Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Brennan

Feinstein vs. the CIA

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, made headlines yesterday with a speech accusing the CIA of a host of improprieties. As the New York Times account noted, Feinstein, normally a defender of the intelligence community, claimed “the C.I.A. had removed documents from computers used by Senate Intelligence Committee staff members working on a report about the agency’s detention program, searched the computers after the committee completed its report and referred a criminal case to the Justice Department in an attempt to thwart their investigation.”

Nothing offends members of Congress more than an infringement of their own authority, so naturally Feinstein’s charges led to a predictable chorus of anger on Capitol Hill. Yet key members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Republicans Saxby Chambliss and Richard Burr, are refusing to back up Feinstein, which suggests the case may not be as clear-cut as Feinstein alleges. Certainly CIA Director John Brennan denies her charges.

On closer examination the controversy becomes murkier and turns on legalities such as who owned the database used by Feinstein’s staff which was located at a facility in northern Virginia. She claims it was Senate property and therefore everything on it was privileged; the CIA seems to be claiming it was owned by the intelligence agency which granted shared access to the Senate gumshoes, thereby making it lawful for the CIA to move documents on the database or to check access logs in order to determine how the Senate got its hands on an internal CIA investigation of interrogation practices which the CIA claims is privileged information.

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, made headlines yesterday with a speech accusing the CIA of a host of improprieties. As the New York Times account noted, Feinstein, normally a defender of the intelligence community, claimed “the C.I.A. had removed documents from computers used by Senate Intelligence Committee staff members working on a report about the agency’s detention program, searched the computers after the committee completed its report and referred a criminal case to the Justice Department in an attempt to thwart their investigation.”

Nothing offends members of Congress more than an infringement of their own authority, so naturally Feinstein’s charges led to a predictable chorus of anger on Capitol Hill. Yet key members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Republicans Saxby Chambliss and Richard Burr, are refusing to back up Feinstein, which suggests the case may not be as clear-cut as Feinstein alleges. Certainly CIA Director John Brennan denies her charges.

On closer examination the controversy becomes murkier and turns on legalities such as who owned the database used by Feinstein’s staff which was located at a facility in northern Virginia. She claims it was Senate property and therefore everything on it was privileged; the CIA seems to be claiming it was owned by the intelligence agency which granted shared access to the Senate gumshoes, thereby making it lawful for the CIA to move documents on the database or to check access logs in order to determine how the Senate got its hands on an internal CIA investigation of interrogation practices which the CIA claims is privileged information.

Based on the limited information publicly available, it’s impossible for an outsider to judge the merits of the charges and counter charges. The only thing we can say for sure is that it’s a critical blow to the CIA to lose Feinstein’s support. The rupture in her relationship with John Brennan threatens the agency’s effectiveness, at least as long as she stays chairwoman, which may be less than a year if Republicans pick up the Senate in November.

But let’s not be so caught up in the current charges that we lose sight of the underlying dispute, which concerns the CIA’s use of renditions, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” black sites, and the like in the years after 9/11. Feinstein is simmering in essence because the CIA has tried to slowroll and possibly even obstruct her staff investigation into these interrogation practices. Her staff has produced a 6,300-page report, which is still going through the declassification process and is said to be critical of the CIA.

It is important to get to the truth about interrogations, but it is also important not to scapegoat the CIA for controversial practices that, by all accounts, were approved by the most senior officials of the Bush administration and briefed, at least in some form, to Congress. There is no suggestion that the CIA was a rogue operation. It was simply doing what most Americans–and what its political bosses–wanted done in the wake of 9/11 to prevent another spectacular attack on the United States. What it did obviously worked, although there is controversy about how much of an intelligence payoff the coercive interrogations, which (let’s be frank) included the use of torture, produced.

It is not productive now to embarrass and shame the agency, much less to put individual intelligence operatives in the hot seat, for practices that were fully authorized by their superiors. That will only lead to the demoralization of the agency and a lack of the kind of risk-taking we need to keep us safe in the future. Of course the agency is not justified in obstructing justice to protect itself. But it’s far from clear yet that’s what it did. Sensational headlines about the CIA “spying” on Congress don’t help. We need to examine this controversy calmly and wait for more facts to emerge before making any judgment.

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Rand Paul, Brennan and the Rule of Law

Senator Rand Paul is at this moment on his feet in the U.S. Senate rekindling memories of Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra. The Kentucky senator is doing a filibuster the old fashioned way: non-stop talking and refusing to yield the floor in order to delay a vote on the confirmation of John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. Like the fictional Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra’s classic film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Paul will keep going until he literally drops. The C-Span feed from the Senate does not show the apple and the thermos of coffee that Mr. Smith relied upon to keep going but I imagine if, as Stewart did in the movie, the Kentuckian starts reading the Constitution of the United States very slowly, Majority Leader Harry Reid will forget about getting the Senate back to business anytime soon.

Whether you consider this is an edifying spectacle or merely a political sideshow may depend up on your point of view about the reason why Paul has decided to prevent a vote on Brennan. There are good reasons for senators to oppose his bid to run the intelligence agency. But Paul’s belief that the president’s determination to carry the fight against Al Qaeda via drone strikes is a threat to American civil liberties is misplaced. Attempting to hamstring the ability of the government to carry on a foreign war is not defending the rule of law.

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Senator Rand Paul is at this moment on his feet in the U.S. Senate rekindling memories of Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra. The Kentucky senator is doing a filibuster the old fashioned way: non-stop talking and refusing to yield the floor in order to delay a vote on the confirmation of John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. Like the fictional Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra’s classic film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Paul will keep going until he literally drops. The C-Span feed from the Senate does not show the apple and the thermos of coffee that Mr. Smith relied upon to keep going but I imagine if, as Stewart did in the movie, the Kentuckian starts reading the Constitution of the United States very slowly, Majority Leader Harry Reid will forget about getting the Senate back to business anytime soon.

Whether you consider this is an edifying spectacle or merely a political sideshow may depend up on your point of view about the reason why Paul has decided to prevent a vote on Brennan. There are good reasons for senators to oppose his bid to run the intelligence agency. But Paul’s belief that the president’s determination to carry the fight against Al Qaeda via drone strikes is a threat to American civil liberties is misplaced. Attempting to hamstring the ability of the government to carry on a foreign war is not defending the rule of law.

Paul’s argument is that granting the president the ability to launch drone strikes on enemy combatants without first going through a legal process threatens our freedoms. Though he has been at pains to say that he doesn’t question the motives of the president, he worries that this power could be used wrongly in the future. The principle he is defending is a good one but he is confused about what is happening in the war against Islamist terrorism. It is not a police action or a civil investigation but a war that must be conducted and judged by very different standards that we would apply to criminal activity at home.

To buttress his view during his nonstop stream of rhetoric, Paul cited the experience of Weimar Germany as an example of an evil leader being democratically elected. Though he was careful not to call anyone in this debate a Hitler, he still claimed that the principle at stake is one in which our freedoms could be lost in a similar manner.

The mere mention of Hitler or of George Orwell’s “Big Brother” (as he did later in his speech) even with disclaimers is both foolish and inflammatory. The executive branch of the government has the responsibility to defend the people of the United States against their enemies. It would be nice if those tasked with fighting Al Qaeda could do so as if they were detectives on the beat, but such an expectation betrays a lack of understanding of this conflict.

The liberty that Rand Paul wants to defend is sacred. He does well to worry about the growth of government and the accretion of power in the hands of the executive without checks and balances provided by the law. But preserving that liberty requires an active defense. Stopping our armed forces and the president from killing the enemy wherever they can be found cannot preserve the rule of law.

There is good reason to fear that President Obama doesn’t have sufficient respect for the limits that the Constitution places on his power to act. But whatever we might think about his domestic power grabs, his willingness to order strikes on those plotting to kill Americans is not a threat to freedom. To use the example the senator repeatedly invoked, the president can’t wait until a plane is about to hit an American target. Waiting until the threat is imminent in that manner would be a dereliction of duty on the president’s part, not a defense of liberty.

 The only real analogy to Hitler and totalitarianism in this debate is to the ideology of those Islamists that the administration has targeted. Paul has every right to keep talking and Brennan is not a good choice to run the CIA but using this nomination to stop drone strikes abroad is ill advised.

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Brennan Performance Puts Hagel’s Incompetence in Perspective

Hours before John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, went before the Senate Intelligence Committee for his confirmation hearing yesterday, his counterpart hoping to lead the Defense Department had another setback when the Senate Armed Services Committee postponed a vote on Chuck Hagel’s confirmation. The committee was showing its displeasure about Hagel’s failure to disclose information about the fees he received for speaking engagements and other entanglements. It’s been a bad week for Hagel, as he continues to be abused for his abysmal performance at his confirmation hearing. But the issue of his competence was put into relief yesterday by Brennan’s performance during his ordeal.

Brennan took a pasting from senators who vented years of frustration about the way they have been—as Senator Barbra Mikulski put it—“jerked around” by past CIA directors. He was grilled about his positions on torture of terror suspects, drone attacks, leaks and lingering questions about the disaster in Benghazi. But though he didn’t always give straight answers–or any answer at all–to some questions, he was prepared, focused and able to defend his position at all times. The contrast with Hagel was startling. Though, as I wrote yesterday, there are a number of good reasons to deny him confirmation, he is in command of the issues facing the CIA and clearly smart enough to do the job. Could anyone say the same about Hagel after last week’s fiasco?

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Hours before John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, went before the Senate Intelligence Committee for his confirmation hearing yesterday, his counterpart hoping to lead the Defense Department had another setback when the Senate Armed Services Committee postponed a vote on Chuck Hagel’s confirmation. The committee was showing its displeasure about Hagel’s failure to disclose information about the fees he received for speaking engagements and other entanglements. It’s been a bad week for Hagel, as he continues to be abused for his abysmal performance at his confirmation hearing. But the issue of his competence was put into relief yesterday by Brennan’s performance during his ordeal.

Brennan took a pasting from senators who vented years of frustration about the way they have been—as Senator Barbra Mikulski put it—“jerked around” by past CIA directors. He was grilled about his positions on torture of terror suspects, drone attacks, leaks and lingering questions about the disaster in Benghazi. But though he didn’t always give straight answers–or any answer at all–to some questions, he was prepared, focused and able to defend his position at all times. The contrast with Hagel was startling. Though, as I wrote yesterday, there are a number of good reasons to deny him confirmation, he is in command of the issues facing the CIA and clearly smart enough to do the job. Could anyone say the same about Hagel after last week’s fiasco?

Prior to his confirmation hearing, there wasn’t much talk about Hagel’s competence. His out-of-the-mainstream views about Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah as well as his bad case of Vietnam syndrome about the use of Americana power were more than enough to make a convincing case against his nomination. But his ability to handle the job and to face the tough questions from Congress and the public was not called into question. Yet after that hearing, it’s hard to imagine that anyone in the White House is feeling comfortable about Hagel being placed in charge of the entire defense establishment of the United States.

Brennan was more than equal to the task of dealing with the complicated and hostile queries put to him about the failures of American intelligence and whether it was abusing its power by pursuing, torturing and killing terrorists. But Hagel couldn’t even handle spoon-fed softballs lobbed to him by sympathetic Democrats and required notes from aides and corrections from senators before he managed to get his story straight on some subjects.

As the request for more information from the committee shows, there are still questions that remain unanswered about Hagel’s commitments, including any associations, as Breitbart.com reported yesterday, with unsavory elements.

There is one more point about Hagel. The most compelling argument put forward for his confirmation is one that actually tells us little about his ability to do the job: his combat experience in Vietnam. As even the New York Times’s Bill Keller has written, military experience is highly overrated when it comes to running the country or even the Defense Department. Yet many were impressed with the idea highlighted by the administration that Hagel would be the first former enlisted man to run the Pentagon. But, as the Times pointed out earlier this week in a feature, there is a very big asterisk attached to this topic.

It turns out that at least four other former secretaries of defense served as enlisted men in the armed forces. The only difference is that each of them–Melvin Laird, Elliot Richardson, Caspar Weinberger and William Perry–were eventually promoted to officer rank while Hagel was not.

Hagel’s service to our country deserves everyone’s respect. That is especially important to note since it came under fire in very difficult circumstances in Vietnam. But the talk about him bringing the unique perspective of an enlisted man to the Pentagon is just so much Obama administration hype. Others in the position he would like to fill have had that same perspective. The only difference is that they were smart and competent enough to be tapped for more responsibilities by their superiors in the military and Hagel was not.

It may be that the commitment of partisan Democrats to giving the president his choice will be enough to make them swallow Hagel’s unconvincing attempts to show that he had changed his mind about the “Jewish lobby,” Israel and Iran. But after Brennan showed the Senate what a competent nominee for high office sounds like, there are now even more good reasons for the Senate to tell the president that Hagel just isn’t worthy of high office.

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Brennan Vulnerable on More Than Drones

The consensus in the last month among political observers is that while Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense faced serious challenges that would ultimately fall short of stopping him, there was never a chance that the president’s choice to run the CIA would be turned down by the Senate. With so much fire concentrated on Hagel, it was assumed that White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan would skate to an easy victory even if tough questions were posed at his confirmation hearing. The day of that hearing has finally arrived, and though it is doubtful that he will be rejected, it looks as though he will face an even rougher time than expected when on the Senate hot seat.

Much of that has to do with the recent revelations about the administration’s guidelines about conducting drone strikes against al-Qaeda targets. Liberal Democrats like Ron Wyden and a libertarian Republican like Rand Paul will rake him over the coals about this controversial, though justified policy. Other Republicans will take him to task for the disaster at Benghazi and try again to probe into the questions of who in the White House knew what and when did they know it about the incident, as well as who changed the talking points which led to administration figures like Susan Rice putting out false information about the murders having resulted from a film protest rather than a terror attack.

Those will be the headlines of today’s hearings, and though they are topics that deserve scrutiny there are other questions that need to be asked about Brennan’s views that may be of even greater importance in determining his fitness to lead the country’s intelligence operations. Brennan’s positions on engagement with Iran, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood need to be given as much attention as that given to the drones and Benghazi.

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The consensus in the last month among political observers is that while Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense faced serious challenges that would ultimately fall short of stopping him, there was never a chance that the president’s choice to run the CIA would be turned down by the Senate. With so much fire concentrated on Hagel, it was assumed that White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan would skate to an easy victory even if tough questions were posed at his confirmation hearing. The day of that hearing has finally arrived, and though it is doubtful that he will be rejected, it looks as though he will face an even rougher time than expected when on the Senate hot seat.

Much of that has to do with the recent revelations about the administration’s guidelines about conducting drone strikes against al-Qaeda targets. Liberal Democrats like Ron Wyden and a libertarian Republican like Rand Paul will rake him over the coals about this controversial, though justified policy. Other Republicans will take him to task for the disaster at Benghazi and try again to probe into the questions of who in the White House knew what and when did they know it about the incident, as well as who changed the talking points which led to administration figures like Susan Rice putting out false information about the murders having resulted from a film protest rather than a terror attack.

Those will be the headlines of today’s hearings, and though they are topics that deserve scrutiny there are other questions that need to be asked about Brennan’s views that may be of even greater importance in determining his fitness to lead the country’s intelligence operations. Brennan’s positions on engagement with Iran, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood need to be given as much attention as that given to the drones and Benghazi.

As terrorism investigator Steve Emerson notes, Brennan wrote an academic paper in 2008 that championed engagement with Iran. The paper was the blueprint in some ways for much of the Obama administration’s foolish attempt to sweet talk the Iranians and was based on the fallacy that moderates within the Islamist regime could overcome the hardliners with enough encouragement. That was a misreading of the situation in Tehran that had already been debunked by events by the time it was written but which was more fully exposed during the years of the Obama presidency, as time after time Iran used the diplomatic process to manipulate the West into giving them more time to achieve their nuclear goal. Going forward the key question is how willing is the administration to go back down that dead end road and let the Iranians prevaricate long enough to get their bomb?

The same question must be posed about Brennan’s position about Hezbollah. Brennan has used the same sort of language about moderates within that terrorist organization that he used to justify the feckless engagement policy with Iran. Indeed, Brennan has even called for Americans to “cease public Iran bashing” and to “tolerate, and even … encourage, greater assimilation of Hezbollah into Lebanon’s political system.” Brennan has spoken as if the group was evolving away from terrorism even though the evidence for this is slight and the group is still operated by people who have killed many Americans and runs under orders from Iran. The recent murderous terror attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria carried out by Hezbollah demonstrates how wrong Brennan has been on this subject.

Brennan also appears to be part of the consensus within the administration that backed the U.S. embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt this year. Brennan has been at the head of an effort to do outreach with American supporters of the Brotherhood. He has also repeatedly sought to confuse the issue about support for jihadist goals by Muslims. His semantic arguments have been aimed at convincing Americans to view Islamist terrorism as somehow being motivated more by economics than religion. That is such a fundamental misunderstanding of America’s enemies as well as the history of the conflict and of the Arab and Muslim worlds that it is hard to see how a person who holds such views can be trusted to run the country’s intelligence operations.

John Brennan’s mindset about his supposed field of expertise—terrorism—appears to be stuck in a political vise that refuses to look clearly at the motivations of Islamists or at their goals. It is this kind of thinking that has led the administration to continually seek to appease Iran and Hezbollah and to empower the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The repercussions of these blunders are currently unfolding in the Middle East as Islamists tighten their grip on Egypt, revive a bloody terror campaign in North Africa and get closer to a nuclear weapon in Iran.

What is needed at the CIA is someone who will question the complacency about Islamism that predominated at the White House while Brennan ran its counter-terrorism shop. We can only guess at what new intelligence fiascos will occur on his watch at Langley. At the very least, the Senate should not let this nomination go forward without a thorough public examination of just how wrongheaded many of Brennan’s views have been. 

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Obama Is Hypocritical but Right on Drones

I agree completely with Pete about the rank hypocrisy of President Obama when it comes to using his powers to fight terrorism. Liberals and Democrats accused President Bush, Vice President Cheney and those associated with conducting the war on terror of being immoral lawbreakers–but now hold their tongues when it is Obama and his colleagues who have asserted the power to hold prisoners in indefinite captivity or order the deaths of terror suspects. Everyone on the left, up to and including the president, owes Bush, Cheney and company an abject apology on this score, though I’m afraid it will never be forthcoming.

But it is important to note that those on the right who are inclined to give Obama a taste of his own medicine on the issue of drone strikes against al-Qaeda figures should take a deep breath and think more about what is good for the country as opposed to what the president deserves. It may be, as Pete noted, that the used of “enhanced interrogation” was nothing when compared to the brutality and casualties incurred as a result of Obama’s drone strikes, but that is no excuse for any Congressional action aimed at restricting the executive branch’s ability to wage war against America’s foes. Even in the cases of American citizens who have been marked for death via drones without benefit of a judicial process, conservatives and civil libertarians alike should understand that these are reasonable measures taken to defend against those seeking to murder American citizens.

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I agree completely with Pete about the rank hypocrisy of President Obama when it comes to using his powers to fight terrorism. Liberals and Democrats accused President Bush, Vice President Cheney and those associated with conducting the war on terror of being immoral lawbreakers–but now hold their tongues when it is Obama and his colleagues who have asserted the power to hold prisoners in indefinite captivity or order the deaths of terror suspects. Everyone on the left, up to and including the president, owes Bush, Cheney and company an abject apology on this score, though I’m afraid it will never be forthcoming.

But it is important to note that those on the right who are inclined to give Obama a taste of his own medicine on the issue of drone strikes against al-Qaeda figures should take a deep breath and think more about what is good for the country as opposed to what the president deserves. It may be, as Pete noted, that the used of “enhanced interrogation” was nothing when compared to the brutality and casualties incurred as a result of Obama’s drone strikes, but that is no excuse for any Congressional action aimed at restricting the executive branch’s ability to wage war against America’s foes. Even in the cases of American citizens who have been marked for death via drones without benefit of a judicial process, conservatives and civil libertarians alike should understand that these are reasonable measures taken to defend against those seeking to murder American citizens.

Let’s understand that the discussion about drone strikes is not a matter of the government seeking to stifle dissent. Those who have joined al-Qaeda and become part of its leadership are not trying to change America; they are waging war on it. Thus, even in the absence of what the Justice Department memo on such strikes referred to as an “imminent threat” of a specific terror attack, there is no question that any al-Qaeda leader is in the business of killing Americans in any way and at any time or place possible.

The power to designate a person an enemy combatant is fearful and should be used with caution. But when such persons do exist, it is the duty of the U.S. government to either capture or kill them in an expeditious manner. To ask the commander-in-chief and those charged with our defense to treat this conflict as a police matter is absurd. Subjecting each such decision to court review in advance of action would hamper the ability of our forces to effectively fight terrorism. Though our current conflicts are legally murkier than declared wars, killing al-Qaeda leaders is morally equivalent to attacks launched by U.S. forces on enemies during World War II. The U.S. Navy didn’t need a court order to assassinate Admiral Yamamoto as they did in 1943. The president and his team shouldn’t need one to kill any al-Qaeda functionary no matter his country of origin or who is with him at the time of the strike. The administration is correct when it argues that the laws of war give them the right to act in this manner.

The administration’s conversion to this point of view from the president’s previous stands against Bush’s policies may be hypocritical. But it is nonetheless correct. I expect John Brennan, the president’s nominee to head the CIA, to be asked about these issues at his confirmation hearing tomorrow. But let’s hope that Republicans who defended the Bush policies will not become as hypocritical as their Democratic colleagues on this point. There are many points on which the Obama administration may be faulted, but their willingness to kill al-Qaeda leaders is not one of them.

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The U.S. and Al-Qaeda: Mission Still Not Accomplished

News is still filtering out of Algeria as we wait to see just how many people were killed when government forces stormed a gas facility where Islamist terrorists were holding dozens of workers, including some Americans, hostage. While initial reports speak of many hostages being killed, we can only hope that the casualties turn out to be fewer than feared and that none of the terrorists involved have escaped. But the attack, like the 9/11 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, highlights the fact that contrary to the tone of much of President Obama’s re-election campaign, al-Qaeda and its network of affiliated terrorist groups is very much alive, especially in North Africa.

At the Washington Post, Max Fisher writes to emphasize what he says are the “sketchy” links between al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an offshoot of which appears to be behind the Algerian operation, and the al-Qaeda that is fighting the United States in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That is true. The fact is, as he points out, Islamists have been fighting in Algeria since the 1990s. Moreover, the notion that al-Qaeda was a centralized group with a unitary command was always something of a myth. However, these different national branches always cooperated and were part of the jihadi pipeline across North Africa and the Middle East. All of which is to say that the claim that the terrorists in Algeria are unrelated to the Islamist terror war on the West is not true. That leads to the inevitable conclusion that the administration’s attempt to portray the conflict with Islamists as having essentially been ended by the death of Osama bin Laden is also a myth.

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News is still filtering out of Algeria as we wait to see just how many people were killed when government forces stormed a gas facility where Islamist terrorists were holding dozens of workers, including some Americans, hostage. While initial reports speak of many hostages being killed, we can only hope that the casualties turn out to be fewer than feared and that none of the terrorists involved have escaped. But the attack, like the 9/11 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, highlights the fact that contrary to the tone of much of President Obama’s re-election campaign, al-Qaeda and its network of affiliated terrorist groups is very much alive, especially in North Africa.

At the Washington Post, Max Fisher writes to emphasize what he says are the “sketchy” links between al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an offshoot of which appears to be behind the Algerian operation, and the al-Qaeda that is fighting the United States in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That is true. The fact is, as he points out, Islamists have been fighting in Algeria since the 1990s. Moreover, the notion that al-Qaeda was a centralized group with a unitary command was always something of a myth. However, these different national branches always cooperated and were part of the jihadi pipeline across North Africa and the Middle East. All of which is to say that the claim that the terrorists in Algeria are unrelated to the Islamist terror war on the West is not true. That leads to the inevitable conclusion that the administration’s attempt to portray the conflict with Islamists as having essentially been ended by the death of Osama bin Laden is also a myth.

The large scale of the Algeria attack, which was reportedly carried out by terrorists based in the new Islamist stronghold of Mali, points to the scope of the problem that is still posed by al-Qaeda affiliates. It also makes it clear that the triumphalist tone that has been the keynote of the administration’s representation of its counter-terrorism effort is not justified.

At the very least this ought to complicate John Brennan’s confirmation as the new director of the CIA. Brennan has largely flown under the radar of the national press in his role deputy national security advisor and the White House’s point man on counter-terrorism. Brennan has yet to be grilled about what he knew and when he knew it about the Benghazi fiasco, and who it was that circulated talking points claiming the terror attack was an out-of-control gathering of film critics. Now we may have more dead Americans to account for and just as few answers about what is being done to deal with this threat.

With most of the focus on the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, the rumblings of discontent about Brennan have been muted. But this new outrage ought to wake up even those senators who have been inclined to take it easy on him in order to concentrate their fire elsewhere.

But whatever happens to Brennan, Americans should be even more aware than they were in September that the idea that America’s mission to fight al-Qaeda was accomplished with bin Laden’s death is a terrible mistake. Let’s hope that even more Americans won’t have to die before this fight once again becomes a foreign policy priority.

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Rand Beers Possible Brennan Replacement?

Assuming John Brennan is confirmed to lead the CIA, the next question is who will replace him as President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor? If we’re just reading tea leaves, it sounds like long-time counterterrorism aide and Department of Homeland Security official Rand Beers may be a possibility.

The DHS is touting in a press release that Beers just led a delegation to Sana’a, Yemen yesterday. It’s interesting timing, considering Yemen has been Brennan’s major focus since 2009:

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Assuming John Brennan is confirmed to lead the CIA, the next question is who will replace him as President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor? If we’re just reading tea leaves, it sounds like long-time counterterrorism aide and Department of Homeland Security official Rand Beers may be a possibility.

The DHS is touting in a press release that Beers just led a delegation to Sana’a, Yemen yesterday. It’s interesting timing, considering Yemen has been Brennan’s major focus since 2009:

SANA’A, Yemen— U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Under Secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate and DHS Counterterrorism Coordinator Rand Beers led a DHS delegation to Sana’a, Yemen on January 7-8 to meet with counterparts to discuss strengthening the Department’s collaboration with the Government of Yemen on a variety of trade, civil aviation, and border security issues. This visit builds on the recent meeting between Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano in September 2012.

“The United States has a profound interest in advancing Yemen’s security and prosperity,” said Under Secretary Beers. “By enhancing collaboration with the Government of Yemen, we reaffirm our commitment to more effectively secure our two countries against evolving threats and improve the trade and investment climate in Yemen.”

Beers has served in Republican and Democratic administrations, but he’s not exactly embraced by the left or the right. He resigned from Bush’s National Security Council in protest of the Iraq war and joined the Kerry campaign. He also made offensive comments about John McCain’s time in a POW camp. Normally that might win him points with progressives, but Beers also led Plan Colombia, a Clinton-era operation that the left (and libertarians) have attacked as the “militarization” of the drug war. But Obama wouldn’t have to worry about getting a confirmation, so outside objections would be less of a factor.

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Enhanced Interrogation Record No Longer a Problem for Brennan

Back in 2008, John Brennan was passed over for the CIA director role largely because of his record on enhanced interrogation. After his nomination to the post yesterday, the anti-war movement is trying to make it an issue again. The ACLU has released a statement calling on the Senate to delay his confirmation and investigate his involvement with the Bush administration’s enhanced interrogation techniques:

President Obama this afternoon nominated his counterterrorism advisor John Brennan to become the next director of the CIA. Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, had the following concerns with the president’s choice to fill this critical national security post.  

Despite media reports that Brennan continually raised civil liberties concerns within the White House, noted Murphy, the Senate should not move forward with his nomination until it assesses the legality of his actions in past leadership positions in the CIA during the early years of the George W. Bush administration and in his current role in the ongoing targeted killing program.

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Back in 2008, John Brennan was passed over for the CIA director role largely because of his record on enhanced interrogation. After his nomination to the post yesterday, the anti-war movement is trying to make it an issue again. The ACLU has released a statement calling on the Senate to delay his confirmation and investigate his involvement with the Bush administration’s enhanced interrogation techniques:

President Obama this afternoon nominated his counterterrorism advisor John Brennan to become the next director of the CIA. Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, had the following concerns with the president’s choice to fill this critical national security post.  

Despite media reports that Brennan continually raised civil liberties concerns within the White House, noted Murphy, the Senate should not move forward with his nomination until it assesses the legality of his actions in past leadership positions in the CIA during the early years of the George W. Bush administration and in his current role in the ongoing targeted killing program.

But the Senate doesn’t really seem interested. While John McCain is raising some questions, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein–a vocal opponent of Bush’s EIT policies–indicated she’s not going to put up much of a fight

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he has “many questions and concerns” about Brennan’s role in overseeing the interrogation programs, “as well as his public defense of those programs.” 

“I plan to examine this aspect of Mr. Brennan’s record very closely as I consider his nomination,” said McCain in a statement Monday.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee that will weigh the nomination, said Brennan has the “qualifications and expertise” to be CIA director. 

But Feinstein also said she would bring up the committee’s recent review of the Bush-era interrogation techniques and ask Brennan “how he would respond to the [review's] findings and conclusions.” 

To be fair, the opposition to Brennan on these grounds seems overblown. While he hasn’t explicitly defended enhanced interrogation techniques, he has acknowledged they worked and saved lives. Some anti-war leftists might claim that makes him a supporter. But it’s also possible to believe there is a moral or legal case against the Bush administration’s methods, and still admit they were effective. The same case could be made about Obama’s rendition policies the anti-war left opposes, and the drone program he accelerated. 

Four years ago, Brennan’s alleged support for enhanced interrogation was enough to torpedo his potential CIA director nomination. Now even Glenn Greenwald concedes he “can’t quite muster the energy or commitment” to actively oppose his nomination. That dramatic shift is why Brennan’s record on EITs won’t be an obstacle for him in the Senate. The Democratic Party’s civil libertarian streak on national security during the Bush administration was nothing more than partisanship masquerading as principles.

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Brennan’s Quest for a Moderate Hezbollah

President Obama’s choices of John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and John Brennan to lead respectively the State Department, Pentagon, and Central Intelligence Agency confirm that Obama wishes to position his legacy somewhat to the left even of Jimmy Carter. There has been a lot of attention to Chuck Hagel’s record over the last couple of weeks, but John Brennan has benefited from flying under the radar, if only because of the controversy surrounding Hagel.

It’s worth recalling, however, Brennan’s comments in 2010 upon returning from a visit to Lebanon. From a Reuters report at the time:

The Obama administration is looking for ways to build up “moderate elements” within the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla movement and to diminish the influence of hard-liners, a top White House official said on Tuesday. John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, met with Lebanese leaders during a recent visit. “Hezbollah is a very interesting organization,” Brennan told a Washington conference, citing its evolution from “purely a terrorist organization” to a militia to an organization that now has members within the parliament and the cabinet. “There is certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what they’re doing. And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements,” Brennan said.

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President Obama’s choices of John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and John Brennan to lead respectively the State Department, Pentagon, and Central Intelligence Agency confirm that Obama wishes to position his legacy somewhat to the left even of Jimmy Carter. There has been a lot of attention to Chuck Hagel’s record over the last couple of weeks, but John Brennan has benefited from flying under the radar, if only because of the controversy surrounding Hagel.

It’s worth recalling, however, Brennan’s comments in 2010 upon returning from a visit to Lebanon. From a Reuters report at the time:

The Obama administration is looking for ways to build up “moderate elements” within the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla movement and to diminish the influence of hard-liners, a top White House official said on Tuesday. John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, met with Lebanese leaders during a recent visit. “Hezbollah is a very interesting organization,” Brennan told a Washington conference, citing its evolution from “purely a terrorist organization” to a militia to an organization that now has members within the parliament and the cabinet. “There is certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what they’re doing. And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements,” Brennan said.

I have added the emphasis regarding Brennan’s suggestion that U.S. policy should be to build up “moderate” Hezbollah elements rather than seek that group’s destruction. The question should be especially important now, because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s fall could starve Hezbollah of the oxygen it needs; never has Hezbollah’s future been so tenuous.

While back in 2010, I took a tongue-in-cheek approach to figuring out what a Hezbollah moderate might be, the questions senators should ask first would be whether a second term Obama administration will outstretch its hands not only to adversarial regimes, but also to terrorist groups, and second, what Brennan’s instincts would mean for a CIA under his leadership.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Emergency Committee for Israel wonders how it is that Joe Sestak can claim to be pro-Israel but accept Chuck Hagel’s endorsement. “Today’s endorsement of Joe Sestak by one of the leading anti-Israel politicians in the United States again exposes the danger a Senator Sestak would pose to the U.S.-Israel alliance. He claims to be pro-Israel, but his actions — whether fundraising for CAIR, or signing a letter that criticizes Israel for defending herself from Hamas, or seeking the endorsement of a former Senator who is notorious for his hostility to Israel — tells voters all they need to know about the kind of Senator Joe Sestak would be.”

You wonder how the left is going to defend Imam Rauf as “moderate” now.

Andy McCarthy wonders how a “one state solution” is a moderate position for Rauf. But your tax dollars are paying to send him overseas!

You wonder if Hillary would even settle for a VP slot on the ticket in 2012: “Forty-eight percent (48%) of U.S. voters now regard President Obama’s political views as extreme. Forty-two percent (42%) place his views in the mainstream, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. By comparison, 51% see the views of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as mainstream. Thirty-five percent (35%) think Clinton’s views are extreme.” Maybe something like: “Clinton-Dean 2012, the electable wing of the Democratic Party”?

You wonder how John Brennan deals with a crisis when he can’t handle moderately probing questions from a newspaper editorial board. Awkward, as they say. (h/t Quin Hillyer)

You wonder what Justice Kagan thinks about this: “A U.S. district court issued a preliminary injunction on Monday stopping federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research, in a slap to the Obama administration’s new guidelines on the sensitive issue. The court ruled in favor of a suit filed in June by researchers who said human embryonic stem cell research involved the destruction of human embryos. Judge Royce Lamberth granted the injunction after finding the lawsuit would likely succeed because the guidelines violated law banning the use of federal funds to destroy human embryos.” Let’s hope she’s ethical enough to recuse herself if it gets to the Supreme Court.

You wonder what Dick Durbin is thinking. “The second-ranking Senate Democrat broke ranks with his party’s leader this weekend by announcing his support for the Lower Manhattan Islamic center and mosque. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said Sunday that those who are opposed to the mosque are trying to divide the country with fear and hate.” That’s a rather harsh thing to say about Harry Reid and Howard Dean.

The Emergency Committee for Israel wonders how it is that Joe Sestak can claim to be pro-Israel but accept Chuck Hagel’s endorsement. “Today’s endorsement of Joe Sestak by one of the leading anti-Israel politicians in the United States again exposes the danger a Senator Sestak would pose to the U.S.-Israel alliance. He claims to be pro-Israel, but his actions — whether fundraising for CAIR, or signing a letter that criticizes Israel for defending herself from Hamas, or seeking the endorsement of a former Senator who is notorious for his hostility to Israel — tells voters all they need to know about the kind of Senator Joe Sestak would be.”

You wonder how the left is going to defend Imam Rauf as “moderate” now.

Andy McCarthy wonders how a “one state solution” is a moderate position for Rauf. But your tax dollars are paying to send him overseas!

You wonder if Hillary would even settle for a VP slot on the ticket in 2012: “Forty-eight percent (48%) of U.S. voters now regard President Obama’s political views as extreme. Forty-two percent (42%) place his views in the mainstream, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. By comparison, 51% see the views of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as mainstream. Thirty-five percent (35%) think Clinton’s views are extreme.” Maybe something like: “Clinton-Dean 2012, the electable wing of the Democratic Party”?

You wonder how John Brennan deals with a crisis when he can’t handle moderately probing questions from a newspaper editorial board. Awkward, as they say. (h/t Quin Hillyer)

You wonder what Justice Kagan thinks about this: “A U.S. district court issued a preliminary injunction on Monday stopping federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research, in a slap to the Obama administration’s new guidelines on the sensitive issue. The court ruled in favor of a suit filed in June by researchers who said human embryonic stem cell research involved the destruction of human embryos. Judge Royce Lamberth granted the injunction after finding the lawsuit would likely succeed because the guidelines violated law banning the use of federal funds to destroy human embryos.” Let’s hope she’s ethical enough to recuse herself if it gets to the Supreme Court.

You wonder what Dick Durbin is thinking. “The second-ranking Senate Democrat broke ranks with his party’s leader this weekend by announcing his support for the Lower Manhattan Islamic center and mosque. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said Sunday that those who are opposed to the mosque are trying to divide the country with fear and hate.” That’s a rather harsh thing to say about Harry Reid and Howard Dean.

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America in Decline, Language Butchered

“Orwellian” is a much overused term, but there is no adjective that quite captures the linguistic gymnastics Obama and his team employ to avoid letting on that they see America not as a superpower but as merely one member of the “international community” (and one that does not recognize the enemy we face).

First, from the ever-ludicrous (engage moderate Hezbollah members?) John Brennan:

Brennan said that “our enemy is not terrorism, because terrorism is but a tactic. Our enemy is not terror, because terror is a state of mind and, as Americans, we refuse to live in fear.”

“Nor do we describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists,” Brennan said, because use of these religious terms would “play into the false perception” that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are “religious leaders and defending a holy cause, when in fact, they are nothing more than murderers.”

The motivating force behind these terrorists, the imams that inspire them, and the ideology they seek to instill in other Muslims is not important to Brennan. Or perhaps it is just inconvenient at a time when Obama is breathlessly engaging the “Muslim World.”

Then there is this:

Obama administration officials have dubbed their policy toward North Korea “strategic patience” — a resolve that Pyongyang has to make the first move to reengage and that it won’t be granted any concessions. Now that patience is going to be tested. Since President Obama took office, North Korea has launched missiles, conducted a second nuclear test, seized a pair of U.S. journalists and sunk a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors.

Translation: the North Koreans are increasingly belligerent as the Obama administration has failed to respond to multiple provocations.

When language is misused or contorted, it usually means something is being concealed. In this case, what’s being concealed is a counter-factual foreign policy that ignores threats, refuses to recognize the identity of our foes, and declines to assert American power in defense of our values and interests.

“Orwellian” is a much overused term, but there is no adjective that quite captures the linguistic gymnastics Obama and his team employ to avoid letting on that they see America not as a superpower but as merely one member of the “international community” (and one that does not recognize the enemy we face).

First, from the ever-ludicrous (engage moderate Hezbollah members?) John Brennan:

Brennan said that “our enemy is not terrorism, because terrorism is but a tactic. Our enemy is not terror, because terror is a state of mind and, as Americans, we refuse to live in fear.”

“Nor do we describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists,” Brennan said, because use of these religious terms would “play into the false perception” that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are “religious leaders and defending a holy cause, when in fact, they are nothing more than murderers.”

The motivating force behind these terrorists, the imams that inspire them, and the ideology they seek to instill in other Muslims is not important to Brennan. Or perhaps it is just inconvenient at a time when Obama is breathlessly engaging the “Muslim World.”

Then there is this:

Obama administration officials have dubbed their policy toward North Korea “strategic patience” — a resolve that Pyongyang has to make the first move to reengage and that it won’t be granted any concessions. Now that patience is going to be tested. Since President Obama took office, North Korea has launched missiles, conducted a second nuclear test, seized a pair of U.S. journalists and sunk a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors.

Translation: the North Koreans are increasingly belligerent as the Obama administration has failed to respond to multiple provocations.

When language is misused or contorted, it usually means something is being concealed. In this case, what’s being concealed is a counter-factual foreign policy that ignores threats, refuses to recognize the identity of our foes, and declines to assert American power in defense of our values and interests.

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Way to Go, Senator Feinstein!

Dennis Blair “resigned” — that is to say, was shoved overboard, finally. As the Wall Street Journal report points out, the shoving is long overdue:

From the outset, Mr. Blair, 63 years old, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, proved to be an uneasy fit for the job. He made a series of decisions and statements that angered the White House—from a controversial appointment for the nation’s top intelligence analyst to recent statements that a new terrorist interrogation team should have questioned the alleged Christmas Day bomber.

Yes, that appointment was Chas Freeman, who “immediately drew fire from critics who said he was too close to the Saudi Arabian and Chinese governments. After that public-relations debacle, Mr. Blair maintained a much lower profile, speaking infrequently in public.” And that was some time ago, yet Obama continued to entrust our entire national-security apparatus to a man who wasn’t allowed to speak in public.

So what was the final straw? As Politico notes:

Word of Blair’s departure comes just two days after the release of a harshly-critical Senate report which identified 14 failures that preceded the Christmas Day incident in which Nigerian Omar Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to bring down a U.S. airliner outside Detroit. The report put particular blame for the failure to head off the attack on a coordination unit that is part of Blair’s office, the National Counterterrorism Center.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it’s nice to know that when clear-eyed lawmakers (e.g., the Senate Intelligence Committee, the GOP senators blocking the nomination of  Obama’s ambassador to Syria) act with resolve, the White House can be forced to retreat. (Let’s hope John Brennan – who comes up with loony ideas like engaging Hezbollah and now refers to the eternal capital of the Jewish state as “Al Quds, Jerusalem” – isn’t the replacement.)  But someone should ask the president: given the two near-miss terror attacks, do you regret not canning Blair earlier?

As for Feinstein, could she now do a report on the Justice Department? (At 36 percent, Eric Holder has the lowest approval of anyone in the administration, so maybe the White House would welcome an excuse to shove him overboard as well.) Then State? And while she’s at it, could she do an assessment of the phony UN sanctions?

Dennis Blair “resigned” — that is to say, was shoved overboard, finally. As the Wall Street Journal report points out, the shoving is long overdue:

From the outset, Mr. Blair, 63 years old, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, proved to be an uneasy fit for the job. He made a series of decisions and statements that angered the White House—from a controversial appointment for the nation’s top intelligence analyst to recent statements that a new terrorist interrogation team should have questioned the alleged Christmas Day bomber.

Yes, that appointment was Chas Freeman, who “immediately drew fire from critics who said he was too close to the Saudi Arabian and Chinese governments. After that public-relations debacle, Mr. Blair maintained a much lower profile, speaking infrequently in public.” And that was some time ago, yet Obama continued to entrust our entire national-security apparatus to a man who wasn’t allowed to speak in public.

So what was the final straw? As Politico notes:

Word of Blair’s departure comes just two days after the release of a harshly-critical Senate report which identified 14 failures that preceded the Christmas Day incident in which Nigerian Omar Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to bring down a U.S. airliner outside Detroit. The report put particular blame for the failure to head off the attack on a coordination unit that is part of Blair’s office, the National Counterterrorism Center.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it’s nice to know that when clear-eyed lawmakers (e.g., the Senate Intelligence Committee, the GOP senators blocking the nomination of  Obama’s ambassador to Syria) act with resolve, the White House can be forced to retreat. (Let’s hope John Brennan – who comes up with loony ideas like engaging Hezbollah and now refers to the eternal capital of the Jewish state as “Al Quds, Jerusalem” – isn’t the replacement.)  But someone should ask the president: given the two near-miss terror attacks, do you regret not canning Blair earlier?

As for Feinstein, could she now do a report on the Justice Department? (At 36 percent, Eric Holder has the lowest approval of anyone in the administration, so maybe the White House would welcome an excuse to shove him overboard as well.) Then State? And while she’s at it, could she do an assessment of the phony UN sanctions?

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Does the Obama Administration’s Anti-Terrorism Strategy Rely on Luck?

The administration is sensitive to the notion that they are relying on terrorists’ ineptitude and alert citizenry to defend America. On Fox News Sunday, the continually hapless John Brennan had this to say when asked if the administration was “more lucky than good in some of these terror cases”:

BRENNAN: I consider that homeland security, law enforcement, intelligence and the military have done an outstanding job since 9/11.

You know, when I hear these references to being lucky, tell that to the hundreds of thousands of American men and women who are serving in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world, who are at our points of entry, who are working around the clock here in the United States and abroad. That’s not luck.

That’s patriotism. That’s dedication. That’s capability and talent. And so we’ve been able to stop them in their tracks. They are determined. They are going to continue to look for opportunities to get here to the United States. This is something that they have pledged to do.

I think we have a very strong track record, and that’s why we have redundant capabilities in place. We’re not lucky. We’re good.

Huh? How did the patriotism of American servicemen get into this? Brennan’s obvious discomfort — and resort to an off-putting non sequitur — suggests that the administration is becoming a tad sensitive to the criticisms that, given the four attacks on the homeland, something isn’t quite working properly. On the same program, Sen. Joe Lieberman and Rep. Peter King introduced some much needed candor:

LIEBERMAN: Well, after the fact of the attempted bombing attack last Saturday night, the reaction was not just excellent, it was almost miraculous — 53 hours and we’ve apprehended him. Great cooperation. Just the kind of work that we all hoped would happen when we set up the Department of Homeland Security post-9/11.

But the fact is that we were lucky. We did not prevent the attempted attack. And that’s the — in some sense, the fourth break through our defenses. Last spring in Arkansas, Hasan, the Detroit bomber and this one.

Look, we’re in a big open society. And if people are fanatical enough to put their own lives on the line — “I want to kill other innocent human beings” — it’s hard to stop them every time, but that has to be our goal. So I’d say in terms of prevention, the system failed.

And what we’ve got to do now is to go back, put all the facts together and look at every point. Was there something the U.S. government, our allies, could have done to stop Faisal Shahzad before he parked that car in Times Square?

WALLACE: Same basic question picking up on that with you, Congressman King. Is there something more the Obama administration could have done with at least three attacks in the last six months — Hasan, Abdulmutallab, and now Shahzad?

KING: Well, I was very critical of the administration for the Major Hasan shooting. I was also very critical of the Abdulmutallab incident on Christmas Day.

As far as this one, Chris, the evidence isn’t in yet as to what was available. Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t know if we could have stopped him before he got — Shahzad before he got to Times Square. We’ll have to wait until, you know, all the dots are put out there. It’s very difficult because we don’t get very much information from this administration.

But one real criticism I do have, Chris, is what happened in the last hours of the investigation. Beginning some time on Monday afternoon, high administration sources were leaking out the most confidential, classified information which compromised this investigation, put lives at risk and very probably caused Shahzad to escape and make it undetected to the airport.

They were putting out information I’d never heard of in a — in a case of this magnitude, and it was coming from the administration, coming from Washington. And I know the troops on the ground in New York were very concerned about it.

The administration’s hyper-defensiveness goes hand-in-hand with its refusal to open itself up to scrutiny when it comes to examining these incidents. As we saw with the refusal to respond to Lieberman’s subpoena on the Fort Hood massacre and the refusal to release information about recidivism of  released Guantanamo detainees, the administration insists that we take it on faith that they are “good” and have just the right policies in place. The track record they are developing, however, suggests otherwise. In any event, that’s not how our system should work. We have another political branch of government, not to mention the American people, that deserves answers to hard questions.

It is only because Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have largely allowed the administration to avoid oversight that it has gotten away with such a dearth of transparency. That may change this November. We may then finally discover just how lucky we’ve been.

The administration is sensitive to the notion that they are relying on terrorists’ ineptitude and alert citizenry to defend America. On Fox News Sunday, the continually hapless John Brennan had this to say when asked if the administration was “more lucky than good in some of these terror cases”:

BRENNAN: I consider that homeland security, law enforcement, intelligence and the military have done an outstanding job since 9/11.

You know, when I hear these references to being lucky, tell that to the hundreds of thousands of American men and women who are serving in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world, who are at our points of entry, who are working around the clock here in the United States and abroad. That’s not luck.

That’s patriotism. That’s dedication. That’s capability and talent. And so we’ve been able to stop them in their tracks. They are determined. They are going to continue to look for opportunities to get here to the United States. This is something that they have pledged to do.

I think we have a very strong track record, and that’s why we have redundant capabilities in place. We’re not lucky. We’re good.

Huh? How did the patriotism of American servicemen get into this? Brennan’s obvious discomfort — and resort to an off-putting non sequitur — suggests that the administration is becoming a tad sensitive to the criticisms that, given the four attacks on the homeland, something isn’t quite working properly. On the same program, Sen. Joe Lieberman and Rep. Peter King introduced some much needed candor:

LIEBERMAN: Well, after the fact of the attempted bombing attack last Saturday night, the reaction was not just excellent, it was almost miraculous — 53 hours and we’ve apprehended him. Great cooperation. Just the kind of work that we all hoped would happen when we set up the Department of Homeland Security post-9/11.

But the fact is that we were lucky. We did not prevent the attempted attack. And that’s the — in some sense, the fourth break through our defenses. Last spring in Arkansas, Hasan, the Detroit bomber and this one.

Look, we’re in a big open society. And if people are fanatical enough to put their own lives on the line — “I want to kill other innocent human beings” — it’s hard to stop them every time, but that has to be our goal. So I’d say in terms of prevention, the system failed.

And what we’ve got to do now is to go back, put all the facts together and look at every point. Was there something the U.S. government, our allies, could have done to stop Faisal Shahzad before he parked that car in Times Square?

WALLACE: Same basic question picking up on that with you, Congressman King. Is there something more the Obama administration could have done with at least three attacks in the last six months — Hasan, Abdulmutallab, and now Shahzad?

KING: Well, I was very critical of the administration for the Major Hasan shooting. I was also very critical of the Abdulmutallab incident on Christmas Day.

As far as this one, Chris, the evidence isn’t in yet as to what was available. Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t know if we could have stopped him before he got — Shahzad before he got to Times Square. We’ll have to wait until, you know, all the dots are put out there. It’s very difficult because we don’t get very much information from this administration.

But one real criticism I do have, Chris, is what happened in the last hours of the investigation. Beginning some time on Monday afternoon, high administration sources were leaking out the most confidential, classified information which compromised this investigation, put lives at risk and very probably caused Shahzad to escape and make it undetected to the airport.

They were putting out information I’d never heard of in a — in a case of this magnitude, and it was coming from the administration, coming from Washington. And I know the troops on the ground in New York were very concerned about it.

The administration’s hyper-defensiveness goes hand-in-hand with its refusal to open itself up to scrutiny when it comes to examining these incidents. As we saw with the refusal to respond to Lieberman’s subpoena on the Fort Hood massacre and the refusal to release information about recidivism of  released Guantanamo detainees, the administration insists that we take it on faith that they are “good” and have just the right policies in place. The track record they are developing, however, suggests otherwise. In any event, that’s not how our system should work. We have another political branch of government, not to mention the American people, that deserves answers to hard questions.

It is only because Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have largely allowed the administration to avoid oversight that it has gotten away with such a dearth of transparency. That may change this November. We may then finally discover just how lucky we’ve been.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Will Arlen Specter get his comeuppance? Joe Sestak begins to pull away in the polls.

Will the Democrats lose in Colorado? “Republicans are now well positioned for a statewide resurgence, threatening several Democratic seats in the midterm elections and raising questions about whether the opening chapter of the Obama administration has eroded gains that Democrats had been making here for the previous six years.”

Will John Murtha’s district go Republican? “This once safely Democratic district where Murtha reigned for 35 years is now a toss-up. Longtime Murtha aide Mark Critz, 48, vows to carry on his former boss’s legacy, while Republican businessman Tim Burns, 42, tries to leverage anti-Washington passion by treating his opponent as an incumbent tied to the ‘liberal Pelosi-Obama agenda.’”

Will the Obama administration wise up? Even the Washington Post‘s editors fret that “the administration has not given more consideration to other approaches, including the possibility of designating suspects as enemy combatants to allow for lengthier interrogations, which could yield intelligence to thwart terrorist operations and future attacks. In part, this is a reflection of the administration’s mind-set. In explaining the handling of Mr. Shahzad, two administration officials told us that they believe that the law categorically bars them from holding a U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant. This is not correct.”

Sounds like there is hope. Will Eric Holder keep sounding like Andy McCarthy? Holder on This Week: “The [Miranda] system we have in place has proven to be effective,” Holder said. “I think we also want to look and determine whether we have the necessary flexibility — whether we have a system that deals with situations that agents now confront. … We’re now dealing with international terrorism. … I think we have to give serious consideration to at least modifying that public-safety exception [to the Miranda requirements]. And that’s one of the things that I think we’re going to be reaching out to Congress, to come up with a proposal that is both constitutional, but that is also relevant to our times and the threats that we now face.” Wow. The left will have a meltdown.

Will any White House adviser tell the president that this sort of thing makes them all sound crazy? “Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan said Sunday that, despite the attempted Times Square attack orchestrated by the Pakistani Taliban in the heart of New York City, trying professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan is still an option that’s on the table.”

Will Republicans learn the right lesson from the British elections? Fred Barnes: “In the British election, this was one reason Labor was able to turn out its core vote and keep Conservatives from winning a majority. The lesson for Republican, facing an unpopular Democratic Party, is obvious: don’t expect circumstances to win for you. You need to run an aggressive campaign.”

On Richard Goldstone’s apartheid record, will anyone be surprised that Matthew Yglesias is “inclined to give him a pass”? Once you’ve vilified Israel, you earn a lifetime pass from the anti-Israel left. (By the way, credit to Ron Radosh for spotting Goldstone’s apartheid record a few months back.)

Will Arlen Specter get his comeuppance? Joe Sestak begins to pull away in the polls.

Will the Democrats lose in Colorado? “Republicans are now well positioned for a statewide resurgence, threatening several Democratic seats in the midterm elections and raising questions about whether the opening chapter of the Obama administration has eroded gains that Democrats had been making here for the previous six years.”

Will John Murtha’s district go Republican? “This once safely Democratic district where Murtha reigned for 35 years is now a toss-up. Longtime Murtha aide Mark Critz, 48, vows to carry on his former boss’s legacy, while Republican businessman Tim Burns, 42, tries to leverage anti-Washington passion by treating his opponent as an incumbent tied to the ‘liberal Pelosi-Obama agenda.’”

Will the Obama administration wise up? Even the Washington Post‘s editors fret that “the administration has not given more consideration to other approaches, including the possibility of designating suspects as enemy combatants to allow for lengthier interrogations, which could yield intelligence to thwart terrorist operations and future attacks. In part, this is a reflection of the administration’s mind-set. In explaining the handling of Mr. Shahzad, two administration officials told us that they believe that the law categorically bars them from holding a U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant. This is not correct.”

Sounds like there is hope. Will Eric Holder keep sounding like Andy McCarthy? Holder on This Week: “The [Miranda] system we have in place has proven to be effective,” Holder said. “I think we also want to look and determine whether we have the necessary flexibility — whether we have a system that deals with situations that agents now confront. … We’re now dealing with international terrorism. … I think we have to give serious consideration to at least modifying that public-safety exception [to the Miranda requirements]. And that’s one of the things that I think we’re going to be reaching out to Congress, to come up with a proposal that is both constitutional, but that is also relevant to our times and the threats that we now face.” Wow. The left will have a meltdown.

Will any White House adviser tell the president that this sort of thing makes them all sound crazy? “Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan said Sunday that, despite the attempted Times Square attack orchestrated by the Pakistani Taliban in the heart of New York City, trying professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan is still an option that’s on the table.”

Will Republicans learn the right lesson from the British elections? Fred Barnes: “In the British election, this was one reason Labor was able to turn out its core vote and keep Conservatives from winning a majority. The lesson for Republican, facing an unpopular Democratic Party, is obvious: don’t expect circumstances to win for you. You need to run an aggressive campaign.”

On Richard Goldstone’s apartheid record, will anyone be surprised that Matthew Yglesias is “inclined to give him a pass”? Once you’ve vilified Israel, you earn a lifetime pass from the anti-Israel left. (By the way, credit to Ron Radosh for spotting Goldstone’s apartheid record a few months back.)

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A Dose of Reality

As he so often does, Sen. Joe Lieberman introduces a dose of reality into the national-security debate: the START treaty isn’t going to be ratified in its current form:

“I don’t believe that there will be 67 votes to ratify the START treaty unless the administration does two things,” Lieberman said on “Fox News Sunday.” “First, commit to modernize our nuclear stockpile so as we have less nuclear weapons we know they’re capable, if, God forbid, we need them; and secondly, to make absolutely clear that some of the statements by Russian President Medvedev at the signing in Prague that seem to suggest that if we continue to build the ballistic missile defense in Europe that they may pull out of this treaty — they’re just unacceptable to us. “We need that defense to protect our allies and ourselves from Iran,” Lieberman said.

The problem, of course, is that Medvedev has support for his statements in the text of the treaty. What Lieberman requires — a repudiation of linkage — would require amending the just-signed treaty. Once again one is left to ponder the Obami’s “strategy” — if there is one. Did they imagine no one would notice the linkage to missile defense? Did they think that in an election year they’d get this ratified — or that with reduced Democratic numbers in the Senate it would get through next year? Perhaps all Obama wanted was a signing ceremony, something to justify his “reset” policy and his previous betrayal of Eastern European allies. It is hard to imagine that the Russians will be pleased and our relationship enhanced once we break the news to them that their shiny new treaty is dead on arrival.

Lieberman also blasted the administration for its Orwellian language in addressing the threat of Islamic fundamentalism:

Sen. Joe Lieberman slammed the Obama administration Sunday for stripping terms like “Islamic extremism” from a key national security document, calling the move dishonest, wrong-headed and disrespectful to the majority of Muslims who are not terrorists.

The Connecticut independent revealed that he wrote a letter Friday to top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan urging the administration to “identify accurately the ideological source” of the threat against the United States. He wrote that failing to identify “violent Islamist extremism” as the enemy is “offensive.”

The letter was written following reports that the administration was removing religious references from the U.S. National Security Strategy — the document that had described the “ideological conflict” of the early 21st century as “the struggle against militant Islamic radicalism.”

Lieberman told “Fox News Sunday” this isn’t the first time the Obama administration has tried to tiptoe around referring to Islam in its security documents and that it’s time to “blow the whistle” on the trend.

“This is not honest and, frankly, I think it’s hurtful in our relations with the Muslim world,” Lieberman said. “We’re not in a war against Islam. It’s a group of Islamist extremists who have taken the Muslim religion and made it into a political ideology, and I think if we’re not clear about that, we disrespect the overwhelming majority of Muslims who are not extremists.”

This is the Obama national security approach: paper agreements which can’t be ratified and an enemy that can’t be named. Meanwhile the mullahs proceed to build their nuclear weapons.

As he so often does, Sen. Joe Lieberman introduces a dose of reality into the national-security debate: the START treaty isn’t going to be ratified in its current form:

“I don’t believe that there will be 67 votes to ratify the START treaty unless the administration does two things,” Lieberman said on “Fox News Sunday.” “First, commit to modernize our nuclear stockpile so as we have less nuclear weapons we know they’re capable, if, God forbid, we need them; and secondly, to make absolutely clear that some of the statements by Russian President Medvedev at the signing in Prague that seem to suggest that if we continue to build the ballistic missile defense in Europe that they may pull out of this treaty — they’re just unacceptable to us. “We need that defense to protect our allies and ourselves from Iran,” Lieberman said.

The problem, of course, is that Medvedev has support for his statements in the text of the treaty. What Lieberman requires — a repudiation of linkage — would require amending the just-signed treaty. Once again one is left to ponder the Obami’s “strategy” — if there is one. Did they imagine no one would notice the linkage to missile defense? Did they think that in an election year they’d get this ratified — or that with reduced Democratic numbers in the Senate it would get through next year? Perhaps all Obama wanted was a signing ceremony, something to justify his “reset” policy and his previous betrayal of Eastern European allies. It is hard to imagine that the Russians will be pleased and our relationship enhanced once we break the news to them that their shiny new treaty is dead on arrival.

Lieberman also blasted the administration for its Orwellian language in addressing the threat of Islamic fundamentalism:

Sen. Joe Lieberman slammed the Obama administration Sunday for stripping terms like “Islamic extremism” from a key national security document, calling the move dishonest, wrong-headed and disrespectful to the majority of Muslims who are not terrorists.

The Connecticut independent revealed that he wrote a letter Friday to top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan urging the administration to “identify accurately the ideological source” of the threat against the United States. He wrote that failing to identify “violent Islamist extremism” as the enemy is “offensive.”

The letter was written following reports that the administration was removing religious references from the U.S. National Security Strategy — the document that had described the “ideological conflict” of the early 21st century as “the struggle against militant Islamic radicalism.”

Lieberman told “Fox News Sunday” this isn’t the first time the Obama administration has tried to tiptoe around referring to Islam in its security documents and that it’s time to “blow the whistle” on the trend.

“This is not honest and, frankly, I think it’s hurtful in our relations with the Muslim world,” Lieberman said. “We’re not in a war against Islam. It’s a group of Islamist extremists who have taken the Muslim religion and made it into a political ideology, and I think if we’re not clear about that, we disrespect the overwhelming majority of Muslims who are not extremists.”

This is the Obama national security approach: paper agreements which can’t be ratified and an enemy that can’t be named. Meanwhile the mullahs proceed to build their nuclear weapons.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not what the Obami were spinning to AIPAC: “Well the Obama administration’s leverage is beginning to sound like ‘hard power’ — brutal even — to get Israel to toe the line. I have no doubt that in President Obama’s eyes, this is the way to promote U.S. interests. As non-objective as I am, I have the impression that it is not only a mistaken policy, but one that isn’t advancing the peace process. In effect, it is making it almost impossible for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table, because he has to insist he has no choice but to wait until the conditions that the U.S. is setting are met by Israel before he does,” says Moshe Arens, former Knesset member, defense minister, foreign minister, and ambassador to the United States. (Read the rest of the revealing interview.)

Not what any clear-eyed pro-Israel activist is going to buy from the Obami’s furious spin on their assault on Israel : “‘No crisis. Media reports are wrong. More agreement than disagreement’ inside the administration, regarding how to advance the Middle East peace process. [The administration’s] ‘hand was forced [with regard to] Jerusalem by circumstances during Biden’s trip,’ the source said, referring to the Israeli government’s announcement last month during Vice President Joe Biden’s good-will trip to Israel that it had approved construction of another 1,600 homes to be built in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.” This is simply pathetic.

Not what the Democrats were selling us for over a year (from Howard Fineman): “A Democratic senator I can’t name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.”

Not what the Obami had in mind when they took their victory lap: “President Obama’s overall job approval rating has fallen to an alltime low of 44%, down five points from late March, just before the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives. It is down 24 points since his all-time high last April. 41% now disapprove. . . . When it comes to health care, the President’s approval rating is even lower – and is also a new all-time low. Only 34% approve, while a majority of 55% disapprove.”

Not what you’d expect from the “most transparent administration in history” (unless you didn’t buy the label in the first place): “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is accusing Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan of interfering with Congress’s oversight on key intelligence matters. King’s latest frustration came Friday morning when he read news accounts about the new Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) aviation security measures before being briefed on the program from anyone in the administration.”

Not what “bringing us all together” was supposed to mean: “The perplexing irony of Barack Obama’s presidency is that even as conservatives attack him as a crazed socialist, many on the left are frustrated with what they see as the president’s accommodationist backtracking from campaign promises.”

Not what is going to help the Democrats retain control over the Senate: “The family bank of Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias loaned a pair of Chicago crime figures about $20 million during a 14-month period when Giannoulias was a senior loan officer, according to a Tribune examination that provides new details about the bank’s relationship with the convicted felons.”

Not what the Obami and their elite media handmaidens want us to hear (especially from Juan Williams): “There is danger for Democrats in recent attempts to dismiss the tea party movement as violent racists deserving of contempt. Demonizing these folks may energize the Democrats’ left-wing base. But it is a big turnoff to voters who have problems with the Democratic agenda that have nothing to do with racism.”

Not what the Obami were spinning to AIPAC: “Well the Obama administration’s leverage is beginning to sound like ‘hard power’ — brutal even — to get Israel to toe the line. I have no doubt that in President Obama’s eyes, this is the way to promote U.S. interests. As non-objective as I am, I have the impression that it is not only a mistaken policy, but one that isn’t advancing the peace process. In effect, it is making it almost impossible for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table, because he has to insist he has no choice but to wait until the conditions that the U.S. is setting are met by Israel before he does,” says Moshe Arens, former Knesset member, defense minister, foreign minister, and ambassador to the United States. (Read the rest of the revealing interview.)

Not what any clear-eyed pro-Israel activist is going to buy from the Obami’s furious spin on their assault on Israel : “‘No crisis. Media reports are wrong. More agreement than disagreement’ inside the administration, regarding how to advance the Middle East peace process. [The administration’s] ‘hand was forced [with regard to] Jerusalem by circumstances during Biden’s trip,’ the source said, referring to the Israeli government’s announcement last month during Vice President Joe Biden’s good-will trip to Israel that it had approved construction of another 1,600 homes to be built in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.” This is simply pathetic.

Not what the Democrats were selling us for over a year (from Howard Fineman): “A Democratic senator I can’t name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.”

Not what the Obami had in mind when they took their victory lap: “President Obama’s overall job approval rating has fallen to an alltime low of 44%, down five points from late March, just before the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives. It is down 24 points since his all-time high last April. 41% now disapprove. . . . When it comes to health care, the President’s approval rating is even lower – and is also a new all-time low. Only 34% approve, while a majority of 55% disapprove.”

Not what you’d expect from the “most transparent administration in history” (unless you didn’t buy the label in the first place): “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is accusing Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan of interfering with Congress’s oversight on key intelligence matters. King’s latest frustration came Friday morning when he read news accounts about the new Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) aviation security measures before being briefed on the program from anyone in the administration.”

Not what “bringing us all together” was supposed to mean: “The perplexing irony of Barack Obama’s presidency is that even as conservatives attack him as a crazed socialist, many on the left are frustrated with what they see as the president’s accommodationist backtracking from campaign promises.”

Not what is going to help the Democrats retain control over the Senate: “The family bank of Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias loaned a pair of Chicago crime figures about $20 million during a 14-month period when Giannoulias was a senior loan officer, according to a Tribune examination that provides new details about the bank’s relationship with the convicted felons.”

Not what the Obami and their elite media handmaidens want us to hear (especially from Juan Williams): “There is danger for Democrats in recent attempts to dismiss the tea party movement as violent racists deserving of contempt. Demonizing these folks may energize the Democrats’ left-wing base. But it is a big turnoff to voters who have problems with the Democratic agenda that have nothing to do with racism.”

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Does Anyone in the Administration Get It?

Bill Burck and Dana Perino have become invaluable analysts in deconstructing the Obama spin. (Let’s be frank here, “lies” is more accurate with regard to much of what has come out of the White House these days.) They spot John Brennan saying foolish things again:

After his disastrous television appearances, Brennan was relegated this weekend to giving a speech at the Islamic Center at New York University. Even there, however, he again said something profoundly misguided. Discussing the rate of recidivism of detainees released from Guantanamo, which some have put as high as 20 percent, Brennan said: “People sometimes use that figure, 20 percent, [and] say, ‘Oh my goodness, one out of five detainees returned to some type of extremist activity.’ You know, the American penal system, the recidivism rate is up to something about 50 percent or so, as far as return to crime. Twenty percent isn’t that bad.”

We’re not making this quote up. The president’s top counterterrorism adviser actually said that a 20 percent terrorist recidivism rate was good enough for government work. About 800 people have been detained at Guantanamo and about 600 have been released or turned over to the custody of other governments. Twenty percent means Brennan thinks it’s not a bad day’s work if 120 or so returned to terrorism. If that’s his definition of success, we would hate to see what failure looks like. Sen. Lindsey Graham, for one, doesn’t care to know and has joined in calls for Brennan’s resignation. Senator Graham’s views matter to the White House because he’s their best hope for a bipartisan solution to Guantanamo.

This is, as Burck and Perino point out, the criminal-justice model run wild. Generally, planes don’t get blown from the sky or buildings leveled when a common criminal is released unwisely. Not so with terrorists. And not a great argument to make to those Americans killed on the battlefield by a former Guantanamo detainee.

There is much speculation about “sides” in the Obama administration. Burck and Perino spot the Emanuel/Jones team vs. the Holder/Brennan team. Neither seems like a winning combination, I know. But the premise may not be valid. We, of course, have only one president, and he has been squarely on the side of the criminal-justice model and on the not-Bush anti-terrorism approach. The latter was his ticket into the White House, and the frequency with which he recites the “lost our way” mantra in reference to interrogation and detention policies suggests that he means it.

So the question, I think, is not which team should we root for (I, for one, would be pleased to see the entire quartet depart and would not want to bank on the wisdom of James Jones on anything other than the best D.C. biking trails), but whether the president has woken up to the realities of fighting Islamic fascists. I think the first indication that he has changed his thinking will be when he starts using the phrase “Islamic fundamentalists” or “Islamic jihadists.” No, I don’t think it will be anytime soon.

Bill Burck and Dana Perino have become invaluable analysts in deconstructing the Obama spin. (Let’s be frank here, “lies” is more accurate with regard to much of what has come out of the White House these days.) They spot John Brennan saying foolish things again:

After his disastrous television appearances, Brennan was relegated this weekend to giving a speech at the Islamic Center at New York University. Even there, however, he again said something profoundly misguided. Discussing the rate of recidivism of detainees released from Guantanamo, which some have put as high as 20 percent, Brennan said: “People sometimes use that figure, 20 percent, [and] say, ‘Oh my goodness, one out of five detainees returned to some type of extremist activity.’ You know, the American penal system, the recidivism rate is up to something about 50 percent or so, as far as return to crime. Twenty percent isn’t that bad.”

We’re not making this quote up. The president’s top counterterrorism adviser actually said that a 20 percent terrorist recidivism rate was good enough for government work. About 800 people have been detained at Guantanamo and about 600 have been released or turned over to the custody of other governments. Twenty percent means Brennan thinks it’s not a bad day’s work if 120 or so returned to terrorism. If that’s his definition of success, we would hate to see what failure looks like. Sen. Lindsey Graham, for one, doesn’t care to know and has joined in calls for Brennan’s resignation. Senator Graham’s views matter to the White House because he’s their best hope for a bipartisan solution to Guantanamo.

This is, as Burck and Perino point out, the criminal-justice model run wild. Generally, planes don’t get blown from the sky or buildings leveled when a common criminal is released unwisely. Not so with terrorists. And not a great argument to make to those Americans killed on the battlefield by a former Guantanamo detainee.

There is much speculation about “sides” in the Obama administration. Burck and Perino spot the Emanuel/Jones team vs. the Holder/Brennan team. Neither seems like a winning combination, I know. But the premise may not be valid. We, of course, have only one president, and he has been squarely on the side of the criminal-justice model and on the not-Bush anti-terrorism approach. The latter was his ticket into the White House, and the frequency with which he recites the “lost our way” mantra in reference to interrogation and detention policies suggests that he means it.

So the question, I think, is not which team should we root for (I, for one, would be pleased to see the entire quartet depart and would not want to bank on the wisdom of James Jones on anything other than the best D.C. biking trails), but whether the president has woken up to the realities of fighting Islamic fascists. I think the first indication that he has changed his thinking will be when he starts using the phrase “Islamic fundamentalists” or “Islamic jihadists.” No, I don’t think it will be anytime soon.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Eric Holder’s blunder fest is serious stuff: “We’ve shaken our heads in disgust often in the last year over the Obamic decision to permit a bunch of Chicago political hacks and the U.S. attorney general–the CPH Plus One–to run much of foreign policy out of the White House. It’s had real-world consequences, not least that the tension between the Axelrod-Emanuel-Jarrett axis (appease despots whenever possible) and the Clinton state department (appease them, but accuse them while you’re doing it) has given time and breathing room to the bomb-building wing of the Iranian dictatorship.”

This, from a Republican strategist, is what passes for wisdom among the chattering classes: “Sarah Palin will have to choose to be either the leader of a movement or the leader of a nation. She can’t be both.” (He cites Goldwater and McGovern for this proposition.) Whether or not you like Palin, this is just nonsense. Ronald Reagan was both. Obama was, too (before he proved himself utterly incompetent). It’s the sort of stuff strategists say when they’re trying to oblige the media with a particular angle or shill for another, unnamed candidate.

Only in the Obama administration could Janet Napolitano not be in the top three on the “deserves to be fired” list. John Brennan seems to have zoomed into the lead, past Eric Holder and James Jones: “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, is calling for the resignation — or immediate firing — of Obama adviser John Brennan. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also called for Brennan’s head, telling FOX News Sunday that the adviser ‘has lost my confidence.’”

The California Senate race looks competitive, with Barbara Boxer leading potential GOP challengers by four or five points: “Most troubling for Boxer in the latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state is her continuing inability to cross the 50% threshold against any of the GOP hopefuls. Incumbents who capture less than 50% of the vote at this stage of the campaign are considered vulnerable.”

If you appreciate understatement, this headline will appeal to you: “Indiana GOP: ‘We really like our chances.’” Yeah, I bet.

E.J. Dionne manages to get something right: “There is no way for Democrats to sugarcoat the news of Sen. Evan Bayh’s retirement: This is mighty good news for Republicans. Bayh would have been very difficult to defeat, and he has $13 million in the bank. Now, Indiana can be added to the list of seats that could shift to the Republicans, and that list is growing large enough that the GOP is within striking distance of taking over the Senate, an unthinkable idea even a month or so ago.”

Democrat Martin Frost sums up his party’s reaction to the Bayh retirement announcement: “The sky is officially falling.”

Jeffrey Goldberg reminds us that the tag team of mullah boosters, Hillary Mann and Flynt Leverett, has a history of making stuff up. The proper thing to do would be to slink away, but the limelight and the chance to shill for the Iranian butchers must be too much to resist.

Eric Holder’s blunder fest is serious stuff: “We’ve shaken our heads in disgust often in the last year over the Obamic decision to permit a bunch of Chicago political hacks and the U.S. attorney general–the CPH Plus One–to run much of foreign policy out of the White House. It’s had real-world consequences, not least that the tension between the Axelrod-Emanuel-Jarrett axis (appease despots whenever possible) and the Clinton state department (appease them, but accuse them while you’re doing it) has given time and breathing room to the bomb-building wing of the Iranian dictatorship.”

This, from a Republican strategist, is what passes for wisdom among the chattering classes: “Sarah Palin will have to choose to be either the leader of a movement or the leader of a nation. She can’t be both.” (He cites Goldwater and McGovern for this proposition.) Whether or not you like Palin, this is just nonsense. Ronald Reagan was both. Obama was, too (before he proved himself utterly incompetent). It’s the sort of stuff strategists say when they’re trying to oblige the media with a particular angle or shill for another, unnamed candidate.

Only in the Obama administration could Janet Napolitano not be in the top three on the “deserves to be fired” list. John Brennan seems to have zoomed into the lead, past Eric Holder and James Jones: “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, is calling for the resignation — or immediate firing — of Obama adviser John Brennan. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also called for Brennan’s head, telling FOX News Sunday that the adviser ‘has lost my confidence.’”

The California Senate race looks competitive, with Barbara Boxer leading potential GOP challengers by four or five points: “Most troubling for Boxer in the latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state is her continuing inability to cross the 50% threshold against any of the GOP hopefuls. Incumbents who capture less than 50% of the vote at this stage of the campaign are considered vulnerable.”

If you appreciate understatement, this headline will appeal to you: “Indiana GOP: ‘We really like our chances.’” Yeah, I bet.

E.J. Dionne manages to get something right: “There is no way for Democrats to sugarcoat the news of Sen. Evan Bayh’s retirement: This is mighty good news for Republicans. Bayh would have been very difficult to defeat, and he has $13 million in the bank. Now, Indiana can be added to the list of seats that could shift to the Republicans, and that list is growing large enough that the GOP is within striking distance of taking over the Senate, an unthinkable idea even a month or so ago.”

Democrat Martin Frost sums up his party’s reaction to the Bayh retirement announcement: “The sky is officially falling.”

Jeffrey Goldberg reminds us that the tag team of mullah boosters, Hillary Mann and Flynt Leverett, has a history of making stuff up. The proper thing to do would be to slink away, but the limelight and the chance to shill for the Iranian butchers must be too much to resist.

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Brennan Gets Caught Making Stuff Up

In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Sessions skewers John Brennan for suggesting that we would lose no intelligence by Mirandizing terrorists and that there really is no difference between the military and civilian tribunals. (As a rhetorical matter, this is a silly argument for the Obami to make, of course. They accused the Bushies of shredding constitutional rights, and now there is no difference between the two?) Well, this is the corner in which the Obami now find themselves — making specious arguments that knowledgeable people can easily swat down.

Bill Burck and Dana Perino explain that, indeed, Brennan “just doesn’t understand the law.” They write:

A suspect held as an enemy combatant in military custody has no right to be Mirandized and no right to remain silent. None whatsoever. An enemy combatant does get access to a lawyer to help him challenge his detention as an enemy combatant. And we’re confident that the government’s lawyers would have had no trouble convincing a judge that Abdulmutallab — a man caught trying to ignite a bomb in his underwear while on a plane, who then said before he was Mirandized that he’s a member of al Qaeda — is an enemy of the United States, not a common criminal. But that lawyer would not be present during interrogation, and we would not have to get Abdulmutallab’s consent before questioning him. The only naivete in evidence here is Brennan’s belief that the presence of a lawyer makes no difference. That would be news to the Supreme Court, which has repeatedly held that it is vital to protecting a criminal defendant’s — as opposed to an enemy combatant’s — rights that he have access to a lawyer at all times after arrest, including during government interviews.

One wonders if Brennan is really so uninformed or simply the designated spinner charged with fending off the onslaught of criticism following the decision to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber. As Burck and Perino note, we are not talking here about how the terrorist would be tried. That can be decided later. (“Once Abdulmutallab had been thoroughly interrogated, the administration would have been free to choose whether to charge him in the civilian or military system [though we think the latter would be preferable].”)

Nor, as former Attorney General Michael Mukasey points out, was the decision preordained by any Bush-era decision or policy. He writes:

Contrary to what the White House homeland security adviser and the attorney general have suggested, if not said outright, not only was there no authority or policy in place under the Bush administration requiring that all those detained in the United States be treated as criminal defendants, but relevant authority was and is the opposite. The Supreme Court held in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that “indefinite detention for the purpose of interrogation is not authorized” but also said in the same case that detention for the purpose of neutralizing an unlawful enemy combatant is permissible and that the only right of such a combatant — even if he is a citizen, and Abdulmutallab is not — is to challenge his classification as such a combatant in a habeas corpus proceeding. This does not include the right to remain silent or the right to a lawyer, but only such legal assistance as may be necessary to file a habeas corpus petition within a reasonable time.

That was the basis on which Mukasey authorized Jose Padilla to get a lawyer (merely to file a habeas petition). Echoing Burck and Perino, Mukasey explains, “There was thus no legal or policy compulsion to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal defendant, at least initially, and every reason to treat him as an intelligence asset to be exploited promptly.” That would have been possible had the Obami set up the High Value Interrogation unit. But they hadn’t, of course. So FBI agents with no detailed information about Abdulmutallab were given the job of interrogating the al-Qaeda-trained operative.

The problem here, which Sessions, Mukasey, Burck, and Perino (as well as countless others) have spotted, is that the Obami let their lefty lawyers’ ideology go unchecked, interfering with the primary duty of the administration, namely to gather information and prevent further attacks on Americans. That is inexcusable. No amount of fakery or misdirection by Obama’s advisers can conceal that.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Sessions skewers John Brennan for suggesting that we would lose no intelligence by Mirandizing terrorists and that there really is no difference between the military and civilian tribunals. (As a rhetorical matter, this is a silly argument for the Obami to make, of course. They accused the Bushies of shredding constitutional rights, and now there is no difference between the two?) Well, this is the corner in which the Obami now find themselves — making specious arguments that knowledgeable people can easily swat down.

Bill Burck and Dana Perino explain that, indeed, Brennan “just doesn’t understand the law.” They write:

A suspect held as an enemy combatant in military custody has no right to be Mirandized and no right to remain silent. None whatsoever. An enemy combatant does get access to a lawyer to help him challenge his detention as an enemy combatant. And we’re confident that the government’s lawyers would have had no trouble convincing a judge that Abdulmutallab — a man caught trying to ignite a bomb in his underwear while on a plane, who then said before he was Mirandized that he’s a member of al Qaeda — is an enemy of the United States, not a common criminal. But that lawyer would not be present during interrogation, and we would not have to get Abdulmutallab’s consent before questioning him. The only naivete in evidence here is Brennan’s belief that the presence of a lawyer makes no difference. That would be news to the Supreme Court, which has repeatedly held that it is vital to protecting a criminal defendant’s — as opposed to an enemy combatant’s — rights that he have access to a lawyer at all times after arrest, including during government interviews.

One wonders if Brennan is really so uninformed or simply the designated spinner charged with fending off the onslaught of criticism following the decision to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber. As Burck and Perino note, we are not talking here about how the terrorist would be tried. That can be decided later. (“Once Abdulmutallab had been thoroughly interrogated, the administration would have been free to choose whether to charge him in the civilian or military system [though we think the latter would be preferable].”)

Nor, as former Attorney General Michael Mukasey points out, was the decision preordained by any Bush-era decision or policy. He writes:

Contrary to what the White House homeland security adviser and the attorney general have suggested, if not said outright, not only was there no authority or policy in place under the Bush administration requiring that all those detained in the United States be treated as criminal defendants, but relevant authority was and is the opposite. The Supreme Court held in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that “indefinite detention for the purpose of interrogation is not authorized” but also said in the same case that detention for the purpose of neutralizing an unlawful enemy combatant is permissible and that the only right of such a combatant — even if he is a citizen, and Abdulmutallab is not — is to challenge his classification as such a combatant in a habeas corpus proceeding. This does not include the right to remain silent or the right to a lawyer, but only such legal assistance as may be necessary to file a habeas corpus petition within a reasonable time.

That was the basis on which Mukasey authorized Jose Padilla to get a lawyer (merely to file a habeas petition). Echoing Burck and Perino, Mukasey explains, “There was thus no legal or policy compulsion to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal defendant, at least initially, and every reason to treat him as an intelligence asset to be exploited promptly.” That would have been possible had the Obami set up the High Value Interrogation unit. But they hadn’t, of course. So FBI agents with no detailed information about Abdulmutallab were given the job of interrogating the al-Qaeda-trained operative.

The problem here, which Sessions, Mukasey, Burck, and Perino (as well as countless others) have spotted, is that the Obami let their lefty lawyers’ ideology go unchecked, interfering with the primary duty of the administration, namely to gather information and prevent further attacks on Americans. That is inexcusable. No amount of fakery or misdirection by Obama’s advisers can conceal that.

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Americans Reject “Not Bush” Approach to Fighting Terrorism

The latest Quinnipiac poll reports:

American voters say 59 – 35 percent that 9/11 terrorism suspects should be tried in military courts rather than in civilian courts, as currently planned. Voters say 68 – 25 percent that terrorism suspects should not receive all of the constitutional protections afforded by a civilian trial. Democrats prefer civilian courts 48 – 45 percent. Support for military courts is 73 – 23 percent among Republicans and 61 – 33 percent among independent voters.

The suspect who allegedly tried to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day should be tried as an enemy combatant rather than as an ordinary criminal, voters say 76 – 19 percent. But voters approve 52 – 42 percent of the FBI’s advice to the suspect of his right to remain silent.

“When it comes to how suspected terrorists should be treated by the American judicial system there is a significant gap between the American people and President Barack Obama,” said Brown. “Although they give the President a 49 – 44 percent approval rating on handling terrorism, the devil is in the details. When it comes to his decision to treat suspected terrorists as common criminals deserving of civilian trials rather than as enemy combatants judged by military tribunals they are strongly in the other corner. There is a similar disconnect on the basic question of whether suspected terrorists should have the same rights as ordinary criminals.

At the same time, voters are pleased with Obama’s Afghanistan troop-surge decision – - by a large 56 to 37 percent margin.

This should tell the Obami something. At a time when their domestic policies are cratering in public polling and their approach to the war against Islamic fascists (whom they dare not refer to in such candid terms) is hugely unpopular, they would do well to note that a robust strategy in Afghanistan does, in fact, engender widespread support. In this case, smart policy meets good politics. The Obami have been pursuing a not-Bush approach on terrorism that is neither sound on the merits nor politically sustainable.

The question remains how to reverse course and shed the flawed and unsustainable policies they have adopted. They might start, of course, with canning two principal advisers — Eric Holder and John Brennan — who show particular contempt for the facts and disdain for the bipartisan opposition. But that would require Obama to admit error. And honestly, what do we think the chances of that are?

The latest Quinnipiac poll reports:

American voters say 59 – 35 percent that 9/11 terrorism suspects should be tried in military courts rather than in civilian courts, as currently planned. Voters say 68 – 25 percent that terrorism suspects should not receive all of the constitutional protections afforded by a civilian trial. Democrats prefer civilian courts 48 – 45 percent. Support for military courts is 73 – 23 percent among Republicans and 61 – 33 percent among independent voters.

The suspect who allegedly tried to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day should be tried as an enemy combatant rather than as an ordinary criminal, voters say 76 – 19 percent. But voters approve 52 – 42 percent of the FBI’s advice to the suspect of his right to remain silent.

“When it comes to how suspected terrorists should be treated by the American judicial system there is a significant gap between the American people and President Barack Obama,” said Brown. “Although they give the President a 49 – 44 percent approval rating on handling terrorism, the devil is in the details. When it comes to his decision to treat suspected terrorists as common criminals deserving of civilian trials rather than as enemy combatants judged by military tribunals they are strongly in the other corner. There is a similar disconnect on the basic question of whether suspected terrorists should have the same rights as ordinary criminals.

At the same time, voters are pleased with Obama’s Afghanistan troop-surge decision – - by a large 56 to 37 percent margin.

This should tell the Obami something. At a time when their domestic policies are cratering in public polling and their approach to the war against Islamic fascists (whom they dare not refer to in such candid terms) is hugely unpopular, they would do well to note that a robust strategy in Afghanistan does, in fact, engender widespread support. In this case, smart policy meets good politics. The Obami have been pursuing a not-Bush approach on terrorism that is neither sound on the merits nor politically sustainable.

The question remains how to reverse course and shed the flawed and unsustainable policies they have adopted. They might start, of course, with canning two principal advisers — Eric Holder and John Brennan — who show particular contempt for the facts and disdain for the bipartisan opposition. But that would require Obama to admit error. And honestly, what do we think the chances of that are?

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