condemnations of the conviction, but clearly the Obama administration is unwilling to take any action that might disrupt the “reset” process with Russia just days after the New START treaty was ratified by Congress.

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai may be brought up on treason charges, after WikiLeaks cables revealed that he privately asked the U.S. to keep sanctions against his country in place: “State media reports have said hardline supporters of the president, Robert Mugabe, want an official inquiry into Tsvangirai’s discussion of international sanctions with the US ambassador in Harare. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party said last week the government should draft a law that makes it a treasonable offence to call for sanctions.” The punishment for high treason is the death penalty in Zimbabwe. Tsvangarai, a longtime foe of the dictatorial Mugabe, has discovered that being inside his government may be as dangerous as being outside of it.

President Obama continues to use the argument that Guantanamo Bay is al Qaeda’s “number one recruitment tool.” But how often do terror leaders actually mention Gitmo? At the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn scours the transcripts of the public speeches of al Qaeda leaders since 2009, and finds that very few refer to the detention facility.

The unwillingness of many libertarians to compromise ideological principles – even among themselves – prevents the movement from gaining any serious political power, writes Christopher Beam in New York magazine: “It’s no coincidence that most libertarians discover the philosophy as teenagers. At best, libertarianism means pursuing your own self-interest, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. At worst, as in Ayn Rand’s teachings, it’s an explicit celebration of narcissism. ‘Man’s first duty is to himself,’ says the young architect Howard Roark in his climactic speech in The Fountainhead. ‘His moral obligation is to do what he wishes.’ Roark utters these words after dynamiting his own project, since his vision for the structure had been altered without his permission. The message: Never compromise.”

In case you needed a reminder on what a joke the UN is, Mary Katharine Ham rounded up the top 10 most “UN-believable” moments of 2010. Number 4: “The UN narrowly avoided putting Iran on its Commission on the Status of Women — a sort of sop to the Islamic Republic in the wake of its rejection for the Human Rights Council — thanks to loud push-back from the U.S. and human-rights groups. Perhaps stoning was a bridge too far. But it does now boast Saudi Arabia as a member of the commission. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, must always wear abaya in public, and are punished for being in public without a male relative as an escort.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticizes Israel as an obstacle to peace, and promises that an independent state of Palestine won’t allow a single Israeli within its borders. “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it,” Abbas told reporters on Saturday. (Cue crickets chirping from the left).

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Goldberg groundlessly worries about whether Israel will soon cease being a democracy: “Let’s just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman’s government (don’t laugh, it’s not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let’s say that Lieberman’s government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won’t be voting in Israel. What happens then?” Say what you will about Lieberman but, actually, his position has always been that some Arab towns and villages that are part of Israel should be given to a Palestinian state while Jewish settlement blocs are annexed to Israel. That may not be what the Palestinians want or even what many Israelis want but the outcome Lieberman desires would be a democratic and Jewish state.

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Gitmo Will Stay Open (But It’s Really, Really Bad)

The Obama administration now acknowledges what the rest of us already knew. You can’t close a facility housing stateless unlawful enemy combatants with a presidential signature. “The White House admitted Sunday it would be unable to shut Guantanamo Bay in the near future, even as it acknowledged the U.S. naval prison camp is a rallying cry for Islamic extremists,” the AFP reports.

For a White House skilled in the art of dangerous mixed messages, this is a magnum opus. The damage is inflicted both at home and abroad. First, at home: the president has said he considers Gitmo a betrayal of American values, stating, “Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies.” He once went so far as to claim that “the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.” Now, with the admission that Gitmo must remain open, Americans are left to ponder the persistence of a self-described terrorist-creating policy. Is the machinery of our governance so decrepit that we have no choice but to move ahead with policies that are antithetical to American principles? Is there no way to fight a war on terrorism that is both honorable and effective?

Around the world, it will be noted that President Obama embraced the narrative of Islamist grievance against the United States, only to confirm its worst aspect by reneging on his pledges to be different and to right supposed wrongs. Peaceful Muslims who had shed no tears for terrorists didn’t need Obama’s patronizing gesture to reaffirm their distaste for jihad, while Islamists now have a colorful two-part talking point to bolster their claim that America is an untrustworthy force of evil: the American president gave lip service to their complaints and then continued to cage up their brothers like animals.

In total, incoherence triumphs. Amid accounts of  the Great Obama Comeback, let’s not lose sight of the enduring challenges created by the Great Obama Discombobulation.

The Obama administration now acknowledges what the rest of us already knew. You can’t close a facility housing stateless unlawful enemy combatants with a presidential signature. “The White House admitted Sunday it would be unable to shut Guantanamo Bay in the near future, even as it acknowledged the U.S. naval prison camp is a rallying cry for Islamic extremists,” the AFP reports.

For a White House skilled in the art of dangerous mixed messages, this is a magnum opus. The damage is inflicted both at home and abroad. First, at home: the president has said he considers Gitmo a betrayal of American values, stating, “Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies.” He once went so far as to claim that “the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.” Now, with the admission that Gitmo must remain open, Americans are left to ponder the persistence of a self-described terrorist-creating policy. Is the machinery of our governance so decrepit that we have no choice but to move ahead with policies that are antithetical to American principles? Is there no way to fight a war on terrorism that is both honorable and effective?

Around the world, it will be noted that President Obama embraced the narrative of Islamist grievance against the United States, only to confirm its worst aspect by reneging on his pledges to be different and to right supposed wrongs. Peaceful Muslims who had shed no tears for terrorists didn’t need Obama’s patronizing gesture to reaffirm their distaste for jihad, while Islamists now have a colorful two-part talking point to bolster their claim that America is an untrustworthy force of evil: the American president gave lip service to their complaints and then continued to cage up their brothers like animals.

In total, incoherence triumphs. Amid accounts of  the Great Obama Comeback, let’s not lose sight of the enduring challenges created by the Great Obama Discombobulation.

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Cyberwar Is Here. Now What?

When al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11, the country discovered to its complete shock that it was at war and ill-prepared to do much about it. Once again, the U.S. is waking up to the fact that it’s under attack and not yet up to fighting back. This enemy, like the last one, is nontraditional in nature, and the battle is asymmetrical.

Just as we’d been practiced in fighting other countries when we were attacked by a network of transnational Islamists, we’ve mostly considered the possibility of cyber-attack as coming from another nation, whereas it has come (and continues to come) from loosely connected global networks. After WikiLeaks exposed hundreds of thousands of national security secrets and put untold lives at risk, WikiLeaks’s cyber-allies are now attacking the websites (and, thus, the functional capabilities) of perceived corporate, organizational, and governmental enemies.  An expansion of these kinds of breaches and attacks has the potential to bring our hi-tech world to a standstill. The fecklessness being displayed by American officials, the insistent downplaying of the disaster, and the pervasive sense of confusion all point to the likelihood that we are in for yet another long, controversial, and little-understood war. Read More

When al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11, the country discovered to its complete shock that it was at war and ill-prepared to do much about it. Once again, the U.S. is waking up to the fact that it’s under attack and not yet up to fighting back. This enemy, like the last one, is nontraditional in nature, and the battle is asymmetrical.

Just as we’d been practiced in fighting other countries when we were attacked by a network of transnational Islamists, we’ve mostly considered the possibility of cyber-attack as coming from another nation, whereas it has come (and continues to come) from loosely connected global networks. After WikiLeaks exposed hundreds of thousands of national security secrets and put untold lives at risk, WikiLeaks’s cyber-allies are now attacking the websites (and, thus, the functional capabilities) of perceived corporate, organizational, and governmental enemies.  An expansion of these kinds of breaches and attacks has the potential to bring our hi-tech world to a standstill. The fecklessness being displayed by American officials, the insistent downplaying of the disaster, and the pervasive sense of confusion all point to the likelihood that we are in for yet another long, controversial, and little-understood war.

Once again, we are not only unprepared in terms of legal frameworks and battle strategies; we find ourselves essentially weak of character. In the New York Times, Robert Wright writes that WikiLeaks “is doing God’s work.” Regarding the revelations about secret American actions taken against terrorists in the Middle East, he notes, “I’d put this stuff on the positive side of the ledger.” Meanwhile, civil libertarians go on television to rail against the mistreatment of WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange and liberal journalists, such as the Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, decry Assange’s “demonization.”

The facts around Assange’s arrest provide a stick-figure sketch of the perplexing cultural battle now underway in the West. On the one side we have a hip techno-nihilism, utilizing the infinite resources of the Internet and finding support in a warped libertarianism. And on the other, the only thing going up against it with enough conviction to bring Assange to justice is the politically correct junior-high sex-ed police, who managed to collar him in Britain on an unsafe-sex rap. Perhaps Colin Powell used the wrong props at the UN back in 2003. Forget WMD. If he just held up some defective birth control nabbed from Saddam’s bedroom, the sanctioned social workers of Europe might have gone to Baghdad and toppled him for us.

Real threats are no longer taken seriously, while small antagonisms and inconveniences are elevated to capital crimes. This holds true across the political spectrum and in government and among the public. We’ve just had a record year in attempted jihadist attacks against America, but if you’re on the right, chances are you’re fighting the War on Airport Pat-Downs.  The Obama administration made prisoner transfer from Guantanamo Bay its very first order of business. Never mind that one out of every four prisoners released from Gitmo in the last two years is “confirmed or suspected” of having returned to terrorism. We’re too busy with cheap self-righteousness and cheaper “outreach” to address the previous enemy, let alone the new one.

In accordance with the new doctrine of Western war, we’ve taken the first step in response to attack: apology. After 9/11, we apologized to Muslims. Today Hillary Clinton is traveling the world apologizing to foreign governments for leaked State Department cables.  That’s fine as far as it goes, but saying, “Sorry, we’re weak” doesn’t do much to stop the attacks still underway. As someone recently put it, “The war is on. And everyone ought to spend some time thinking about it, discussing it with others, preparing yourselves so you know how to act if something compels you to make a decision. Be very careful not to err on the side of inaction.” Those are the words of a contributor to a cyber-anarchist site called whyweprotest.net. Once again, the enemy has a better handle on the war than we do. We’re sure to busy ourselves finding out more about why they “protest” than reaffirming our conviction to stop them.

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Assange Now Blackmailing the U.S. Government

Some Julian Assange supporters have dismissed the potential national-security risk of WikiLeaks as an unfortunate, but unavoidable, consequence of the fight for more government transparency. But now Assange has taken his “crusade” a step further, by threatening to release even more dangerous documents if government leaders make any attempt to shut down his website or detain him. This is essentially blackmail:

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has circulated across the internet an encrypted “poison pill” cache of uncensored documents suspected to include files on BP and Guantanamo Bay.

One of the files identified this weekend by The Sunday Times — called the “insurance” file — has been downloaded from the WikiLeaks website by tens of thousands of supporters, from America to Australia.

Assange warns that any government that tries to curtail his activities risks triggering a new deluge of state and commercial secrets.

There’s a reason why this batch of information is being used as a bargaining chip:

[Assange] has suggested the contents are unredacted, posing a possible security risk for coalition partners around the world.

If Assange were merely a proponent of open government, as he has portrayed himself, he would have released all the documents at the same time — including the “insurance file” — along with the necessary redactions. What is the point of leaking the files so strategically if there wasn’t a broader strategy to inflict as much destruction on the U.S. as possible?

Assange may not share al-Qaeda’s tactics, but his intent is similar. All his fans who believe he’s a crusader for government transparency are fooling themselves. In fact, Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell are already calling Assange a terrorist: “Information warfare is warfare, and Julian Assange is engaged in warfare. Information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed, is terrorism, and Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism,” said Gingrich. “He should be treated as an enemy combatant.”

I understand where Gingrich is coming from, but I don’t think Assange’s actions warrant the terrorism label just yet. He hasn’t purposely targeted specific groups of individuals with violence. However, WikiLeaks is making it easier for terror groups to target civilians, so terrorist abettor may be a better description.

Some Julian Assange supporters have dismissed the potential national-security risk of WikiLeaks as an unfortunate, but unavoidable, consequence of the fight for more government transparency. But now Assange has taken his “crusade” a step further, by threatening to release even more dangerous documents if government leaders make any attempt to shut down his website or detain him. This is essentially blackmail:

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has circulated across the internet an encrypted “poison pill” cache of uncensored documents suspected to include files on BP and Guantanamo Bay.

One of the files identified this weekend by The Sunday Times — called the “insurance” file — has been downloaded from the WikiLeaks website by tens of thousands of supporters, from America to Australia.

Assange warns that any government that tries to curtail his activities risks triggering a new deluge of state and commercial secrets.

There’s a reason why this batch of information is being used as a bargaining chip:

[Assange] has suggested the contents are unredacted, posing a possible security risk for coalition partners around the world.

If Assange were merely a proponent of open government, as he has portrayed himself, he would have released all the documents at the same time — including the “insurance file” — along with the necessary redactions. What is the point of leaking the files so strategically if there wasn’t a broader strategy to inflict as much destruction on the U.S. as possible?

Assange may not share al-Qaeda’s tactics, but his intent is similar. All his fans who believe he’s a crusader for government transparency are fooling themselves. In fact, Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell are already calling Assange a terrorist: “Information warfare is warfare, and Julian Assange is engaged in warfare. Information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed, is terrorism, and Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism,” said Gingrich. “He should be treated as an enemy combatant.”

I understand where Gingrich is coming from, but I don’t think Assange’s actions warrant the terrorism label just yet. He hasn’t purposely targeted specific groups of individuals with violence. However, WikiLeaks is making it easier for terror groups to target civilians, so terrorist abettor may be a better description.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

I’m with Ben Chandler on this one. “Kentucky Rep. Ben Chandler is blaming President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the Democrats’ poor showing nationally in the Nov. 2 elections. … ‘If not there, where else does the responsibility lie? … You’re talking about the loss of 60 or something seats held by capable public servants. There had to be something going on at a level above them. If that isn’t the lesson, I don’t know what is.’”

I’m with Jeffrey Rosen on this one. “In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both ‘minimally intrusive’ and “effective” — in other words, they must be ‘well-tailored to protect personal privacy,’ and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. … As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito’s tests.” Read the whole thing — it’s quite persuasive.

I’m with Norm Coleman on this one. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit. ‘I think that race is over. I think the counting’s been done. I’m not sure there’s anything that would change that,’ Coleman told C-SPAN in an interview set to air on Sunday. Coleman himself fought until the bitter end of his 2008 Senate race against Democrat Al Franken, which dragged on for seven months because of a recount and legal challenges.”

I’m with John McCain on this one: “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued in an interview Sunday that the U.S. has not exacted enough pressure on North Korea and that the current tensions in the region may present an opportunity for regime change. ‘I think it’s time we talked about regime change in North Korea,’ he said, quickly adding that he did not mean ‘military action.’”

I’m with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on this one. In regards to Iran, apparently he’d been warning the administration to “‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.” But the Obami are too busy obsessing over non-direct, non-peace talks that are going nowhere.

I’m with Josh Block on this one. “One of the most interesting overall themes is the restraint seen to typify the Israelis on Iran, in contrast to the typical Brzezinski, Scowcroft, Walt/Mearsheimer, Glenn Greenwald-Neo-progressive, netroots claims Israel is trying to prod us to fight and bomb Iran for them. In the end, one of the most obvious take-aways from these WikiLeaks documents is devastating to the whole Left/Realist narrative about Israeli manipulation. The Israelis come off as cool customers, while the Arabs are the ones freaking out, justifiably many would argue, and literally demanding the U.S. bomb the Iranian nuclear program.”

I’m with Lindsey Graham on this one. “I think it is a big mistake to criminalize the war, to take someone you’ve held under the law of war as an enemy combatant for six or seven years, then put them in civilian court. It is a disaster waiting to happen. I believe I got the votes to block it. I don’t think Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will ever get congressional approval to see a civilian court. He should be tried at Guantanamo Bay. He should be tried now. He was ready to plead guilty before the Obama administration stopped the trial. We should have him in a military commission trial beginning Monday and get this case behind us.”

I’m with Ben Chandler on this one. “Kentucky Rep. Ben Chandler is blaming President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the Democrats’ poor showing nationally in the Nov. 2 elections. … ‘If not there, where else does the responsibility lie? … You’re talking about the loss of 60 or something seats held by capable public servants. There had to be something going on at a level above them. If that isn’t the lesson, I don’t know what is.’”

I’m with Jeffrey Rosen on this one. “In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both ‘minimally intrusive’ and “effective” — in other words, they must be ‘well-tailored to protect personal privacy,’ and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. … As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito’s tests.” Read the whole thing — it’s quite persuasive.

I’m with Norm Coleman on this one. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit. ‘I think that race is over. I think the counting’s been done. I’m not sure there’s anything that would change that,’ Coleman told C-SPAN in an interview set to air on Sunday. Coleman himself fought until the bitter end of his 2008 Senate race against Democrat Al Franken, which dragged on for seven months because of a recount and legal challenges.”

I’m with John McCain on this one: “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued in an interview Sunday that the U.S. has not exacted enough pressure on North Korea and that the current tensions in the region may present an opportunity for regime change. ‘I think it’s time we talked about regime change in North Korea,’ he said, quickly adding that he did not mean ‘military action.’”

I’m with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on this one. In regards to Iran, apparently he’d been warning the administration to “‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.” But the Obami are too busy obsessing over non-direct, non-peace talks that are going nowhere.

I’m with Josh Block on this one. “One of the most interesting overall themes is the restraint seen to typify the Israelis on Iran, in contrast to the typical Brzezinski, Scowcroft, Walt/Mearsheimer, Glenn Greenwald-Neo-progressive, netroots claims Israel is trying to prod us to fight and bomb Iran for them. In the end, one of the most obvious take-aways from these WikiLeaks documents is devastating to the whole Left/Realist narrative about Israeli manipulation. The Israelis come off as cool customers, while the Arabs are the ones freaking out, justifiably many would argue, and literally demanding the U.S. bomb the Iranian nuclear program.”

I’m with Lindsey Graham on this one. “I think it is a big mistake to criminalize the war, to take someone you’ve held under the law of war as an enemy combatant for six or seven years, then put them in civilian court. It is a disaster waiting to happen. I believe I got the votes to block it. I don’t think Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will ever get congressional approval to see a civilian court. He should be tried at Guantanamo Bay. He should be tried now. He was ready to plead guilty before the Obama administration stopped the trial. We should have him in a military commission trial beginning Monday and get this case behind us.”

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Obama’s Fall from Grace

“Campaigning is different than governing,” President Obama told reporters during his return flight from Asia this weekend. When asked about his meeting with GOP leaders later this week, Obama said: “They are flush with victory after a campaign of just saying ‘No.’ But I’m sure the American people did not vote for more gridlock.”

In fact, the exit polling shows the public did exactly what the president denies. The midterm elections were as close to a plebiscite as we have ever seen in a midterm election. It was, in large measure, a referendum on Obama and his policies — on Obamaism — and the public stood awthart history yelling, “Stop!”

As for the differences between campaigning and governing: that is precisely the distinction some of us warned Obama about in the immediate afterglow of his election. At the time, Obama’s supporters mocked the cautionary notes; governing would be a breeze once The One we had been waiting for took his throne. Mr. Obama himself is responsible in large measure for this. After all, he created almost mythological expectations of what he would achieve.

It has turned out to be quite a lot different, and quite a lot harder, than Mr. Obama ever imagined.

The world is an untidy place; problems are often more difficult and even more intractable than candidates imagine. Expressing intentions — like, say, closing down Guantanamo Bay, trying Khalid Sheik Mohammad in a civilian court, keeping unemployment below 8 percent, bending the health-care cost curve down while at the same time covering more people, convincing the Iranians to give up their pursuit of nuclear weapons, ushering in peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, even signing a free-trade agreement with South Korea — is different than actually implementing successful policies.

Republicans, to their credit, seem to have learned from Obama’s mistakes, as well as some of their own. There is no more talk about “revolutions.” Rather, there is a sober realization of the tasks that lie before them. This attitude doesn’t guarantee success, but it does show a level of maturity about politics and life, about their possibilities and limitations, that is a welcome thing to see.

Barack Obama’s stunning fall from grace has had an effect on him and on his opponents. The days of meaningless incantations like “hope and change,” of healing the planet and reversing the ocean tides, are gone with the wind. We are at least better for that.

“Campaigning is different than governing,” President Obama told reporters during his return flight from Asia this weekend. When asked about his meeting with GOP leaders later this week, Obama said: “They are flush with victory after a campaign of just saying ‘No.’ But I’m sure the American people did not vote for more gridlock.”

In fact, the exit polling shows the public did exactly what the president denies. The midterm elections were as close to a plebiscite as we have ever seen in a midterm election. It was, in large measure, a referendum on Obama and his policies — on Obamaism — and the public stood awthart history yelling, “Stop!”

As for the differences between campaigning and governing: that is precisely the distinction some of us warned Obama about in the immediate afterglow of his election. At the time, Obama’s supporters mocked the cautionary notes; governing would be a breeze once The One we had been waiting for took his throne. Mr. Obama himself is responsible in large measure for this. After all, he created almost mythological expectations of what he would achieve.

It has turned out to be quite a lot different, and quite a lot harder, than Mr. Obama ever imagined.

The world is an untidy place; problems are often more difficult and even more intractable than candidates imagine. Expressing intentions — like, say, closing down Guantanamo Bay, trying Khalid Sheik Mohammad in a civilian court, keeping unemployment below 8 percent, bending the health-care cost curve down while at the same time covering more people, convincing the Iranians to give up their pursuit of nuclear weapons, ushering in peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, even signing a free-trade agreement with South Korea — is different than actually implementing successful policies.

Republicans, to their credit, seem to have learned from Obama’s mistakes, as well as some of their own. There is no more talk about “revolutions.” Rather, there is a sober realization of the tasks that lie before them. This attitude doesn’t guarantee success, but it does show a level of maturity about politics and life, about their possibilities and limitations, that is a welcome thing to see.

Barack Obama’s stunning fall from grace has had an effect on him and on his opponents. The days of meaningless incantations like “hope and change,” of healing the planet and reversing the ocean tides, are gone with the wind. We are at least better for that.

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Never Mind, Forget the KSM Trial

With the midterms in the rearview mirror the Obama administration can now admit the obvious: a public trial for KSM is impossible. The Washington Post reports:

Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, will probably remain in military detention without trial for the foreseeable future, according to Obama administration officials.

The administration asserts that it can hold Mohammed and other al-Qaeda operatives under the laws of war, a principle that has been upheld by the courts when Guantanamo Bay detainees have challenged their detention.

In other words, all of the attorney general’s assertions regarding the superiority of a public trial have proven faulty, and the administration now looks buffoonish. After excoriating critics and defending their scheme to put KSM on trial in civilian court, they now are forced to concede, “OK, it won’t work.” This was all perfectly apparent at the time to everyone but Eric Holder and the leftist lawyers who populate the Department of Justice (a number of whom represented Guantanamo detainees).

The administration is hard-pressed to explain the utter ineptitude that has characterized its detainee policy and the latest reversal. The best it can muster is this:

The Mohammed case is “a case that has to be addressed, and clearly it’s complicated in ways that weren’t originally foreseen, but as a symbol in some way of a thwarted policy, it is wholly misleading,” the senior official said.

Weren’t foreseen by whom? The hapless attorney general.

The administration has had to countermand Eric Holder twice now — first on the release of the detainee-abuse photos and now on the KSM trial and perhaps on the entire issue of military tribunals. For a constitutional scholar, as the president imagines himself, he certainly hired a second-rate lawyer to run the Justice Department. Holder and his appointees are consumed by ideology and lacking in common sense and legal smarts. If it weren’t for the State Department, DOJ would win hands down the “least effective” Obama  department. The good news is that their advice has a short shelf-life.

With the midterms in the rearview mirror the Obama administration can now admit the obvious: a public trial for KSM is impossible. The Washington Post reports:

Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, will probably remain in military detention without trial for the foreseeable future, according to Obama administration officials.

The administration asserts that it can hold Mohammed and other al-Qaeda operatives under the laws of war, a principle that has been upheld by the courts when Guantanamo Bay detainees have challenged their detention.

In other words, all of the attorney general’s assertions regarding the superiority of a public trial have proven faulty, and the administration now looks buffoonish. After excoriating critics and defending their scheme to put KSM on trial in civilian court, they now are forced to concede, “OK, it won’t work.” This was all perfectly apparent at the time to everyone but Eric Holder and the leftist lawyers who populate the Department of Justice (a number of whom represented Guantanamo detainees).

The administration is hard-pressed to explain the utter ineptitude that has characterized its detainee policy and the latest reversal. The best it can muster is this:

The Mohammed case is “a case that has to be addressed, and clearly it’s complicated in ways that weren’t originally foreseen, but as a symbol in some way of a thwarted policy, it is wholly misleading,” the senior official said.

Weren’t foreseen by whom? The hapless attorney general.

The administration has had to countermand Eric Holder twice now — first on the release of the detainee-abuse photos and now on the KSM trial and perhaps on the entire issue of military tribunals. For a constitutional scholar, as the president imagines himself, he certainly hired a second-rate lawyer to run the Justice Department. Holder and his appointees are consumed by ideology and lacking in common sense and legal smarts. If it weren’t for the State Department, DOJ would win hands down the “least effective” Obama  department. The good news is that their advice has a short shelf-life.

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The Policies That Keep Us Safe

The foiled package-bomb plot originating in Yemen is the latest sign of how determined Islamist extremists remain in trying to strike the United States. Just in the past year, we have seen the shooting at Fort Hood, which left 13 people dead; an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with explosives hidden in underwear; an attempt to set off an explosion in Times Square with explosives hidden in a vehicle; and the arrest of a suspect accused of plotting to attack the Washington subway. These attacks serve as a reminder, as Andy McCarthy notes, that our homeland remains very much in danger. So why isn’t terrorism more of an election issue? Largely because this is an area where there is — mercifully — a high degree of bipartisan agreement.

That hasn’t always been the case. Barack Obama ran for president not only pledging to pull out of Iraq but also to end what he viewed as the abuses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” The very term “war on terror” has been banished from the Obama administration’s lexicon, but luckily, most of the practices instituted by Bush have been continued.

Obama, recall, promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, to try terrorists in civilian courts, to end “renditions” of terrorist suspects, to end torture, and to end or severely curtail warrantless wiretaps. What has he actually done?

He has limited the use of interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects — but they had already been curtailed by Bush, who banned the use of most “stress techniques” in his second term. But Obama hasn’t closed Gitmo, largely because of overwhelming congressional opposition. His plan to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court came to naught. The military commissions are still in business. Suspected terrorists continue to be  held without trial, not only at Gitmo but also in the Parwan detention facility in Afghanistan. He signed an extension of the Patriot Act, which provides most of the surveillance authorities instituted after 9/11. Renditions continue. And Obama has actually stepped up the use of drone strikes to kill terrorists, especially but not exclusively in Pakistan. He has even placed an American citizen (Anwar al-Aliki, a leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch) on the list for elimination without any judicial overview. Finally, he has essentially continued the Bush policy of drawing down slowly in Iraq while building up our forces in Afghanistan.

Thus Obama has, in most important respects, essentially ratified the post-9/11 measures instituted by the Bush administration. He has not instituted a “law enforcement” approach to terrorism, as was feared by so many of his critics and expected by so many of his supporters. A Republican president might approve harsher interrogation techniques or make some other changes at the margins, but I doubt that anything very substantial will change no matter who succeeds Obama — unless there is some horrific new attack on American soil, in which case the balance will swing even more against civil liberties.

Just as we have a wide degree of agreement now on how to fight terrorism at home, so we have bipartisan uncertainty about how to fight it in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. No one seriously suggests invading them barring another 9/11. The debate is mainly about how much and what kind of aid we should give to the governments in question, how much we can trust them to act on our behalf, and how many unilateral strikes we should carry out. These are not ideological questions; they are tough judgment calls on which experts of all stripes can disagree.

Obama, to his credit, hasn’t hesitated to approve drone strikes and other covert actions against terrorists in places like Somalia and Yemen, but there is a limit to what such measures can do. Defeating the terrorists who hide in these unstable areas requires improving their level of governance — a difficult, long-term project that we are attempting to undertake but without any great prospects of immediate success.

More than nine years after 9/11, we have made great strides in countering terrorism, especially in toughening up domestic security, increasing intelligence-gathering, and lowering barriers between law enforcement and intelligence. We still have more to do domestically — for instance, the latest plots highlight the need for better inspection of cargo. And there is much more to do abroad to try to root al-Qaeda out of its foreign bastions. But the greatest progress we have made is to reach a high degree of domestic consensus about what it takes to fight terrorism.

Give Obama credit for breaking his campaign pledges and essentially adopting the Bush approach. And of course, give Bush credit for weathering years of abuse from Senator Obama and other critics to hang tough and institute policies that have helped keep us safe.

The foiled package-bomb plot originating in Yemen is the latest sign of how determined Islamist extremists remain in trying to strike the United States. Just in the past year, we have seen the shooting at Fort Hood, which left 13 people dead; an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with explosives hidden in underwear; an attempt to set off an explosion in Times Square with explosives hidden in a vehicle; and the arrest of a suspect accused of plotting to attack the Washington subway. These attacks serve as a reminder, as Andy McCarthy notes, that our homeland remains very much in danger. So why isn’t terrorism more of an election issue? Largely because this is an area where there is — mercifully — a high degree of bipartisan agreement.

That hasn’t always been the case. Barack Obama ran for president not only pledging to pull out of Iraq but also to end what he viewed as the abuses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” The very term “war on terror” has been banished from the Obama administration’s lexicon, but luckily, most of the practices instituted by Bush have been continued.

Obama, recall, promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, to try terrorists in civilian courts, to end “renditions” of terrorist suspects, to end torture, and to end or severely curtail warrantless wiretaps. What has he actually done?

He has limited the use of interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects — but they had already been curtailed by Bush, who banned the use of most “stress techniques” in his second term. But Obama hasn’t closed Gitmo, largely because of overwhelming congressional opposition. His plan to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court came to naught. The military commissions are still in business. Suspected terrorists continue to be  held without trial, not only at Gitmo but also in the Parwan detention facility in Afghanistan. He signed an extension of the Patriot Act, which provides most of the surveillance authorities instituted after 9/11. Renditions continue. And Obama has actually stepped up the use of drone strikes to kill terrorists, especially but not exclusively in Pakistan. He has even placed an American citizen (Anwar al-Aliki, a leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch) on the list for elimination without any judicial overview. Finally, he has essentially continued the Bush policy of drawing down slowly in Iraq while building up our forces in Afghanistan.

Thus Obama has, in most important respects, essentially ratified the post-9/11 measures instituted by the Bush administration. He has not instituted a “law enforcement” approach to terrorism, as was feared by so many of his critics and expected by so many of his supporters. A Republican president might approve harsher interrogation techniques or make some other changes at the margins, but I doubt that anything very substantial will change no matter who succeeds Obama — unless there is some horrific new attack on American soil, in which case the balance will swing even more against civil liberties.

Just as we have a wide degree of agreement now on how to fight terrorism at home, so we have bipartisan uncertainty about how to fight it in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. No one seriously suggests invading them barring another 9/11. The debate is mainly about how much and what kind of aid we should give to the governments in question, how much we can trust them to act on our behalf, and how many unilateral strikes we should carry out. These are not ideological questions; they are tough judgment calls on which experts of all stripes can disagree.

Obama, to his credit, hasn’t hesitated to approve drone strikes and other covert actions against terrorists in places like Somalia and Yemen, but there is a limit to what such measures can do. Defeating the terrorists who hide in these unstable areas requires improving their level of governance — a difficult, long-term project that we are attempting to undertake but without any great prospects of immediate success.

More than nine years after 9/11, we have made great strides in countering terrorism, especially in toughening up domestic security, increasing intelligence-gathering, and lowering barriers between law enforcement and intelligence. We still have more to do domestically — for instance, the latest plots highlight the need for better inspection of cargo. And there is much more to do abroad to try to root al-Qaeda out of its foreign bastions. But the greatest progress we have made is to reach a high degree of domestic consensus about what it takes to fight terrorism.

Give Obama credit for breaking his campaign pledges and essentially adopting the Bush approach. And of course, give Bush credit for weathering years of abuse from Senator Obama and other critics to hang tough and institute policies that have helped keep us safe.

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Best Supporting Role in a Civil Rights Cover-Up

Hollywood is not the only place where self-congratulatory awards are plentiful. Andrew Malcolm notes that the Obama Department of Justice has handed out a slew of these — more than 300 (if you didn’t get one, start updating your resume) – to their attorneys and staffers. He empathizes (no, not really) with the “workload” all this entails:

Dropping the Black Panther voter intimidation case. Not closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Suing Arizona for trying to do the federal job of securing the porous Mexican border against drug and human smugglers. Fighting in federal court to uphold the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law on gays in the military that Obama often says he really, really opposes and will certainly change someday on his watch. Ditto for the department’s ongoing legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. Even though top Obama aide Valerie Jarrett got caught on an interview video recently kinda letting the cat out of the bag about the White House view of gay being a lifestyle choice. But she apologized for the revelation.

Let’s not forget about hiring attorneys who previously represented al-Qaeda terrorists, refusing to enforce portions of the Voting Rights Act (which would head off fraud), and giving rotten advice (later countermanded) with respect to the release of detainee-abuse photos. You wonder what these awards were for. Best misleading answer to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Most egregious case of conflict of interest in matters of national security. The mind reels.

Hollywood is not the only place where self-congratulatory awards are plentiful. Andrew Malcolm notes that the Obama Department of Justice has handed out a slew of these — more than 300 (if you didn’t get one, start updating your resume) – to their attorneys and staffers. He empathizes (no, not really) with the “workload” all this entails:

Dropping the Black Panther voter intimidation case. Not closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Suing Arizona for trying to do the federal job of securing the porous Mexican border against drug and human smugglers. Fighting in federal court to uphold the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law on gays in the military that Obama often says he really, really opposes and will certainly change someday on his watch. Ditto for the department’s ongoing legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. Even though top Obama aide Valerie Jarrett got caught on an interview video recently kinda letting the cat out of the bag about the White House view of gay being a lifestyle choice. But she apologized for the revelation.

Let’s not forget about hiring attorneys who previously represented al-Qaeda terrorists, refusing to enforce portions of the Voting Rights Act (which would head off fraud), and giving rotten advice (later countermanded) with respect to the release of detainee-abuse photos. You wonder what these awards were for. Best misleading answer to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Most egregious case of conflict of interest in matters of national security. The mind reels.

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On Burning the Koran

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the planned burning of Qurans on Sept. 11 by a Florida church could put the lives of American troops in danger and damage the war effort.

Gen. David Petraeus said the Taliban would exploit the demonstration for propaganda purposes, drumming up anger toward the U.S. and making it harder for allied troops to carry out their mission of protecting Afghan civilians.

“It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort,” Gen. Petraeus said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.”

General Petraeus points out that hundreds of Afghans attended a demonstration in Kabul on Monday simply in anticipation of the plans of Florida pastor Terry Jones, who has said he will burn the Koran on September 11. Afghan protesters chanted “death to America” and speakers called on the U.S. to withdraw its military convoy. Military officials fear the protests are likely to spread beyond Kabul to other Afghan cities.

Some people may believe this is all overdone. Jones, after all, leads a church of just 50 people. He clearly does not speak for the overwhelming number of Christians in America. And of course, in a nation of more than 300 million people, there are a handful who can be found supporting every imaginable crazed cause.

But this incident has the capacity to be different. General Petraeus is a careful and cautious man; for him to speak out as he did means the danger is real enough. And there is precedent. As the Journal story reminds us, reports in Newsweek, later retracted, that a U.S. interrogator at the Guantanamo Bay prison had flushed a Koran down a toilet set off riots in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

If he carries through on his plan, then, the actions by Jones may undermine our mission in Afghanistan and threaten the lives of those serving in that theater. People with standing in Jones’s life need to stop him, in part because his actions are deeply antithetical to our founding principles. The Third Reich burned books; those who are citizens of the United States should not.

Jones’s actions would also be an offense against the Christian faith. From what we know, Jesus not only wasn’t an advocate of book-burning; he was a lover of them, most especially the Hebrew Bible, which he often quoted. Beyond that, Christianity is premised on evangelism, on spreading what the faithful believe to be truth about God, history, and the human person. There is nothing that would lead one to embrace coercion or to stoke (literally) the flames of hatred.

Whatever differences the Christian faith has with Islam, they are ones that followers of Jesus need to articulate with reason, with measured words, and with a spirit of grace and understanding. And whatever purpose Jones thinks he’s serving, it is not the purpose of the Prince of Peace. It is, in fact, very nearly its antithesis. We can only hope that this deeply misguided pastor is stopped before he does significant damage to his country, its gallant warriors, and the faith Jones claims as his own.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the planned burning of Qurans on Sept. 11 by a Florida church could put the lives of American troops in danger and damage the war effort.

Gen. David Petraeus said the Taliban would exploit the demonstration for propaganda purposes, drumming up anger toward the U.S. and making it harder for allied troops to carry out their mission of protecting Afghan civilians.

“It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort,” Gen. Petraeus said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.”

General Petraeus points out that hundreds of Afghans attended a demonstration in Kabul on Monday simply in anticipation of the plans of Florida pastor Terry Jones, who has said he will burn the Koran on September 11. Afghan protesters chanted “death to America” and speakers called on the U.S. to withdraw its military convoy. Military officials fear the protests are likely to spread beyond Kabul to other Afghan cities.

Some people may believe this is all overdone. Jones, after all, leads a church of just 50 people. He clearly does not speak for the overwhelming number of Christians in America. And of course, in a nation of more than 300 million people, there are a handful who can be found supporting every imaginable crazed cause.

But this incident has the capacity to be different. General Petraeus is a careful and cautious man; for him to speak out as he did means the danger is real enough. And there is precedent. As the Journal story reminds us, reports in Newsweek, later retracted, that a U.S. interrogator at the Guantanamo Bay prison had flushed a Koran down a toilet set off riots in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

If he carries through on his plan, then, the actions by Jones may undermine our mission in Afghanistan and threaten the lives of those serving in that theater. People with standing in Jones’s life need to stop him, in part because his actions are deeply antithetical to our founding principles. The Third Reich burned books; those who are citizens of the United States should not.

Jones’s actions would also be an offense against the Christian faith. From what we know, Jesus not only wasn’t an advocate of book-burning; he was a lover of them, most especially the Hebrew Bible, which he often quoted. Beyond that, Christianity is premised on evangelism, on spreading what the faithful believe to be truth about God, history, and the human person. There is nothing that would lead one to embrace coercion or to stoke (literally) the flames of hatred.

Whatever differences the Christian faith has with Islam, they are ones that followers of Jesus need to articulate with reason, with measured words, and with a spirit of grace and understanding. And whatever purpose Jones thinks he’s serving, it is not the purpose of the Prince of Peace. It is, in fact, very nearly its antithesis. We can only hope that this deeply misguided pastor is stopped before he does significant damage to his country, its gallant warriors, and the faith Jones claims as his own.

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Politicizing Prosecutions

It was not too long ago that the Obama team was excoriating the Bush administration for playing politics with the judicial system and unconscionably delaying the prosecution of Guantanamo detainees. Well, now:

The Obama administration has shelved the planned prosecution of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged coordinator of the Oct. 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, according to a court filing.

The decision at least temporarily scuttles what was supposed to be the signature trial of a major al-Qaeda figure under a reformed system of military commissions. And it comes practically on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the attack, which killed 17 sailors and wounded dozens when a boat packed with explosives ripped a hole in the side of the warship in the port of Aden.

What’s the problem?

Military officials said a team of prosecutors in the Nashiri case has been ready go to trial for some time. And several months ago, military officials seemed confident that Nashiri would be arraigned this summer.

“It’s politics at this point,” said one military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss policy. He said he thinks the administration does not want to proceed against a high-value detainee without some prospect of civilian trials for other major figures at Guantanamo Bay.

Pretty unconscionable stuff, isn’t it? And a final decision on KSM has also been delayed, it is widely assumed, so that the administration need not disclose its intentions before the election. In an administration with plenty of both, this ranks near the top when it comes to hypocrisy and politicizing the administration of justice.

It was not too long ago that the Obama team was excoriating the Bush administration for playing politics with the judicial system and unconscionably delaying the prosecution of Guantanamo detainees. Well, now:

The Obama administration has shelved the planned prosecution of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged coordinator of the Oct. 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, according to a court filing.

The decision at least temporarily scuttles what was supposed to be the signature trial of a major al-Qaeda figure under a reformed system of military commissions. And it comes practically on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the attack, which killed 17 sailors and wounded dozens when a boat packed with explosives ripped a hole in the side of the warship in the port of Aden.

What’s the problem?

Military officials said a team of prosecutors in the Nashiri case has been ready go to trial for some time. And several months ago, military officials seemed confident that Nashiri would be arraigned this summer.

“It’s politics at this point,” said one military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss policy. He said he thinks the administration does not want to proceed against a high-value detainee without some prospect of civilian trials for other major figures at Guantanamo Bay.

Pretty unconscionable stuff, isn’t it? And a final decision on KSM has also been delayed, it is widely assumed, so that the administration need not disclose its intentions before the election. In an administration with plenty of both, this ranks near the top when it comes to hypocrisy and politicizing the administration of justice.

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Flotsam and Jestsam

Not like it’s out of the blue: “The number of U.S. Voters who view the issue of Taxes as Very Important has jumped 10 points from May to its highest level ever in Rasmussen Reports tracking. Still, Taxes rank fourth on a list of 10 issues regularly tracked by Rasmussen Reports.” Nothing like Democrats’ plan for a mammoth tax hike to raise the tax issue.

The administration is running out of spinners. Not even the New York Times will excuse this: “A prisoner who begs to stay indefinitely at the Guantánamo Bay detention center rather than be sent back to Algeria probably has a strong reason to fear the welcoming reception at home. Abdul Aziz Naji, who has been held at Guantánamo since 2002, told the Obama administration that he would be tortured if he was transferred to Algeria, by either the Algerian government or fundamentalist groups there. Though he offered to remain at the prison, the administration shipped him home last weekend and washed its hands of the man. Almost immediately upon arrival, he disappeared, and his family fears the worst. It is an act of cruelty that seems to defy explanation.”

One hundred days out, things are looking pretty gloomy for the Democrats: “Republicans have been touting their chances of retaking the House and, despite their almost 2-to-1 financial disadvantage, many observers – including White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs – believe it’s a possibility.”

The Obami would be wise to get the whole story out: “Correspondence obtained by The Sunday Times reveals the Obama administration considered compassionate release more palatable than locking up Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in a Libyan prison. … The document, acquired by a well-placed US source, threatens to undermine US President Barack Obama’s claim last week that all Americans were ‘surprised, disappointed and angry’ to learn of Megrahi’s release.”

You sense the Democrats are going to get blown out of the water in November if Obama is still trying to win over the MoveOn.org crowd.

Jake Tapper goes out in style with a grilling of Timothy Geithner on letting the Bush tax cuts expire. (“Don’t you think it will slow economic growth?”) The show is about to become unwatchable with Christiane Amanpour as host.

On Fox News Sunday, Mara Liasson and Bill Kristol agree that there’s no comparison between the administration and the media on Shirley Sherrod. The media showed itself to be irresponsible; the administration, out of its depth. Kristol: “I mean, the media — I was in the Reagan administration 25 years ago. The media reported things falsely. It’s not — this is not — this is nothing new. You’re — if you are the — a cabinet secretary, you have an obligation to the people working for you to make sure that the charges being leveled against them are true. And you can wait a day and, God, it would be horrible if Glenn Beck attacked the Obama administration for one show. That never happens, you know. I mean, the idea that you panic and fire someone based on one report that hadn’t been on television yet — right?”

A former Justice Department official says Democrats strain the outer limits of voters’ credulity if they claim ignorance of the New Black Panther scandal.

Not like it’s out of the blue: “The number of U.S. Voters who view the issue of Taxes as Very Important has jumped 10 points from May to its highest level ever in Rasmussen Reports tracking. Still, Taxes rank fourth on a list of 10 issues regularly tracked by Rasmussen Reports.” Nothing like Democrats’ plan for a mammoth tax hike to raise the tax issue.

The administration is running out of spinners. Not even the New York Times will excuse this: “A prisoner who begs to stay indefinitely at the Guantánamo Bay detention center rather than be sent back to Algeria probably has a strong reason to fear the welcoming reception at home. Abdul Aziz Naji, who has been held at Guantánamo since 2002, told the Obama administration that he would be tortured if he was transferred to Algeria, by either the Algerian government or fundamentalist groups there. Though he offered to remain at the prison, the administration shipped him home last weekend and washed its hands of the man. Almost immediately upon arrival, he disappeared, and his family fears the worst. It is an act of cruelty that seems to defy explanation.”

One hundred days out, things are looking pretty gloomy for the Democrats: “Republicans have been touting their chances of retaking the House and, despite their almost 2-to-1 financial disadvantage, many observers – including White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs – believe it’s a possibility.”

The Obami would be wise to get the whole story out: “Correspondence obtained by The Sunday Times reveals the Obama administration considered compassionate release more palatable than locking up Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in a Libyan prison. … The document, acquired by a well-placed US source, threatens to undermine US President Barack Obama’s claim last week that all Americans were ‘surprised, disappointed and angry’ to learn of Megrahi’s release.”

You sense the Democrats are going to get blown out of the water in November if Obama is still trying to win over the MoveOn.org crowd.

Jake Tapper goes out in style with a grilling of Timothy Geithner on letting the Bush tax cuts expire. (“Don’t you think it will slow economic growth?”) The show is about to become unwatchable with Christiane Amanpour as host.

On Fox News Sunday, Mara Liasson and Bill Kristol agree that there’s no comparison between the administration and the media on Shirley Sherrod. The media showed itself to be irresponsible; the administration, out of its depth. Kristol: “I mean, the media — I was in the Reagan administration 25 years ago. The media reported things falsely. It’s not — this is not — this is nothing new. You’re — if you are the — a cabinet secretary, you have an obligation to the people working for you to make sure that the charges being leveled against them are true. And you can wait a day and, God, it would be horrible if Glenn Beck attacked the Obama administration for one show. That never happens, you know. I mean, the idea that you panic and fire someone based on one report that hadn’t been on television yet — right?”

A former Justice Department official says Democrats strain the outer limits of voters’ credulity if they claim ignorance of the New Black Panther scandal.

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We Only Expected Competence

It somehow has never dawned on the Obama devotees who like to cite the administration’s “inherited mess” that this president’s failures don’t exactly reflect the overcautiousness of a leader constrained by a crisis. Taking over one-sixth of the private sector in an unintelligible health-care scheme is not an indication of tied hands; it’s a demonstration of unbridled recklessness. So too is dumping unprecedented billions into a liberal wish-list and calling it a stimulus. And so is cooking up financial reform that makes growth impossible and charges responsible banks with the task of bailing out irresponsible ones.

But it is Barack Obama’s most devoted supporters who should be most offended by the White House’s newest spin on the president’s shortcomings. Obama, we are now told, could never have lived up to people’s expectations of him.

Of the two excuses, the second is the more ignoble. The first merely passes the buck to another politician; the second places the blame at the feet of everyone else.  We’re not just talking about Americans, either. On Thursday, the European Commission’s president José Manuel Barroso told an interviewer that he was disappointed in the EU-America relationship under Obama. The administration’s response: “Senior U.S. figures said Obama could never live up to Europe’s sky-high expectations.”

I’m sure that will put transatlantic relations on the road to recovery in no time. But more to the point, it was candidate Barack Obama who vowed to accomplish the impossible. He said he would close Guantanamo Bay, lower the sea levels, end partisanship, elevate America’s standing in the world, and forge a new global order built on common humanity. With the exception of the laughably deluded, most everyone else’s expectations were fairly modest.

Americans, liberal and conservative, expected a president who could tell an interviewer what was actually in the biggest piece of legislation we’ve seen since FDR; one who would consider our employment crisis his first priority, not a nuisance standing in the way of a predetermined agenda; a leader who was unequivocal about military decisions, be they to escalate or drawdown; a statesman who didn’t immediately alienate our allies.

And as for those allies, Europe wanted an American president who would acknowledge the historic and ideological bonds between liberal democracies; one who wouldn’t preach financial prodigality while the continent adopted emergency austerity measures; one who would, in the words of Nicolas Sarkozy, “live in a real world, not a virtual world,” and who would consequently place the threat of a nuclear Iran before the pet cause of non-proliferation.

These bare minimums — our own and Europe’s — don’t even speak to an expectation of excellence, let alone a fantasy of “sky-high” miracle-working. They constitute a simple wish for competence in the most powerful office in the world.

Even if Obama didn’t hold that job, his excuse would be odd. Imagine a man who is up for a sales job at a company in crisis. He tells his prospective boss that not only will he rescue sales but he’ll also lower costs, turn out a better product, get the competition to cooperate instead of compete, raise wages, improve the food in the company commissary, and redecorate the offices to boot. This man then gets hired. For a year, sales continue to lag, and everything else stays the same. The new employee explains that the guy who used to have his job left behind an unconscionable mess, which has made it very hard to do the things he had promised in the interview phase. After a year and a half, sales hit an historic low, the product is being recalled, competitors have formed a guild and are pulling ahead, everyone at the company has taken a salary hit, a few people have gotten food poisoning in the commissary, and the offices are more dilapidated than ever. On top of that, vendors can’t get him on the phone, he’s insulted his co-workers, and he’s taken more vacation time than the company allows. The boss finally asks him what’s gone wrong. “I could never have lived up to your expectations,” the man says.

Looking ahead to midterm elections, Obama recently told a Kansas City audience, “You’re going to face a choice in November and I want everybody to be very clear about what that choice is – the choice between the policies that got us into this mess in the first place and the policies that are getting us out of this mess.” Which mess is that? The stimulus mess? The ObamaCare mess? The financial-regulation mess? The European-allies mess? The Israel-relationship mess? The Karzai-relationship mess? The civilian-military mess? We’re facing a lot of messes that don’t have a thing to do with conservative policies. Even the housing-loan policies that led to the bust and recession are liberal policies, whether or not Bush embraced them.

The administration is now telling Americans not to expect much and to keep Democrats in office. “Despair and stasis” doesn’t quite have the ring of a successful campaign slogan, does it?

It somehow has never dawned on the Obama devotees who like to cite the administration’s “inherited mess” that this president’s failures don’t exactly reflect the overcautiousness of a leader constrained by a crisis. Taking over one-sixth of the private sector in an unintelligible health-care scheme is not an indication of tied hands; it’s a demonstration of unbridled recklessness. So too is dumping unprecedented billions into a liberal wish-list and calling it a stimulus. And so is cooking up financial reform that makes growth impossible and charges responsible banks with the task of bailing out irresponsible ones.

But it is Barack Obama’s most devoted supporters who should be most offended by the White House’s newest spin on the president’s shortcomings. Obama, we are now told, could never have lived up to people’s expectations of him.

Of the two excuses, the second is the more ignoble. The first merely passes the buck to another politician; the second places the blame at the feet of everyone else.  We’re not just talking about Americans, either. On Thursday, the European Commission’s president José Manuel Barroso told an interviewer that he was disappointed in the EU-America relationship under Obama. The administration’s response: “Senior U.S. figures said Obama could never live up to Europe’s sky-high expectations.”

I’m sure that will put transatlantic relations on the road to recovery in no time. But more to the point, it was candidate Barack Obama who vowed to accomplish the impossible. He said he would close Guantanamo Bay, lower the sea levels, end partisanship, elevate America’s standing in the world, and forge a new global order built on common humanity. With the exception of the laughably deluded, most everyone else’s expectations were fairly modest.

Americans, liberal and conservative, expected a president who could tell an interviewer what was actually in the biggest piece of legislation we’ve seen since FDR; one who would consider our employment crisis his first priority, not a nuisance standing in the way of a predetermined agenda; a leader who was unequivocal about military decisions, be they to escalate or drawdown; a statesman who didn’t immediately alienate our allies.

And as for those allies, Europe wanted an American president who would acknowledge the historic and ideological bonds between liberal democracies; one who wouldn’t preach financial prodigality while the continent adopted emergency austerity measures; one who would, in the words of Nicolas Sarkozy, “live in a real world, not a virtual world,” and who would consequently place the threat of a nuclear Iran before the pet cause of non-proliferation.

These bare minimums — our own and Europe’s — don’t even speak to an expectation of excellence, let alone a fantasy of “sky-high” miracle-working. They constitute a simple wish for competence in the most powerful office in the world.

Even if Obama didn’t hold that job, his excuse would be odd. Imagine a man who is up for a sales job at a company in crisis. He tells his prospective boss that not only will he rescue sales but he’ll also lower costs, turn out a better product, get the competition to cooperate instead of compete, raise wages, improve the food in the company commissary, and redecorate the offices to boot. This man then gets hired. For a year, sales continue to lag, and everything else stays the same. The new employee explains that the guy who used to have his job left behind an unconscionable mess, which has made it very hard to do the things he had promised in the interview phase. After a year and a half, sales hit an historic low, the product is being recalled, competitors have formed a guild and are pulling ahead, everyone at the company has taken a salary hit, a few people have gotten food poisoning in the commissary, and the offices are more dilapidated than ever. On top of that, vendors can’t get him on the phone, he’s insulted his co-workers, and he’s taken more vacation time than the company allows. The boss finally asks him what’s gone wrong. “I could never have lived up to your expectations,” the man says.

Looking ahead to midterm elections, Obama recently told a Kansas City audience, “You’re going to face a choice in November and I want everybody to be very clear about what that choice is – the choice between the policies that got us into this mess in the first place and the policies that are getting us out of this mess.” Which mess is that? The stimulus mess? The ObamaCare mess? The financial-regulation mess? The European-allies mess? The Israel-relationship mess? The Karzai-relationship mess? The civilian-military mess? We’re facing a lot of messes that don’t have a thing to do with conservative policies. Even the housing-loan policies that led to the bust and recession are liberal policies, whether or not Bush embraced them.

The administration is now telling Americans not to expect much and to keep Democrats in office. “Despair and stasis” doesn’t quite have the ring of a successful campaign slogan, does it?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It took Barack Obama to turn an ex-president into a sleazy “bag man.”

What will it take for the left to break with the anti-Semites, racists, and Israel-bashers? “Democracy for America, the progressive group that grew out of Howard Dean’s campaign for president, is standing by its support for a House candidate who backs a radical single-state solution in the Middle East and suggested in an interview that Jewish Reps. Jane Harman and Henry Waxman should ‘pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.”

Will Obama take this opportunity to dump the witch hunt against CIA interrogators? Stephen Hayes recommends that he should: “The repercussions have been severe. CIA operators, already risk averse, are today far less willing to take risks in the field out of fear that a wrong decision, even a legal one that produced crucial intelligence, could send them to jail. Obama should also insist that the Justice Department aggressively investigate the alleged exposure of CIA officials by lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees. Photographs of officials were discovered in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi and were reportedly provided by investigators working for the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. John Rizzo, former CIA general counsel and a 30-year intelligence veteran, said that the breach was far graver than the leak of Valerie Plame’s name.”

It took a few weeks of criticism to reveal Peter Beinart’s vile attitudes toward his fellow Jews: Nathan Diament on Beinart’s latest outburst in the Israel-hating the New York Review of Books: “Peter goes way beyond debating substance and drifts into stereotyping and calumny, saying: ‘the same sort of settler fanatics who burn Palestinian olive groves also assassinated an Israeli prime minister. The same ultra-Orthodox hooligans who burn Christian holy books also attack Jewish women trying to pray at the Western Wall.’ He also slams Rav Ovadia Yosef and, apparently, anyone else in Israel who, we suppose, doesn’t agree with his view — or that of the editorial board of Ha’aretz — as to precisely what ought to happen.”

It took a year and a half of Obama’s presidency to ruin Blanche Lincoln’s career: “[Arkansas's] larger bloc of conservative Democrats and independents upset over the perception that the incumbent is overly cozy with the unpopular President Obama, the Agriculture Committee chair and Delta farmer’s daughter finds her 18-year congressional career in grave jeopardy.”

It took a determined Jewish mom from Los Angeles to figure out it only took a $15 dollar solar cooker (made of cardboard and aluminum) to help protect “female [Darfur] refugees who were being ruthlessly subjected to physical and sexual brutality when they left the relative safety of their refugee camps.” She’s done more for human rights in Darfur — much more — than Obama and his embarrassingly ineffective special envoy have.

Have you noticed that Democrats aren’t so willing to take unpopular stands for this president on national security? “The Senate Armed Services Committee dealt a big setback to President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay when lawmakers stripped funding for a new prison in Illinois to hold the detainees. Committee Chairman Carl Levin on Friday told reporters the committee, in a voice vote, stripped $245 million that would have gone to buy and retrofit the Thomson prison in Illinois.”

Charles Hurt catches Obama taking responsibility for “zilch” at his BP oil-spill press conference: “It was yet another performance of the ‘full responsibility’ flimflam. … President Obama repeatedly took ‘full responsibility’ for the blundering efforts to clog up the geyser of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico coating everything in sight. At the same time, Obama repeatedly denied that his administration was complicit in allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place, slow to realize the devastating nature of it, or ham-handed in the five-week effort to try to stem the toxic tide. In other words, Obama — as he often does — took ‘full responsibility’ for being awesome.”

It took Barack Obama to turn an ex-president into a sleazy “bag man.”

What will it take for the left to break with the anti-Semites, racists, and Israel-bashers? “Democracy for America, the progressive group that grew out of Howard Dean’s campaign for president, is standing by its support for a House candidate who backs a radical single-state solution in the Middle East and suggested in an interview that Jewish Reps. Jane Harman and Henry Waxman should ‘pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.”

Will Obama take this opportunity to dump the witch hunt against CIA interrogators? Stephen Hayes recommends that he should: “The repercussions have been severe. CIA operators, already risk averse, are today far less willing to take risks in the field out of fear that a wrong decision, even a legal one that produced crucial intelligence, could send them to jail. Obama should also insist that the Justice Department aggressively investigate the alleged exposure of CIA officials by lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees. Photographs of officials were discovered in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi and were reportedly provided by investigators working for the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. John Rizzo, former CIA general counsel and a 30-year intelligence veteran, said that the breach was far graver than the leak of Valerie Plame’s name.”

It took a few weeks of criticism to reveal Peter Beinart’s vile attitudes toward his fellow Jews: Nathan Diament on Beinart’s latest outburst in the Israel-hating the New York Review of Books: “Peter goes way beyond debating substance and drifts into stereotyping and calumny, saying: ‘the same sort of settler fanatics who burn Palestinian olive groves also assassinated an Israeli prime minister. The same ultra-Orthodox hooligans who burn Christian holy books also attack Jewish women trying to pray at the Western Wall.’ He also slams Rav Ovadia Yosef and, apparently, anyone else in Israel who, we suppose, doesn’t agree with his view — or that of the editorial board of Ha’aretz — as to precisely what ought to happen.”

It took a year and a half of Obama’s presidency to ruin Blanche Lincoln’s career: “[Arkansas's] larger bloc of conservative Democrats and independents upset over the perception that the incumbent is overly cozy with the unpopular President Obama, the Agriculture Committee chair and Delta farmer’s daughter finds her 18-year congressional career in grave jeopardy.”

It took a determined Jewish mom from Los Angeles to figure out it only took a $15 dollar solar cooker (made of cardboard and aluminum) to help protect “female [Darfur] refugees who were being ruthlessly subjected to physical and sexual brutality when they left the relative safety of their refugee camps.” She’s done more for human rights in Darfur — much more — than Obama and his embarrassingly ineffective special envoy have.

Have you noticed that Democrats aren’t so willing to take unpopular stands for this president on national security? “The Senate Armed Services Committee dealt a big setback to President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay when lawmakers stripped funding for a new prison in Illinois to hold the detainees. Committee Chairman Carl Levin on Friday told reporters the committee, in a voice vote, stripped $245 million that would have gone to buy and retrofit the Thomson prison in Illinois.”

Charles Hurt catches Obama taking responsibility for “zilch” at his BP oil-spill press conference: “It was yet another performance of the ‘full responsibility’ flimflam. … President Obama repeatedly took ‘full responsibility’ for the blundering efforts to clog up the geyser of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico coating everything in sight. At the same time, Obama repeatedly denied that his administration was complicit in allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place, slow to realize the devastating nature of it, or ham-handed in the five-week effort to try to stem the toxic tide. In other words, Obama — as he often does — took ‘full responsibility’ for being awesome.”

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Did Terrorist Detainees’ Lawyers Endanger CIA Agents?

Eli Lake reports:

Covertly taken photos of CIA interrogators that were shown by defense attorneys to al Qaeda inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison represent a more serious security breach than the 2003 outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame, the agency’s former general counsel said Wednesday.

John Rizzo, who was the agency’s top attorney until December, said in an interview that he initially requested the Justice Department and CIA investigation into the compromise of CIA interrogators’ identities after photographs of the officers were found in the cell of one al Qaeda terrorist in Cuba.

Recall that Guantanamo detainees — some of whom may now have been released back to their home countries (and returned to the battlefield, given the rate of recidivism) — were shown pictures of CIA agents by their attorneys. The danger to these public servants is acute:

“Well I think this is far more serious than Valerie Plame,” Mr. Rizzo said after a breakfast speech. “That was clearly illegal, outing a covert officer. I am not downplaying that. But this is far more serious.”

“This was not leaked to a columnist,” he added. “These were pictures of undercover people who were involved in the interrogations program given for identification purposes to the 9/11 [terrorists].”

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is now investigating the matter. At this stage, we know that “the photographs appeared to have been taken by private investigators for the John Adams Project, which is jointly backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.” As Lake notes, serious violations of law may have occurred:

One possible crime would be the “disclosure of classified information, being the faces of these people, to an enemy foreign power,” Mr. Rizzo said.

Mr. Rizzo said the other possible law the pro-bono attorneys may have violated would be the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), the same law Mr. Fitzgerald initially investigated in Mrs. Plame’s case. No one in the Plame case was prosecuted under that statute. A former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., was convicted of lying to investigators and later partially pardoned.

We will see what Fitzgerald turns up. But the potential that lawyers illegally disclosed materials to terrorists and thereby endangered CIA agents should remind us of the mentality of those who claimed to be defending our “values” as they litigated against the U.S.

Eli Lake reports:

Covertly taken photos of CIA interrogators that were shown by defense attorneys to al Qaeda inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison represent a more serious security breach than the 2003 outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame, the agency’s former general counsel said Wednesday.

John Rizzo, who was the agency’s top attorney until December, said in an interview that he initially requested the Justice Department and CIA investigation into the compromise of CIA interrogators’ identities after photographs of the officers were found in the cell of one al Qaeda terrorist in Cuba.

Recall that Guantanamo detainees — some of whom may now have been released back to their home countries (and returned to the battlefield, given the rate of recidivism) — were shown pictures of CIA agents by their attorneys. The danger to these public servants is acute:

“Well I think this is far more serious than Valerie Plame,” Mr. Rizzo said after a breakfast speech. “That was clearly illegal, outing a covert officer. I am not downplaying that. But this is far more serious.”

“This was not leaked to a columnist,” he added. “These were pictures of undercover people who were involved in the interrogations program given for identification purposes to the 9/11 [terrorists].”

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is now investigating the matter. At this stage, we know that “the photographs appeared to have been taken by private investigators for the John Adams Project, which is jointly backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.” As Lake notes, serious violations of law may have occurred:

One possible crime would be the “disclosure of classified information, being the faces of these people, to an enemy foreign power,” Mr. Rizzo said.

Mr. Rizzo said the other possible law the pro-bono attorneys may have violated would be the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), the same law Mr. Fitzgerald initially investigated in Mrs. Plame’s case. No one in the Plame case was prosecuted under that statute. A former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., was convicted of lying to investigators and later partially pardoned.

We will see what Fitzgerald turns up. But the potential that lawyers illegally disclosed materials to terrorists and thereby endangered CIA agents should remind us of the mentality of those who claimed to be defending our “values” as they litigated against the U.S.

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Lobbying for the Impossible

David Cole, writing in the May 3, 2010, edition of the Nation, notices a curious silence about the Obama administration’s recent decision to green-light the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen hiding in Yemen who has allegedly encouraged and even planned terrorist attacks against Americans. “In our peculiar post-9/11 world,” he writes, “it is apparently less controversial to kill a suspect in cold blood than to hold him in preventive detention.”

It almost (but not quite) looks like an inversion of our World War II–era policy. Some American soldiers at the time thought it less of a hassle, and no doubt more satisfying, to shoot captured Germans than to herd them off battlefields into prisons. That was not, however, what they were ordered to do. Captured enemy combatants were to be treated decently and held until the war ended. It was the right thing to do, even in a war against Nazi Germany. So that’s what they did, at least most of the time.

Yet here we are, more than 60 years later, with a liberal Democrat in the White House, and a broad swathe of the American public seems more comfortable having a man shot or vaporized by a Predator drone than given three square meals and a mattress for an undefined period.

I agree with Cole that it’s strange, but there’s another way to look at this that he might consider.

“The argument for preventive detention during armed conflicts,” he writes, “has always been that since the army is authorized to kill an enemy combatant, it must be permitted to take the lesser step of detaining him for the duration of the conflict. If so, shouldn’t we be at least as concerned about executive killing as we are about executive detention?”

That’s one way to frame it. Here is another: if killing enemy combatants in the field is okay, why shouldn’t we be able to take the lesser step of detaining them until the end of the conflict?

Cole is quite right that detaining an enemy combatant for the duration is a lesser step than zotting him from the heavens. That would be true no matter how long the conflict grinds on. Even life imprisonment beats the pants off the battlefield equivalent of capital punishment, at least for most people. Imprisonment with the real possibility of being set free beats both.

Maybe I’m reading him wrong, but he seems to be suggesting the U.S. should restrict, if not outright ban, both the targeted killing and indefinite detention of terrorists. There are reasonable suggestions out there for how we could do both slightly differently and a little more ethically, and citizens in democratic societies should always debate these kinds of questions, but a sharp curtailment or prohibition of both would be ludicrous, especially while tens of thousands of our soldiers are deployed in war zones and some unknown but appreciable number of terrorists still plan to wreak havoc.

Some of President George W. Bush’s loudest critics hounded him for years that he hadn’t yet killed Osama bin Laden while also lambasting his administration over the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, the water-boarding of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and so on. Amnesty International even described Guantanamo Bay as the “gulag of our times,” a hysterical overreaction that trivialized the real Soviet gulag and the still existing slave-labor camps in North Korea.

The campaign against the detention and treatment of enemy combatants was so relentless for so many years that Barack Obama announced he would order the prison closed straightaway if the American people elected him president. Actually closing it has proved more difficult than he expected, and he’s getting grief from both the Left and the Right as he struggles to figure out how to proceed. His administration still doesn’t know what to do with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, nor with some of the prisoners his supporters would like to see sprung but who still might be dangerous. It’s no wonder he decided, then, after all this and in part because of all this, that it’s less of a hassle to just have people shot.

Virtually no one but our Left-most intellectuals thinks we should neither kill nor detain terrorists. Barack Obama is the Left-most president we’re likely to have for a while; so if he finds their views unrealistic, they are lobbying for the impossible.

There have been more targeted killings so far during his presidency than there were during all the Bush years combined. Critics like Cole may find, if they think about it, that this is partly their fault, as they’ve spent so much time and energy discrediting the alternative.

David Cole, writing in the May 3, 2010, edition of the Nation, notices a curious silence about the Obama administration’s recent decision to green-light the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen hiding in Yemen who has allegedly encouraged and even planned terrorist attacks against Americans. “In our peculiar post-9/11 world,” he writes, “it is apparently less controversial to kill a suspect in cold blood than to hold him in preventive detention.”

It almost (but not quite) looks like an inversion of our World War II–era policy. Some American soldiers at the time thought it less of a hassle, and no doubt more satisfying, to shoot captured Germans than to herd them off battlefields into prisons. That was not, however, what they were ordered to do. Captured enemy combatants were to be treated decently and held until the war ended. It was the right thing to do, even in a war against Nazi Germany. So that’s what they did, at least most of the time.

Yet here we are, more than 60 years later, with a liberal Democrat in the White House, and a broad swathe of the American public seems more comfortable having a man shot or vaporized by a Predator drone than given three square meals and a mattress for an undefined period.

I agree with Cole that it’s strange, but there’s another way to look at this that he might consider.

“The argument for preventive detention during armed conflicts,” he writes, “has always been that since the army is authorized to kill an enemy combatant, it must be permitted to take the lesser step of detaining him for the duration of the conflict. If so, shouldn’t we be at least as concerned about executive killing as we are about executive detention?”

That’s one way to frame it. Here is another: if killing enemy combatants in the field is okay, why shouldn’t we be able to take the lesser step of detaining them until the end of the conflict?

Cole is quite right that detaining an enemy combatant for the duration is a lesser step than zotting him from the heavens. That would be true no matter how long the conflict grinds on. Even life imprisonment beats the pants off the battlefield equivalent of capital punishment, at least for most people. Imprisonment with the real possibility of being set free beats both.

Maybe I’m reading him wrong, but he seems to be suggesting the U.S. should restrict, if not outright ban, both the targeted killing and indefinite detention of terrorists. There are reasonable suggestions out there for how we could do both slightly differently and a little more ethically, and citizens in democratic societies should always debate these kinds of questions, but a sharp curtailment or prohibition of both would be ludicrous, especially while tens of thousands of our soldiers are deployed in war zones and some unknown but appreciable number of terrorists still plan to wreak havoc.

Some of President George W. Bush’s loudest critics hounded him for years that he hadn’t yet killed Osama bin Laden while also lambasting his administration over the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, the water-boarding of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and so on. Amnesty International even described Guantanamo Bay as the “gulag of our times,” a hysterical overreaction that trivialized the real Soviet gulag and the still existing slave-labor camps in North Korea.

The campaign against the detention and treatment of enemy combatants was so relentless for so many years that Barack Obama announced he would order the prison closed straightaway if the American people elected him president. Actually closing it has proved more difficult than he expected, and he’s getting grief from both the Left and the Right as he struggles to figure out how to proceed. His administration still doesn’t know what to do with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, nor with some of the prisoners his supporters would like to see sprung but who still might be dangerous. It’s no wonder he decided, then, after all this and in part because of all this, that it’s less of a hassle to just have people shot.

Virtually no one but our Left-most intellectuals thinks we should neither kill nor detain terrorists. Barack Obama is the Left-most president we’re likely to have for a while; so if he finds their views unrealistic, they are lobbying for the impossible.

There have been more targeted killings so far during his presidency than there were during all the Bush years combined. Critics like Cole may find, if they think about it, that this is partly their fault, as they’ve spent so much time and energy discrediting the alternative.

Read Less




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