Commentary Magazine


Topic: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Overpraising the President

Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post is one of the great editorial-page editors in America (and not only because he occasionally runs my op-eds). He has assembled an interesting and thoughtful group of columnists for his op-ed page and turned his editorial columns into a courageous and morally farsighted champion of an internationalist foreign policy that promotes America’s ideals as well as its interests. In the process, he has not been afraid to take stands that are interpreted as conservative (e.g., backing the Iraq war and not backing down when the going got tough) while also holding President Bush accountable for his deviations from the high-minded ideals he espoused. He has continued that tradition of skepticism with President Obama. Unlike the rest of the MSM, he has not swooned over the president of hope and change, but I nevertheless think he is being a tad too kind in this column, which offers a largely positive assessment of Obama’s first year in office.

To be sure, Hiatt is right to give Obama credit for halting and reversing a financial/economic meltdown. That was the most important issue of his first year in office, and the president deserves enormous credit for getting the economy back onto a sounder footing — notwithstanding carping from both Left and Right. He also deserves a great degree of credit for largely coming out in the right place in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am less impressed than Hiatt is, however, with Obama’s handling of issues of “security and liberty.” Obama gets credit for not undoing most of Bush’s initiatives (e.g., the Patriot Act and Predator strikes in Pakistan), and I don’t even mind his plan to close Guantanamo. But by forcing all interrogations of terrorist suspects to be conducted without stress techniques and by rushing to push terrorist suspects, even Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, into the criminal-justice system, I think Obama is tilting the balance against effectiveness in the war on terror. So too with decisions that Hiatt doesn’t mention — Attorney General Eric Holder’s moves to release memos describing CIA interrogation techniques and to investigate supposed CIA abuses in the past. Both have undoubtedly had a chilling effect on our counterterrorist operatives, few of whom are willing to treat high-level directives as cavalierly as Jack Bauer routinely does.

I also think that Hiatt, who is more liberal in domestic than in foreign policy, is being too kind in his treatment of Obama’s reckless attempts to take over the health-care sector and ineffectual attempts to deal with climate change. What is truly mystifying, however, is that Hiatt pens this tribute to Obama’s foreign policy: “And from Cairo to Oslo, and now to Haiti, he has sought to chart a path for America between arrogance and isolationism, neither denying nor boasting about the burdens of global leadership.”

I too applaud Obama’s efforts to help Haiti, just as I applauded his Nobel acceptance speech, but the fact remains that outside of Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama has no foreign-policy achievements to boast of. The first year was wasted with ineffectual attempts at outreach to Iran and North Korea and Russia, not to mention his ham-handed attempts to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. All these efforts have failed — something that was completely predictable. In the meantime, Obama lost a valuable chance to stand with Iranian democrats and to put real pressure on the Iranian mullahs, something the Washington Post editorial page has been eloquent in condemning. Will Obama’s first-year efforts somehow bear fruit in his second year in office? Of that there is so far no evidence. If he doesn’t change course substantially in foreign affairs (when is he going to get tough on the Iranian nuclear program as promised?), the record of his first (and only?) term is likely to be even more dismal than his first-year record.

Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post is one of the great editorial-page editors in America (and not only because he occasionally runs my op-eds). He has assembled an interesting and thoughtful group of columnists for his op-ed page and turned his editorial columns into a courageous and morally farsighted champion of an internationalist foreign policy that promotes America’s ideals as well as its interests. In the process, he has not been afraid to take stands that are interpreted as conservative (e.g., backing the Iraq war and not backing down when the going got tough) while also holding President Bush accountable for his deviations from the high-minded ideals he espoused. He has continued that tradition of skepticism with President Obama. Unlike the rest of the MSM, he has not swooned over the president of hope and change, but I nevertheless think he is being a tad too kind in this column, which offers a largely positive assessment of Obama’s first year in office.

To be sure, Hiatt is right to give Obama credit for halting and reversing a financial/economic meltdown. That was the most important issue of his first year in office, and the president deserves enormous credit for getting the economy back onto a sounder footing — notwithstanding carping from both Left and Right. He also deserves a great degree of credit for largely coming out in the right place in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am less impressed than Hiatt is, however, with Obama’s handling of issues of “security and liberty.” Obama gets credit for not undoing most of Bush’s initiatives (e.g., the Patriot Act and Predator strikes in Pakistan), and I don’t even mind his plan to close Guantanamo. But by forcing all interrogations of terrorist suspects to be conducted without stress techniques and by rushing to push terrorist suspects, even Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, into the criminal-justice system, I think Obama is tilting the balance against effectiveness in the war on terror. So too with decisions that Hiatt doesn’t mention — Attorney General Eric Holder’s moves to release memos describing CIA interrogation techniques and to investigate supposed CIA abuses in the past. Both have undoubtedly had a chilling effect on our counterterrorist operatives, few of whom are willing to treat high-level directives as cavalierly as Jack Bauer routinely does.

I also think that Hiatt, who is more liberal in domestic than in foreign policy, is being too kind in his treatment of Obama’s reckless attempts to take over the health-care sector and ineffectual attempts to deal with climate change. What is truly mystifying, however, is that Hiatt pens this tribute to Obama’s foreign policy: “And from Cairo to Oslo, and now to Haiti, he has sought to chart a path for America between arrogance and isolationism, neither denying nor boasting about the burdens of global leadership.”

I too applaud Obama’s efforts to help Haiti, just as I applauded his Nobel acceptance speech, but the fact remains that outside of Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama has no foreign-policy achievements to boast of. The first year was wasted with ineffectual attempts at outreach to Iran and North Korea and Russia, not to mention his ham-handed attempts to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. All these efforts have failed — something that was completely predictable. In the meantime, Obama lost a valuable chance to stand with Iranian democrats and to put real pressure on the Iranian mullahs, something the Washington Post editorial page has been eloquent in condemning. Will Obama’s first-year efforts somehow bear fruit in his second year in office? Of that there is so far no evidence. If he doesn’t change course substantially in foreign affairs (when is he going to get tough on the Iranian nuclear program as promised?), the record of his first (and only?) term is likely to be even more dismal than his first-year record.

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Reversing Obama’s Worst Decision Yet?

Michael Isikoff reports:

Top administration officials are getting nervous that they may not be able to proceed with one of their most controversial national-security moves: trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 conspirators in federal court in New York City. Last November Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. portrayed the trial as a way to showcase the American justice system to the world — and to accelerate President Obama’s stalled plans to shut down the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. But because of shifting political winds in Congress, the trial is now “potentially in jeopardy,” a senior official, who did not want to be named talking about a sensitive situation, tells Newsweek. The chief concern: that Republicans will renew attempts to strip funding for the trial and, in the aftermath of the bombing attempt aboard Northwest Flight 253, pick up enough support from moderate Democrats to prevail.

It seems that Sen. Lindsay Graham and Rep. Frank Wolf will try to force votes in Congress to cut off funding for the trial. And one additional issue: the more than $200 million price tag for each year of the trial. The kicker: “If Holder’s plans are thwarted, though, one top administration official, who also didn’t want to be named talking about delicate issues, notes there is a Plan B — reviving the case against the alleged 9/11 conspirators before a military tribunal, just as the Bush administration tried to do.”

This would be a stunning turnaround, an admission of Holder’s irresponsibility and of the Justice Department’s loony leftism. But this, of course, was part and parcel of Obama’s personal vision and his “not-Bush” approach to the war against Islamic fascists. Obama spent his campaign and the first year of his presidency eschewing the Bush anti-terror policies — employing enhanced interrogation techniques, maintaining Guantanamo, using military tribunals to prosecute terrorists — and pronouncing that they represented a betrayal of “our values.” He told us we’d rack up credit with … with whom was never quite clear, but we’d rack up credit. Those who sought to incinerate innocents or who were attracted to the words of Major Hassan’s favorite imam (or was it the European elites who give out prizes for such foolishness?) would, presumably, be impressed. And we’d lure the butchers of children and women out of their mindset by impressing them with the wonders of the federal criminal procedure.

But alas, that proved to be politically untenable and logistically difficult. We had three domestic terror attacks. The president was hammered for his clueless reserve and the Keystone Kops response to the Christmas Day bombing. So now being “not Bush” doesn’t seem like such a good idea. It was born of arrogance and from a distorted view of the nature of our enemy. If Obama retreats on both this and Guantanamo, it will be a bitter pill for the Left and sweet vindication for those who kept us safe for seven and a half years after 9/11. But more important, it will be a step toward sanity in the administration’s national security policies. And should Obama and Holder feel the sting of humiliation if forced to abandon their plans to shutter Guantanamo and give KSM a propagandistic platform, the White House may find that a small price to pay to sync up its anti-terror policies with both reality and public opinion.

Michael Isikoff reports:

Top administration officials are getting nervous that they may not be able to proceed with one of their most controversial national-security moves: trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 conspirators in federal court in New York City. Last November Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. portrayed the trial as a way to showcase the American justice system to the world — and to accelerate President Obama’s stalled plans to shut down the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. But because of shifting political winds in Congress, the trial is now “potentially in jeopardy,” a senior official, who did not want to be named talking about a sensitive situation, tells Newsweek. The chief concern: that Republicans will renew attempts to strip funding for the trial and, in the aftermath of the bombing attempt aboard Northwest Flight 253, pick up enough support from moderate Democrats to prevail.

It seems that Sen. Lindsay Graham and Rep. Frank Wolf will try to force votes in Congress to cut off funding for the trial. And one additional issue: the more than $200 million price tag for each year of the trial. The kicker: “If Holder’s plans are thwarted, though, one top administration official, who also didn’t want to be named talking about delicate issues, notes there is a Plan B — reviving the case against the alleged 9/11 conspirators before a military tribunal, just as the Bush administration tried to do.”

This would be a stunning turnaround, an admission of Holder’s irresponsibility and of the Justice Department’s loony leftism. But this, of course, was part and parcel of Obama’s personal vision and his “not-Bush” approach to the war against Islamic fascists. Obama spent his campaign and the first year of his presidency eschewing the Bush anti-terror policies — employing enhanced interrogation techniques, maintaining Guantanamo, using military tribunals to prosecute terrorists — and pronouncing that they represented a betrayal of “our values.” He told us we’d rack up credit with … with whom was never quite clear, but we’d rack up credit. Those who sought to incinerate innocents or who were attracted to the words of Major Hassan’s favorite imam (or was it the European elites who give out prizes for such foolishness?) would, presumably, be impressed. And we’d lure the butchers of children and women out of their mindset by impressing them with the wonders of the federal criminal procedure.

But alas, that proved to be politically untenable and logistically difficult. We had three domestic terror attacks. The president was hammered for his clueless reserve and the Keystone Kops response to the Christmas Day bombing. So now being “not Bush” doesn’t seem like such a good idea. It was born of arrogance and from a distorted view of the nature of our enemy. If Obama retreats on both this and Guantanamo, it will be a bitter pill for the Left and sweet vindication for those who kept us safe for seven and a half years after 9/11. But more important, it will be a step toward sanity in the administration’s national security policies. And should Obama and Holder feel the sting of humiliation if forced to abandon their plans to shutter Guantanamo and give KSM a propagandistic platform, the White House may find that a small price to pay to sync up its anti-terror policies with both reality and public opinion.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What would 1.5 million pennies look like? “It’s a school project spearheaded by seventh-grade Spotlight students currently studying World War II — with a significant focus on the Holocaust. Each penny would stand for one child lost in the Holocaust. ‘The pennies will be used in an online museum,’ Horn Lake Spotlight teacher Susan Powell said. ‘We will host a (virtual) room, and this is being done through an organization (Christian Friends of Israel) in Memphis. We are going to assist them. The kids are brainstorming on what to do with the pennies.’ ” Read the whole thing.

Arnold terminates his support for ObamaCare: “You’ve heard of the bridge to nowhere. This is health care to nowhere.” And the backroom deals this time are more noxious.

Liz Cheney has good advice for Obama: “If President Obama is serious about keeping the American people safe, he should reverse his irresponsible and ill-advised decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. He should reverse his decision to usher terrorists from Guantanamo onto U.S. soil. He should reverse his decision to bring the mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to New York. He should reverse his decision to give KSM and other terrorists the rights of Americans and the benefit of a criminal trial in an American civilian court. He should immediately classify Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, as an illegal enemy combatant, not a criminal defendant.” (She also has some advice for Eric Holder, including halting his investigations of CIA officials and lawyers who saved American lives.) I’d wager that very large majorities of Americans agree with her.

Haaretz reports that Rahm Emanuel said he is fed up with Israelis. (It’s mutual, pal.) And the Palestinians. And the whole Middle East peace process. The White House denies he said it.

Larry J. Sabato’s take: “A multi-seat gain for the GOP in the Senate is now the best bet. … Now we can all see clearly why President Obama is pushing so hard for his agenda in his first two years. He’s unlikely ever again to have anything approaching his current 20-seat margin in the Senate and 40-seat margin in the House.”

Alert David Brooks: Sarah Palin is headlining a Tea Party Convention.

Mickey Kaus thinks Janet Napolitano actually helps Obama. “Loyal cabinet secretaries should take the blame–and the PR hit–for their agency’s mistakes. The President stays as far away from the bad thing as possible, even when the White House is in reality intimately involved.” I dunno. I think having dopey advisers — e.g., Alberto Gonzales — just fuels the “executive incompetence” meme.

When he’s not bending the cost curve: “President Obama’s budget guru has a secret love child — with the woman he jilted before hooking up with his hot new fiance [sic], The Post has learned.”

Big Labor spent millions electing Obama, and this is the thanks it gets: “President Barack Obama signaled to House Democratic leaders Wednesday that they’ll have to drop their opposition to taxing high-end health insurance plans to pay for health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. In a meeting at the White House, Obama expressed his preference for the insurance tax contained in the Senate’s health overhaul bill, but largely opposed by House Democrats and organized labor, Democratic aides said.” Oh yes, that’s a lot of people making less than $200,000 who are going to get taxed, despite Obama’s campaign promise.

What would 1.5 million pennies look like? “It’s a school project spearheaded by seventh-grade Spotlight students currently studying World War II — with a significant focus on the Holocaust. Each penny would stand for one child lost in the Holocaust. ‘The pennies will be used in an online museum,’ Horn Lake Spotlight teacher Susan Powell said. ‘We will host a (virtual) room, and this is being done through an organization (Christian Friends of Israel) in Memphis. We are going to assist them. The kids are brainstorming on what to do with the pennies.’ ” Read the whole thing.

Arnold terminates his support for ObamaCare: “You’ve heard of the bridge to nowhere. This is health care to nowhere.” And the backroom deals this time are more noxious.

Liz Cheney has good advice for Obama: “If President Obama is serious about keeping the American people safe, he should reverse his irresponsible and ill-advised decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. He should reverse his decision to usher terrorists from Guantanamo onto U.S. soil. He should reverse his decision to bring the mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to New York. He should reverse his decision to give KSM and other terrorists the rights of Americans and the benefit of a criminal trial in an American civilian court. He should immediately classify Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, as an illegal enemy combatant, not a criminal defendant.” (She also has some advice for Eric Holder, including halting his investigations of CIA officials and lawyers who saved American lives.) I’d wager that very large majorities of Americans agree with her.

Haaretz reports that Rahm Emanuel said he is fed up with Israelis. (It’s mutual, pal.) And the Palestinians. And the whole Middle East peace process. The White House denies he said it.

Larry J. Sabato’s take: “A multi-seat gain for the GOP in the Senate is now the best bet. … Now we can all see clearly why President Obama is pushing so hard for his agenda in his first two years. He’s unlikely ever again to have anything approaching his current 20-seat margin in the Senate and 40-seat margin in the House.”

Alert David Brooks: Sarah Palin is headlining a Tea Party Convention.

Mickey Kaus thinks Janet Napolitano actually helps Obama. “Loyal cabinet secretaries should take the blame–and the PR hit–for their agency’s mistakes. The President stays as far away from the bad thing as possible, even when the White House is in reality intimately involved.” I dunno. I think having dopey advisers — e.g., Alberto Gonzales — just fuels the “executive incompetence” meme.

When he’s not bending the cost curve: “President Obama’s budget guru has a secret love child — with the woman he jilted before hooking up with his hot new fiance [sic], The Post has learned.”

Big Labor spent millions electing Obama, and this is the thanks it gets: “President Barack Obama signaled to House Democratic leaders Wednesday that they’ll have to drop their opposition to taxing high-end health insurance plans to pay for health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. In a meeting at the White House, Obama expressed his preference for the insurance tax contained in the Senate’s health overhaul bill, but largely opposed by House Democrats and organized labor, Democratic aides said.” Oh yes, that’s a lot of people making less than $200,000 who are going to get taxed, despite Obama’s campaign promise.

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The True Administration of Justice is the Firmest Pillar of Good Government

About an hour ago I was holding an umbrella against the wind and rain, in the outer skirts of the crowd that had gathered on Foley Square, Manhattan, to protest Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s impending civil trial. Judging by how much space had been barricaded, I’d say the city must have expected a bigger turnout. Doubtless, the weather deterred many would-be attendees. But the 300-400 people who had shown up were determined and righteously angry—at the president’s and attorney general’s measly arguments for extending to the 9/11 mastermind the same legal privileges of American citizens; at the travesty of justice that his civil trial would entail; and at the cheap rhetorical shots through which the administration is dismissing the critics of its decision.

Several passionate speakers shared the podium, among them close relatives of 9/11 victims and a surviving firefighter from the first-response teams dispatched to the World Trade Center. They all voiced their disgust at how the administration is handling KSM with gloves of moral priggishness. And they also urged the demonstrators to leave no political stone unturned and to buttonhole their representatives until they take responsibility for this disgrace.

It was fitting that the rally stirred at the feet of the New York State Supreme Courthouse, whose Corinthian columns underscore the engraving “The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.” I wonder what George Washington, who wrote those words to Attorney General Edmund Randolph on September 28, 1789, would think of the kind of trial our current president and attorney general have in store for KSM and of the kind of justice that trial will beget. What is anyone to make of a civil trial whose outcome, whatever it is, will not determine whether the defendant is to be freed and exonerated? I, for one, would not think it civil at all, or just. And neither would the protesters on Foley Square today.  Some photographs from the rally:











About an hour ago I was holding an umbrella against the wind and rain, in the outer skirts of the crowd that had gathered on Foley Square, Manhattan, to protest Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s impending civil trial. Judging by how much space had been barricaded, I’d say the city must have expected a bigger turnout. Doubtless, the weather deterred many would-be attendees. But the 300-400 people who had shown up were determined and righteously angry—at the president’s and attorney general’s measly arguments for extending to the 9/11 mastermind the same legal privileges of American citizens; at the travesty of justice that his civil trial would entail; and at the cheap rhetorical shots through which the administration is dismissing the critics of its decision.

Several passionate speakers shared the podium, among them close relatives of 9/11 victims and a surviving firefighter from the first-response teams dispatched to the World Trade Center. They all voiced their disgust at how the administration is handling KSM with gloves of moral priggishness. And they also urged the demonstrators to leave no political stone unturned and to buttonhole their representatives until they take responsibility for this disgrace.

It was fitting that the rally stirred at the feet of the New York State Supreme Courthouse, whose Corinthian columns underscore the engraving “The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.” I wonder what George Washington, who wrote those words to Attorney General Edmund Randolph on September 28, 1789, would think of the kind of trial our current president and attorney general have in store for KSM and of the kind of justice that trial will beget. What is anyone to make of a civil trial whose outcome, whatever it is, will not determine whether the defendant is to be freed and exonerated? I, for one, would not think it civil at all, or just. And neither would the protesters on Foley Square today.  Some photographs from the rally:











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Flotsam and Jetsam

Well, after having a “total freeze” dangled before their eyes, of course the PA is not satisfied, hollering about Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s “political maneuvering” and “deception” is announcing a halt to new West Bank settlements for 10 months (but no restrictions on ongoing projects or housing within Jerusalem). “The PA is also furious with the US administration for hailing the decision as a step forward toward resuming the peace process in the Middle East.” Well, that’s what comes from the Obami’s incompetent gambit. How is it that George Mitchell still has a job?

Copenhagen round two: “Obama has come home from Copenhagen empty-handed once before — when he flew in to lobby for Chicago’s pitch for the 2016 Olympics, only to watch the International Olympic Committee reject his hometown’s bid in the first round of its voting.”

A very unpopular decision: “By 59% to 36%, more Americans believe accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be tried in a military court, rather than in a civilian criminal court.” Among independents, 63 percent favor a military tribunal.

Karl Rove reminds us that “since taking office Mr. Obama pushed through a $787 billion stimulus, a $33 billion expansion of the child health program known as S-chip, a $410 billion omnibus appropriations spending bill, and an $80 billion car company bailout. He also pushed a $821 billion cap-and-trade bill through the House and is now urging Congress to pass a nearly $1 trillion health-care bill.” But no worries — Obama would like a commission to address our fiscal mess.

Charles Krauthammer writes on ObamaCare: “The bill is irredeemable. It should not only be defeated. It should be immolated, its ashes scattered over the Senate swimming pool. … The better choice is targeted measures that attack the inefficiencies of the current system one by one — tort reform, interstate purchasing and taxing employee benefits. It would take 20 pages to write such a bill, not 2,000 — and provide the funds to cover the uninsured without wrecking both U.S. health care and the U.S. Treasury.” And it might even be politically popular.

Iran has managed to do the impossible: draw the ire of the IAEA and make Mohamed ElBaradei sound realistically pessimistic: “We have effectively reached a dead end, unless Iran engages fully with us.” The White House pipes up with a perfectly meaningless comment: “If Iran refuses to meet its obligations, then it will be responsible for its own growing isolation and the consequences.” Which are what exactly?

Marc Ambinder spins it as “circumspect”: “The upshot from the administration: now is the time to get serious. The world is united in favor of tougher, non-diplomatic means to pressure Iran. But no word on when or how — just yet.” But let’s get real — it’s more of the same irresoluteness and stalling we’ve heard all year from the Obami.

If you might lose something, you begin to appreciate what you have: “Forty-nine percent (49%) of voters nationwide now rate the U.S. health care system as good or excellent. That marks a steady increase from 44% at the beginning of October, 35% in May and 29% a year-and-a-half ago. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 27% now say the U.S. health care system is poor. It is interesting to note that confidence in the system has improved as the debate over health care reform has moved to center stage.”

Kim Strassel thinks the Copenhagen confab will be a bust in the wake of the scandal about the Climate Research Unit’s e-mails: “Instead of producing legally binding agreements, it will be dogged by queries about the legitimacy of the scientists who wrote the reports that form its basis.” And meanwhile “Republicans are launching investigations, and the pressure is building on Democrats to hold hearings, since climate scientists were funded with U.S. taxpayer dollars.”

Well, after having a “total freeze” dangled before their eyes, of course the PA is not satisfied, hollering about Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s “political maneuvering” and “deception” is announcing a halt to new West Bank settlements for 10 months (but no restrictions on ongoing projects or housing within Jerusalem). “The PA is also furious with the US administration for hailing the decision as a step forward toward resuming the peace process in the Middle East.” Well, that’s what comes from the Obami’s incompetent gambit. How is it that George Mitchell still has a job?

Copenhagen round two: “Obama has come home from Copenhagen empty-handed once before — when he flew in to lobby for Chicago’s pitch for the 2016 Olympics, only to watch the International Olympic Committee reject his hometown’s bid in the first round of its voting.”

A very unpopular decision: “By 59% to 36%, more Americans believe accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be tried in a military court, rather than in a civilian criminal court.” Among independents, 63 percent favor a military tribunal.

Karl Rove reminds us that “since taking office Mr. Obama pushed through a $787 billion stimulus, a $33 billion expansion of the child health program known as S-chip, a $410 billion omnibus appropriations spending bill, and an $80 billion car company bailout. He also pushed a $821 billion cap-and-trade bill through the House and is now urging Congress to pass a nearly $1 trillion health-care bill.” But no worries — Obama would like a commission to address our fiscal mess.

Charles Krauthammer writes on ObamaCare: “The bill is irredeemable. It should not only be defeated. It should be immolated, its ashes scattered over the Senate swimming pool. … The better choice is targeted measures that attack the inefficiencies of the current system one by one — tort reform, interstate purchasing and taxing employee benefits. It would take 20 pages to write such a bill, not 2,000 — and provide the funds to cover the uninsured without wrecking both U.S. health care and the U.S. Treasury.” And it might even be politically popular.

Iran has managed to do the impossible: draw the ire of the IAEA and make Mohamed ElBaradei sound realistically pessimistic: “We have effectively reached a dead end, unless Iran engages fully with us.” The White House pipes up with a perfectly meaningless comment: “If Iran refuses to meet its obligations, then it will be responsible for its own growing isolation and the consequences.” Which are what exactly?

Marc Ambinder spins it as “circumspect”: “The upshot from the administration: now is the time to get serious. The world is united in favor of tougher, non-diplomatic means to pressure Iran. But no word on when or how — just yet.” But let’s get real — it’s more of the same irresoluteness and stalling we’ve heard all year from the Obami.

If you might lose something, you begin to appreciate what you have: “Forty-nine percent (49%) of voters nationwide now rate the U.S. health care system as good or excellent. That marks a steady increase from 44% at the beginning of October, 35% in May and 29% a year-and-a-half ago. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 27% now say the U.S. health care system is poor. It is interesting to note that confidence in the system has improved as the debate over health care reform has moved to center stage.”

Kim Strassel thinks the Copenhagen confab will be a bust in the wake of the scandal about the Climate Research Unit’s e-mails: “Instead of producing legally binding agreements, it will be dogged by queries about the legitimacy of the scientists who wrote the reports that form its basis.” And meanwhile “Republicans are launching investigations, and the pressure is building on Democrats to hold hearings, since climate scientists were funded with U.S. taxpayer dollars.”

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It May Matter in 2010

The decision to try KSM in a civilian court may impact the 2010 elections, Politico explains:

“The narrative is playing out against the backdrop of the Illinois senate race — for the seat President Barack Obama once held — and the tri-state region surrounding New York City, where contentious campaigns are revisiting the politics of the post-Sept. 11 era, when GOP candidates regularly forced Democrats on the defensive by framing them as soft on terror.

In the wake of the Obama administration decision to try the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in a civilian court in downtown Manhattan and the announcement that the administration is considering housing additional Al Qaeda terrorists in an Illinois correctional facility, Republicans are claiming that Democrats are naively placing ideology ahead of national security and undermining the war on terrorism.

And turning up the heat, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who is running for governor in Michigan, will try to bring to the House floor his Keep Terrorists Out of America Act, which seeks to “slow Obama’s ability to bring terrorists to U.S. soil by forcing state legislatures and governors to approve the transfer.”

The decision to give KSM all the constitutional rights of a U.S. citizen and then potentially house him and other terrorists in the U.S. may prove to be one of those few national-security issues that vaults to the top of the list of voters’ concerns and makes a difference (as the Iraq war did in the 2006 congressional elections). Not surprisingly, with initial polling showing that the decision is exceptionally unpopular, Republicans in multiple Senate and House races are making hay of the issue.

As a smart legal guru reminds me, Senate Democrats voted yesterday to provide funding for “new military facilities in the United States, or [to] modify existing ones here, to bring Guantanamo detainees to the United States (rejecting Senator Inhofe’s amendment that would have prohibited the use of funds for this purpose).” Just 12 days ago the Senate Democrats voted on funding to bring terrorists to the U.S. for trial (rejecting Senator Graham’s amendment that would have kept them in a military commission). It will be hard for Senate Democrats in 2010 then to argue that they are not facilitators in what many regard as one of the worst national-security gambits in U.S. history. The voters will get to render their verdict.

The decision to try KSM in a civilian court may impact the 2010 elections, Politico explains:

“The narrative is playing out against the backdrop of the Illinois senate race — for the seat President Barack Obama once held — and the tri-state region surrounding New York City, where contentious campaigns are revisiting the politics of the post-Sept. 11 era, when GOP candidates regularly forced Democrats on the defensive by framing them as soft on terror.

In the wake of the Obama administration decision to try the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in a civilian court in downtown Manhattan and the announcement that the administration is considering housing additional Al Qaeda terrorists in an Illinois correctional facility, Republicans are claiming that Democrats are naively placing ideology ahead of national security and undermining the war on terrorism.

And turning up the heat, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who is running for governor in Michigan, will try to bring to the House floor his Keep Terrorists Out of America Act, which seeks to “slow Obama’s ability to bring terrorists to U.S. soil by forcing state legislatures and governors to approve the transfer.”

The decision to give KSM all the constitutional rights of a U.S. citizen and then potentially house him and other terrorists in the U.S. may prove to be one of those few national-security issues that vaults to the top of the list of voters’ concerns and makes a difference (as the Iraq war did in the 2006 congressional elections). Not surprisingly, with initial polling showing that the decision is exceptionally unpopular, Republicans in multiple Senate and House races are making hay of the issue.

As a smart legal guru reminds me, Senate Democrats voted yesterday to provide funding for “new military facilities in the United States, or [to] modify existing ones here, to bring Guantanamo detainees to the United States (rejecting Senator Inhofe’s amendment that would have prohibited the use of funds for this purpose).” Just 12 days ago the Senate Democrats voted on funding to bring terrorists to the U.S. for trial (rejecting Senator Graham’s amendment that would have kept them in a military commission). It will be hard for Senate Democrats in 2010 then to argue that they are not facilitators in what many regard as one of the worst national-security gambits in U.S. history. The voters will get to render their verdict.

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They Don’t Like It

You knew this was coming: the American people really don’t like the idea of trying terrorists in a civilian court. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows that 64 percent want a military trial and only 34 percent a civilian proceeding:

“The decision to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in front of a civilian court is universally unpopular — even a majority of Democrats and liberals say that he should be tried by military authorities,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Despite that, most Americans say that he will get a fair trial in the U.S.”

Yes, it will be “fair” to him and quite inimical to the national security of the United States.

As the American people observe the raft of incomprehensible decisions (closing Guantanamo, ceasing enhanced interrogations, trying KSM in federal court), the floundering “engagement” gambit in Iran, and the non-decision on Afghanistan-war policy, they may come to a nerve-racking conclusion: the Obami don’t take national security seriously and are systematically making us less safe. Dick Cheney warned us of this months ago, but many pooh-poohed that observation. It turns out to have been on the money.

You knew this was coming: the American people really don’t like the idea of trying terrorists in a civilian court. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows that 64 percent want a military trial and only 34 percent a civilian proceeding:

“The decision to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in front of a civilian court is universally unpopular — even a majority of Democrats and liberals say that he should be tried by military authorities,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Despite that, most Americans say that he will get a fair trial in the U.S.”

Yes, it will be “fair” to him and quite inimical to the national security of the United States.

As the American people observe the raft of incomprehensible decisions (closing Guantanamo, ceasing enhanced interrogations, trying KSM in federal court), the floundering “engagement” gambit in Iran, and the non-decision on Afghanistan-war policy, they may come to a nerve-racking conclusion: the Obami don’t take national security seriously and are systematically making us less safe. Dick Cheney warned us of this months ago, but many pooh-poohed that observation. It turns out to have been on the money.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Multilateralism flops again: “President Obama and other world leaders have decided to put off the difficult task of reaching a climate change agreement at a global climate conference scheduled for next month, agreeing instead to make it the mission of the Copenhagen conference to reach a less specific ‘politically binding’ agreement that would punt the most difficult issues into the future.” Apparently, Obama has once again not been able, by the mere force of his presence, to move other nations to do what they’d rather not.

In case you thought U.S. prisons were a good place for terrorists: “Ten months before Al Qaeda in 2001 struck a deathblow in the heart lower Manhattan, one of the terrorist group’s founding members plunged a sharpened comb through [Louis] Pepe’s left eye and into his brain, blinding the 42-year-old prison guard and causing severe brain injuries that plague him to this day. Pepe told FoxNews.com he worries that sending Mohammed and four of his alleged fellow 9/11 conspirators to New York could compromise the safety of the guards at the MCC prison.”

Lynn Sweet: “About a year ago, thousands jammed Grant Park in Chicago to celebrate Barack Obama’s election to the White House, a communal civic defining moment. But those giddy days are long gone as Democrats in Illinois face the potential of losing the Senate seat President Obama once held next November.”

Another potential consequence of PelosiCare: “By teeing up a public battle over abortion in the health care bill now before the Senate, congressional Democrats could be risking more than just the fate of the legislation. Hanging in the balance are millions of Catholic swing voters who moved decisively to the Democrats in 2008 and who could shift away just as readily in 2010. … ‘There could be political repercussions in the election. It could be harder for the Democrats to keep those Catholics voters they gained and they may put some of their members at risk,’ said John Green, a religion and politics expert at the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron.”

Chris Caldwell: “The public is increasingly certain that the killings are a case of terrorism. Government and military leaders argue that we must not leap to conclusions, and that we are just as likely to be dealing with a variety of mental illness. A lot hinges on whether we think of Maj. Hasan as a mental case or a soldier of jihad.” It seems that the public is less inclined than the chattering class to buy the psycho-babble explanation.

David Axelrod takes a shot at Mitt Romney for taking a shot at Obama’s inability to make a decision. The White House seems a tad defensive on the topic these days, as well they should be.

James Pinkerton reminds us that we have gotten precious little from the Russians since the “reset,” explaining that “the Russians are not following through on their promise to allow America to establish an aerial supply corridor into Afghanistan. Back in July, they promised to allow up to 4500 flights a year from their territory, to facilitate American logistics for the war effort. So four months later, how many flights have there been? Zero.”

And on his Asia trip, Obama is “confronting the limits of engagement and personal charm.” Not a single foreign-policy success to come from all the smart diplomacy, it seems.

The first of many perhaps: “The family of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl expressed disappointment with the Obama administration’s decision to try the professed killer of their son, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in a civilian court. … ‘We are respectful of the legal process, but believe that giving confessed terrorists a worldwide platform to publicize their ideology sends the wrong message to potential terrorists, inviting them, in essence, to resort to violence and cruelty in order to gain publicity.'”

Rep. Pete Hoesktra on the decision to try KSM in New York: “This is ideology run wild. We’re going to go back into New York City, the scene of the tragedy on 9/11. We’re now going to rip that wound wide open and it’s going to stay open for, what, two, three, four years as we go through the circus of a trial in New York City?” Yup. He explains that we have an alternative: “I would have put him through the military tribunal process. We started that process. They pled guilty. Why won’t the president take guilty for an answer and say now let’s go on to the sentencing phase?”

Multilateralism flops again: “President Obama and other world leaders have decided to put off the difficult task of reaching a climate change agreement at a global climate conference scheduled for next month, agreeing instead to make it the mission of the Copenhagen conference to reach a less specific ‘politically binding’ agreement that would punt the most difficult issues into the future.” Apparently, Obama has once again not been able, by the mere force of his presence, to move other nations to do what they’d rather not.

In case you thought U.S. prisons were a good place for terrorists: “Ten months before Al Qaeda in 2001 struck a deathblow in the heart lower Manhattan, one of the terrorist group’s founding members plunged a sharpened comb through [Louis] Pepe’s left eye and into his brain, blinding the 42-year-old prison guard and causing severe brain injuries that plague him to this day. Pepe told FoxNews.com he worries that sending Mohammed and four of his alleged fellow 9/11 conspirators to New York could compromise the safety of the guards at the MCC prison.”

Lynn Sweet: “About a year ago, thousands jammed Grant Park in Chicago to celebrate Barack Obama’s election to the White House, a communal civic defining moment. But those giddy days are long gone as Democrats in Illinois face the potential of losing the Senate seat President Obama once held next November.”

Another potential consequence of PelosiCare: “By teeing up a public battle over abortion in the health care bill now before the Senate, congressional Democrats could be risking more than just the fate of the legislation. Hanging in the balance are millions of Catholic swing voters who moved decisively to the Democrats in 2008 and who could shift away just as readily in 2010. … ‘There could be political repercussions in the election. It could be harder for the Democrats to keep those Catholics voters they gained and they may put some of their members at risk,’ said John Green, a religion and politics expert at the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron.”

Chris Caldwell: “The public is increasingly certain that the killings are a case of terrorism. Government and military leaders argue that we must not leap to conclusions, and that we are just as likely to be dealing with a variety of mental illness. A lot hinges on whether we think of Maj. Hasan as a mental case or a soldier of jihad.” It seems that the public is less inclined than the chattering class to buy the psycho-babble explanation.

David Axelrod takes a shot at Mitt Romney for taking a shot at Obama’s inability to make a decision. The White House seems a tad defensive on the topic these days, as well they should be.

James Pinkerton reminds us that we have gotten precious little from the Russians since the “reset,” explaining that “the Russians are not following through on their promise to allow America to establish an aerial supply corridor into Afghanistan. Back in July, they promised to allow up to 4500 flights a year from their territory, to facilitate American logistics for the war effort. So four months later, how many flights have there been? Zero.”

And on his Asia trip, Obama is “confronting the limits of engagement and personal charm.” Not a single foreign-policy success to come from all the smart diplomacy, it seems.

The first of many perhaps: “The family of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl expressed disappointment with the Obama administration’s decision to try the professed killer of their son, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in a civilian court. … ‘We are respectful of the legal process, but believe that giving confessed terrorists a worldwide platform to publicize their ideology sends the wrong message to potential terrorists, inviting them, in essence, to resort to violence and cruelty in order to gain publicity.'”

Rep. Pete Hoesktra on the decision to try KSM in New York: “This is ideology run wild. We’re going to go back into New York City, the scene of the tragedy on 9/11. We’re now going to rip that wound wide open and it’s going to stay open for, what, two, three, four years as we go through the circus of a trial in New York City?” Yup. He explains that we have an alternative: “I would have put him through the military tribunal process. We started that process. They pled guilty. Why won’t the president take guilty for an answer and say now let’s go on to the sentencing phase?”

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What Are They Thinking?

On Fox News Sunday, Liz Cheney laid into the president and Eric Holder for the decision to move KSM to New York for trial:

You know, I think it is absolutely unconscionable that we are a nation at war and that the president of the United States simultaneously is denying our troops on the ground in Afghanistan the resources that they need to prevail to win that war while he ushers terrorists onto the homeland.

He’s going to put these terrorists in a courthouse that is six blocks from where over 2,000 Americans were killed on the worst attack in history on the American homeland.

He’s going to give them a public platform where they can spew venom, where they can preach jihad, where they can reach out and recruit other terrorists. And it is totally unnecessary.

When the attorney general says that he’s bringing them to justice, he’s ignoring the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed asked 11 months ago to be executed for Allah. He asked to plead guilty and be executed. We should have said, “All right, you’ve got it.” Instead, we’re bringing him and his cohorts to America. We’re giving them the constitutional rights of American citizens. And the attorney general throughout the day on Friday talked about this as a crime.

This, in powerful terms, is the argument against reverting to the 9/11 mentality and treating the attack on America as a mere crime. On the other side is some fuzzy notion, unsubstantiated by any experience or evidence, that we’re going to get “credit” with some groups or individuals or countries, which in turn will make us safer. But not from the U.S.S. Cole terrorists, who aren’t getting a trial. Go figure. As Rudy Giuliani wryly observed on the same program: “Problem is the terrorists aren’t listening to him. They’re continuing to make war on us.”

Alongside the argument against treating this as a criminal proceeding is a brew of misunderstanding and distortion of what is required and what may transpire in a legal forum. As Juan Williams did on Fox News Sunday, the Left likes to throw around lofty phrases (the “rule of law”) and straw men arguments (“If you believe in the Constitution …”). But “the law” and the “Constitution” have real meaning, and nothing in statute or the Constitution requires us to take KSM to New York, douse him with ACLU pixie dust, and give him all the procedural rights and constitutional protections that a domestic criminal would receive. It is poppycock on stilts to argue that the Obama team is simply “following the law.” They are making it up and departing from statute and 200 years of legal tradition.

There are good reasons to deplore a trial in New York. One of which, as Bill Kristol pointed out, is that we might lose. No Miranda rights, no subpoenas, and lots and lots of coercion. Chain of evidence? Good luck with that. And if the jury doesn’t give KSM the death penalty, what then? Holder seems to think he has all the angles covered, but it’s impossible for him to guarantee an outcome in an Article III court with an independent judge and 12 jurors.

The bottom line: the decision is practically unintelligible, and the results may be disastrous.

On Fox News Sunday, Liz Cheney laid into the president and Eric Holder for the decision to move KSM to New York for trial:

You know, I think it is absolutely unconscionable that we are a nation at war and that the president of the United States simultaneously is denying our troops on the ground in Afghanistan the resources that they need to prevail to win that war while he ushers terrorists onto the homeland.

He’s going to put these terrorists in a courthouse that is six blocks from where over 2,000 Americans were killed on the worst attack in history on the American homeland.

He’s going to give them a public platform where they can spew venom, where they can preach jihad, where they can reach out and recruit other terrorists. And it is totally unnecessary.

When the attorney general says that he’s bringing them to justice, he’s ignoring the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed asked 11 months ago to be executed for Allah. He asked to plead guilty and be executed. We should have said, “All right, you’ve got it.” Instead, we’re bringing him and his cohorts to America. We’re giving them the constitutional rights of American citizens. And the attorney general throughout the day on Friday talked about this as a crime.

This, in powerful terms, is the argument against reverting to the 9/11 mentality and treating the attack on America as a mere crime. On the other side is some fuzzy notion, unsubstantiated by any experience or evidence, that we’re going to get “credit” with some groups or individuals or countries, which in turn will make us safer. But not from the U.S.S. Cole terrorists, who aren’t getting a trial. Go figure. As Rudy Giuliani wryly observed on the same program: “Problem is the terrorists aren’t listening to him. They’re continuing to make war on us.”

Alongside the argument against treating this as a criminal proceeding is a brew of misunderstanding and distortion of what is required and what may transpire in a legal forum. As Juan Williams did on Fox News Sunday, the Left likes to throw around lofty phrases (the “rule of law”) and straw men arguments (“If you believe in the Constitution …”). But “the law” and the “Constitution” have real meaning, and nothing in statute or the Constitution requires us to take KSM to New York, douse him with ACLU pixie dust, and give him all the procedural rights and constitutional protections that a domestic criminal would receive. It is poppycock on stilts to argue that the Obama team is simply “following the law.” They are making it up and departing from statute and 200 years of legal tradition.

There are good reasons to deplore a trial in New York. One of which, as Bill Kristol pointed out, is that we might lose. No Miranda rights, no subpoenas, and lots and lots of coercion. Chain of evidence? Good luck with that. And if the jury doesn’t give KSM the death penalty, what then? Holder seems to think he has all the angles covered, but it’s impossible for him to guarantee an outcome in an Article III court with an independent judge and 12 jurors.

The bottom line: the decision is practically unintelligible, and the results may be disastrous.

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Why Are We Doing This?

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey had tough words for the mind-numbingly misguided decision to move KSM to New York for trial. For starters, he thinks Obama has increased the danger of a terror incident in New York:

“The question is not whether they’re going to escape. The question is whether, not only that particular facility, but the city [at] large, will then become the focus for mischief in the form of murder by adherents of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — whether this raises the odds that it will. I would suggest to you that it raises them very high.”

And as for the rationale for moving the 9/11 mastermind to a civilian court, Mukasey explains:

“The plan seems to be to abandon the view that we’re in a war,” Mukasey said. “I can’t see anything good coming out of this. I certainly can’t see anything good coming out of it very quickly. And it think it would have been far preferable to try these case[s] in the venue that Congress created for trying and where they were about to be tried.”

Mukasey, a former federal judge who oversaw cases relating to the 1993 World Trade Center attacks, warned that a civilian court trial for the Sept. 11 plotters could produce “a cornucopia of information for those still at large and a circus for those still in custody.”

Mukasey is no political partisan. What he is, however, is the most experienced and knowledgeable judge in America on trying terrorists in civilian court. Perhaps the Obami should have sought out and listened to his counsel. Instead, they’ve come to believe the claptrap of the ACLU and the leftist lawyers who now populate the Justice Department.

They are out to prove a point about our traditions or legal system, or something. But wait. We didn’t try German soldiers in federal court, nor combatants in any other war. And our legal system currently provides for military tribunals, where the U.S.S. Cole terrorists will be tried. So what exactly is the reason for all this? When he returns from bowing to the emperor of Japan, the president, we suppose, can opine on American traditions and historical precedent.

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey had tough words for the mind-numbingly misguided decision to move KSM to New York for trial. For starters, he thinks Obama has increased the danger of a terror incident in New York:

“The question is not whether they’re going to escape. The question is whether, not only that particular facility, but the city [at] large, will then become the focus for mischief in the form of murder by adherents of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — whether this raises the odds that it will. I would suggest to you that it raises them very high.”

And as for the rationale for moving the 9/11 mastermind to a civilian court, Mukasey explains:

“The plan seems to be to abandon the view that we’re in a war,” Mukasey said. “I can’t see anything good coming out of this. I certainly can’t see anything good coming out of it very quickly. And it think it would have been far preferable to try these case[s] in the venue that Congress created for trying and where they were about to be tried.”

Mukasey, a former federal judge who oversaw cases relating to the 1993 World Trade Center attacks, warned that a civilian court trial for the Sept. 11 plotters could produce “a cornucopia of information for those still at large and a circus for those still in custody.”

Mukasey is no political partisan. What he is, however, is the most experienced and knowledgeable judge in America on trying terrorists in civilian court. Perhaps the Obami should have sought out and listened to his counsel. Instead, they’ve come to believe the claptrap of the ACLU and the leftist lawyers who now populate the Justice Department.

They are out to prove a point about our traditions or legal system, or something. But wait. We didn’t try German soldiers in federal court, nor combatants in any other war. And our legal system currently provides for military tribunals, where the U.S.S. Cole terrorists will be tried. So what exactly is the reason for all this? When he returns from bowing to the emperor of Japan, the president, we suppose, can opine on American traditions and historical precedent.

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Now It Is Clear

Bill Kristol observes that Obama’s tenure is proving even worse than many conservatives had expected. (“His dithering on Afghanistan is deplorable, his appeasing of Iran disgraceful, his trying to heap new burdens on a struggling economy destructive. Add to this his sending Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for a circus-like court trial.”) He asks what the “loyal opposition” should do:

Oppose Obama’s destructive proposals (health care, cap and trade) and try to defeat them. Expose the foolishness of Obama’s ineffective policies (the stimulus, cash for clunkers) and show the American people their failure. And try to influence Obama’s policy choices by persuasion (Afghanistan), embarrassment (political correctness in the fight against jihadists), or legislation (Guantánamo), so as to minimize the damage done to the country on his watch.

In other words, be the movement of “no.” We had an interesting but highly unproductive argument at the end of the 2008 within conservative ranks. Throw out social conservatives! No, banish squishy liberals! Return to first principles. No, that’ll be the ticket to nowhere — innovate and problem-solve. On it went, based on nothing but the pundits’ own preferences and hunches. It had an air of unreality, for the discussion ignored the context, which, in fairness to those partaking in the debate, had yet to unfold.

Now it has unfolded. We know what Obamaism looks like. On the domestic side, it is liberal statism: higher taxes, mammoth bureaucracies, and a vortex of government regulation that sucks up private enterprise and transforms business decisions into political ones. It comes with an ungracious and sneering contempt for opposition. On the international scene, we have the intersection of incompetence and folly, with a strong element of cynicism. The Obami have deployed aggressive and losing gambits (Honduras and the Middle East), betrayed friends (Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic), snubbed allies (the Churchill bust goes home), thrown ourselves at the feet of adversaries (Russia, Iran), jettisoned human rights and the defense of democracy (Burma, Sudan, Iran), projected angst-ridden indecision (Afghanistan-war formulation), damaged our fighting ability (defense cuts and missile-defense withdrawal), and shown deference to debased institutions (the UN). Most alarmingly, Obama and his attorney general have scarred and scared our intelligence community and placed Lefty pie-in-the-sky moralizing above the safety of Americans (trying KSM, closing Guantanamo, and halting enhanced interrogations).

And so what should conservatives be doing? Well now it’s obvious — oppose, obstruct, warn, and cajole. There aren’t many weapons at conservatives’ disposal, but there are some. And the greatest is to be found in the reservoir of common sense and decency of the America people, who, when stirred, have risen up to oppose pernicious legislation and those whom they mistakenly trusted to behave in a responsible fashion. As Kristol points out, three years is a long time, but the congressional elections are approaching and the argument has begun. And now conservatives know precisely what must be done: as best they are able, slow and stop Obamaism until reinforcements arrive and the voters can render their verdict.

Bill Kristol observes that Obama’s tenure is proving even worse than many conservatives had expected. (“His dithering on Afghanistan is deplorable, his appeasing of Iran disgraceful, his trying to heap new burdens on a struggling economy destructive. Add to this his sending Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for a circus-like court trial.”) He asks what the “loyal opposition” should do:

Oppose Obama’s destructive proposals (health care, cap and trade) and try to defeat them. Expose the foolishness of Obama’s ineffective policies (the stimulus, cash for clunkers) and show the American people their failure. And try to influence Obama’s policy choices by persuasion (Afghanistan), embarrassment (political correctness in the fight against jihadists), or legislation (Guantánamo), so as to minimize the damage done to the country on his watch.

In other words, be the movement of “no.” We had an interesting but highly unproductive argument at the end of the 2008 within conservative ranks. Throw out social conservatives! No, banish squishy liberals! Return to first principles. No, that’ll be the ticket to nowhere — innovate and problem-solve. On it went, based on nothing but the pundits’ own preferences and hunches. It had an air of unreality, for the discussion ignored the context, which, in fairness to those partaking in the debate, had yet to unfold.

Now it has unfolded. We know what Obamaism looks like. On the domestic side, it is liberal statism: higher taxes, mammoth bureaucracies, and a vortex of government regulation that sucks up private enterprise and transforms business decisions into political ones. It comes with an ungracious and sneering contempt for opposition. On the international scene, we have the intersection of incompetence and folly, with a strong element of cynicism. The Obami have deployed aggressive and losing gambits (Honduras and the Middle East), betrayed friends (Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic), snubbed allies (the Churchill bust goes home), thrown ourselves at the feet of adversaries (Russia, Iran), jettisoned human rights and the defense of democracy (Burma, Sudan, Iran), projected angst-ridden indecision (Afghanistan-war formulation), damaged our fighting ability (defense cuts and missile-defense withdrawal), and shown deference to debased institutions (the UN). Most alarmingly, Obama and his attorney general have scarred and scared our intelligence community and placed Lefty pie-in-the-sky moralizing above the safety of Americans (trying KSM, closing Guantanamo, and halting enhanced interrogations).

And so what should conservatives be doing? Well now it’s obvious — oppose, obstruct, warn, and cajole. There aren’t many weapons at conservatives’ disposal, but there are some. And the greatest is to be found in the reservoir of common sense and decency of the America people, who, when stirred, have risen up to oppose pernicious legislation and those whom they mistakenly trusted to behave in a responsible fashion. As Kristol points out, three years is a long time, but the congressional elections are approaching and the argument has begun. And now conservatives know precisely what must be done: as best they are able, slow and stop Obamaism until reinforcements arrive and the voters can render their verdict.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Rep. Peter King calls moving Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the U.S. for trial the “worst decision by a U.S. president in history.”

Rudy Giuliani: “Returning some of the Guantanamo detainees to New York City for trial, specifically Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, has now brought us full circle — we have regressed to a pre-9/11 mentality with respect to Islamic extremist terrorism. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed should be treated like the war criminal he is and tried in a military court. He is not just another murderer, or even a mass murderer. He murdered as part of a declared war against us — America.”

John Yoo explains: “Trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court will be an intelligence bonanza for al Qaeda, tie up our courts for years on issues best left to the president and Congress, and further cripple our intelligence agencies’ efforts to fight terrorists abroad. KSM and his co-defendants will have all of the benefits and rights that the U.S. Constitution accords those who live here, most importantly the right to demand that the government produce in open court all of the information that it has on them, and how it was obtained.”

Bill Kristol on the choice for Democrats: “The political consequences will also extend to 54 Senate Democrats who voted recently against legislation to bar such civil trials–and to Democrats in the House who will be put on the spot as well. Congress could insist on military tribunals, and indeed in the past it has provided for such tribunals. I imagine Republicans on the Hill will try to move to overrule Holder, with legislation in the Senate, and with legislation and perhaps a discharge petition in the House. Holder can take his lumps for his reckless ideological decision if he wishes. Will congressional Democrats follow him off the cliff?”

Mark Ambinder on the U.S. trial of Guantanamo terrorists: “If this is politics, it’s really dumb politics.” Well yes, the scary part is that Obama and his attorney general think this is making us safer.

Marty Peretz on Fort Hood: “It was one of thousands of bloodlettings inspired by Islamic motives over the last decades. You can now add 51 victims to the dealing death and maiming numbers inspired by the ‘great God’ invoked by Hasan as he delivered his first gunfire volley. I am afraid that even the ever-so-fair, ever-eye-averting President Obama will have to reconsider his confidently euphonious message about belief and action in the Muslim orbit.” No sign of an end to eye-averting yet.

The McCain staffers are still trashing Sarah Palin. I suspect she’ll be on another presidential campaign. Them? Not so much.

Obama is not the health-care salesman his supporters may think he is: “More Americans now say it is not the federal government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage (50%) than say it is (47%). This is a first since Gallup began tracking this question, and a significant shift from as recently as three years ago, when two-thirds said ensuring healthcare coverage was the government’s responsibility.”

Rep. Peter King calls moving Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the U.S. for trial the “worst decision by a U.S. president in history.”

Rudy Giuliani: “Returning some of the Guantanamo detainees to New York City for trial, specifically Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, has now brought us full circle — we have regressed to a pre-9/11 mentality with respect to Islamic extremist terrorism. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed should be treated like the war criminal he is and tried in a military court. He is not just another murderer, or even a mass murderer. He murdered as part of a declared war against us — America.”

John Yoo explains: “Trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court will be an intelligence bonanza for al Qaeda, tie up our courts for years on issues best left to the president and Congress, and further cripple our intelligence agencies’ efforts to fight terrorists abroad. KSM and his co-defendants will have all of the benefits and rights that the U.S. Constitution accords those who live here, most importantly the right to demand that the government produce in open court all of the information that it has on them, and how it was obtained.”

Bill Kristol on the choice for Democrats: “The political consequences will also extend to 54 Senate Democrats who voted recently against legislation to bar such civil trials–and to Democrats in the House who will be put on the spot as well. Congress could insist on military tribunals, and indeed in the past it has provided for such tribunals. I imagine Republicans on the Hill will try to move to overrule Holder, with legislation in the Senate, and with legislation and perhaps a discharge petition in the House. Holder can take his lumps for his reckless ideological decision if he wishes. Will congressional Democrats follow him off the cliff?”

Mark Ambinder on the U.S. trial of Guantanamo terrorists: “If this is politics, it’s really dumb politics.” Well yes, the scary part is that Obama and his attorney general think this is making us safer.

Marty Peretz on Fort Hood: “It was one of thousands of bloodlettings inspired by Islamic motives over the last decades. You can now add 51 victims to the dealing death and maiming numbers inspired by the ‘great God’ invoked by Hasan as he delivered his first gunfire volley. I am afraid that even the ever-so-fair, ever-eye-averting President Obama will have to reconsider his confidently euphonious message about belief and action in the Muslim orbit.” No sign of an end to eye-averting yet.

The McCain staffers are still trashing Sarah Palin. I suspect she’ll be on another presidential campaign. Them? Not so much.

Obama is not the health-care salesman his supporters may think he is: “More Americans now say it is not the federal government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage (50%) than say it is (47%). This is a first since Gallup began tracking this question, and a significant shift from as recently as three years ago, when two-thirds said ensuring healthcare coverage was the government’s responsibility.”

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Re: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Goes to New York

Pete, the decision to transport Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the U.S. to be tried in an Article III court, presumably with the same rights as common American criminals, is shocking and entirely unnecessary. I would submit that someone in the Obama administration recognizes this. As pointed out to me today by a congressman infuriated by the decision, the president is out of the country. Congress is not in session. It’s a Friday. The ultimate bad-news dump. In this context, it suggests not only a queasy awareness that the American people won’t like this but also, frankly, political cowardice. This is a major decision with long-term consequences. If the president believes what he is doing is right, he should exercise leadership and explain it to the American people. Himself.

But, again, the decision itself is utterly unnecessary. As Sen. Joe Lieberman has pointed out, we have a military-tribunal system designed for precisely these cases. His statement reminded us:

The military commission system recently signed into law by the President as part of the National Defense Authorization Act provides standards of due process and fairness that fully comply with the requirements established by the Supreme Court and the Geneva Conventions. Earlier this year, when passing the National Defense Authorization Act, the Senate also passed language expressing its clear intent that military commissions rather than civilian courts in the U.S. are the appropriate forum for the trial of these alleged terrorists. I share the views of more than 140 family members of the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks who recently wrote to the Senate urging that the individuals charged with responsibility for those attacks should be tried by military commission rather than in civilian courts in the United States: It is inconceivable that we would bring these alleged terrorists back to New York for trial, to the scene of the carnage they created eight years ago, and give them a platform to mock the suffering of their victims and the victims’ families, and rally their followers to continue waging jihad against America.

And let’s recall how we got here. An informed legal guru observes that we decided to prosecute KSM in a military commission in part because past trials (e.g., those of the “Blind Sheikh” and Ramzi Yousef) may have compromised intelligence. So now we’ve gone back to the very system that, for legitimate national-security reasons, we had abandoned. As Andy McCarthy, who prosecuted the first World Trade Center bombing trial, observes:

Today’s announcement that KSM and other top al-Qaeda terrorists will be transferred to Manhattan federal court for civilian trials neatly fits this hidden agenda. Nothing results in more disclosures of government intelligence than civilian trials. They are a banquet of information, not just at the discovery stage but in the trial process itself, where witnesses — intelligence sources — must expose themselves and their secrets.

And what sort of trial? I find it difficult to believe that KSM will not enjoy all the panoply of rights and procedures available in any criminal proceeding. We can look forward to years of motions, demands for classified data, and efforts to prove up that information was extracted under duress and in violation of his constitutional rights. The jailers and interrogators are about to stand trial.

What do we hope to accomplish? It is almost unfathomable. Sen. Kit Bond declared: “Today’s announcement, as well as the Obama Justice Department’s recent decisions to dismantle and release information about the CIA’s interrogation program and support the erosion of the PATRIOT Act tools needed to keep us safe, calls into serious doubt their priorities — defeating terrorism to protect Americans or politically correct prosecutions.” Precisely so. Is this a bone to the netroot Left, which may be disappointed by an upcoming decision on Afghanistan? Or is this Eric Holder’s band of loony-Left DOJ attorneys run amok? Perhaps the Obama team is still out to impress the “Muslim World.”

The 9/11 Commission warned about an excess reliance on criminal-justice procedures and the failure to treat terrorism as a act of war. We are repeating the errors of the past, just days after the worst jihadist attack on American soil since 9/11. (Yes, that’s what it is when the killer shouts “Allahu Akbar!” and proceeds on his self-described mission “to do good work for God.”) We have a president and an administration that is unserious about national security and whose priorities are something other than keeping America safe. We are as a consequence less safe since Obama assumed office. The American people will, I strongly suspect, agree.

Pete, the decision to transport Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the U.S. to be tried in an Article III court, presumably with the same rights as common American criminals, is shocking and entirely unnecessary. I would submit that someone in the Obama administration recognizes this. As pointed out to me today by a congressman infuriated by the decision, the president is out of the country. Congress is not in session. It’s a Friday. The ultimate bad-news dump. In this context, it suggests not only a queasy awareness that the American people won’t like this but also, frankly, political cowardice. This is a major decision with long-term consequences. If the president believes what he is doing is right, he should exercise leadership and explain it to the American people. Himself.

But, again, the decision itself is utterly unnecessary. As Sen. Joe Lieberman has pointed out, we have a military-tribunal system designed for precisely these cases. His statement reminded us:

The military commission system recently signed into law by the President as part of the National Defense Authorization Act provides standards of due process and fairness that fully comply with the requirements established by the Supreme Court and the Geneva Conventions. Earlier this year, when passing the National Defense Authorization Act, the Senate also passed language expressing its clear intent that military commissions rather than civilian courts in the U.S. are the appropriate forum for the trial of these alleged terrorists. I share the views of more than 140 family members of the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks who recently wrote to the Senate urging that the individuals charged with responsibility for those attacks should be tried by military commission rather than in civilian courts in the United States: It is inconceivable that we would bring these alleged terrorists back to New York for trial, to the scene of the carnage they created eight years ago, and give them a platform to mock the suffering of their victims and the victims’ families, and rally their followers to continue waging jihad against America.

And let’s recall how we got here. An informed legal guru observes that we decided to prosecute KSM in a military commission in part because past trials (e.g., those of the “Blind Sheikh” and Ramzi Yousef) may have compromised intelligence. So now we’ve gone back to the very system that, for legitimate national-security reasons, we had abandoned. As Andy McCarthy, who prosecuted the first World Trade Center bombing trial, observes:

Today’s announcement that KSM and other top al-Qaeda terrorists will be transferred to Manhattan federal court for civilian trials neatly fits this hidden agenda. Nothing results in more disclosures of government intelligence than civilian trials. They are a banquet of information, not just at the discovery stage but in the trial process itself, where witnesses — intelligence sources — must expose themselves and their secrets.

And what sort of trial? I find it difficult to believe that KSM will not enjoy all the panoply of rights and procedures available in any criminal proceeding. We can look forward to years of motions, demands for classified data, and efforts to prove up that information was extracted under duress and in violation of his constitutional rights. The jailers and interrogators are about to stand trial.

What do we hope to accomplish? It is almost unfathomable. Sen. Kit Bond declared: “Today’s announcement, as well as the Obama Justice Department’s recent decisions to dismantle and release information about the CIA’s interrogation program and support the erosion of the PATRIOT Act tools needed to keep us safe, calls into serious doubt their priorities — defeating terrorism to protect Americans or politically correct prosecutions.” Precisely so. Is this a bone to the netroot Left, which may be disappointed by an upcoming decision on Afghanistan? Or is this Eric Holder’s band of loony-Left DOJ attorneys run amok? Perhaps the Obama team is still out to impress the “Muslim World.”

The 9/11 Commission warned about an excess reliance on criminal-justice procedures and the failure to treat terrorism as a act of war. We are repeating the errors of the past, just days after the worst jihadist attack on American soil since 9/11. (Yes, that’s what it is when the killer shouts “Allahu Akbar!” and proceeds on his self-described mission “to do good work for God.”) We have a president and an administration that is unserious about national security and whose priorities are something other than keeping America safe. We are as a consequence less safe since Obama assumed office. The American people will, I strongly suspect, agree.

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To Yemen?

Rep. Frank Wolf has sent a letter to the Justice Department and issued a press release questioning the release of Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, especially “in light of the recent tragedy at Fort Hood where the alleged shooter reportedly has ties to a radical cleric now living in Yemen.” Yes, that is correct. Wolf’s press release explains:

“The American people have a right to know who these detainees are and what acts of terror they were engaged in,” Wolf wrote. “If the public had this information, they would never tolerate the release of these men back to unstable countries with a sizeable al Qaeda presence.” …

“If the administration does not halt these pending releases immediately, it could be responsible for creating a new revolving door of terrorism that will cost American lives,” Wolf wrote today. “The security of the American people could be at risk because of the administration’s relentless pursuit of a campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay by January 22, 2010.”

“Why has the administration made basic information about these dangerous detainees so highly classified that it cannot be shared with the American people or the media?” Wolf asked. “I have reviewed the materials. These are dangerous individuals. To release committed al Qaeda terrorists back to Yemen under these conditions would be an act of gross malfeasance that undermines the safety of the American people.”

In his statement, Wolf also raised the red flag about Anwar al-Aulaqi, “the radical cleric now living in Yemen who has ties to Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal M. Hasan and also mentored two of the 9/11 hijackers.” Wolf does not subscribe to the view that Hasan was simply suffering from post-traumatic stress:

“As the facts surrounding the Fort Hood attack have emerged, it is becoming clear that anyone who is cited in the 9/11 Commission Report — as al-Aulaqi was on page 221 — as a ‘significant’ contact for 9/11 terrorists Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar should be considered a ‘significant’ connection to Hasan,” Wolf wrote. “Al-Aulaqi has subsequently praised Hasan’s attack stating on his Web site: ‘Nidal Hassan is a hero. … Nidal opened fire on soldiers who were on their way to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. How can there be any dispute about the virtue of what he has done? In fact the only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the US army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal,’’’ according to a translation.

Really, if not for the appalling decision to move 9/11 ringleader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the U.S. for a trial — that will soon devolve into a three-ring circus in which the U.S. and its defenders are in the dock — the decision to export the Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, where they can hear the same pearls of wisdom that inspired Hasan, would be tops on the list of “most outrageous things” the Obama team has done recently. But there is always plenty of competition for that distinction.

Rep. Frank Wolf has sent a letter to the Justice Department and issued a press release questioning the release of Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, especially “in light of the recent tragedy at Fort Hood where the alleged shooter reportedly has ties to a radical cleric now living in Yemen.” Yes, that is correct. Wolf’s press release explains:

“The American people have a right to know who these detainees are and what acts of terror they were engaged in,” Wolf wrote. “If the public had this information, they would never tolerate the release of these men back to unstable countries with a sizeable al Qaeda presence.” …

“If the administration does not halt these pending releases immediately, it could be responsible for creating a new revolving door of terrorism that will cost American lives,” Wolf wrote today. “The security of the American people could be at risk because of the administration’s relentless pursuit of a campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay by January 22, 2010.”

“Why has the administration made basic information about these dangerous detainees so highly classified that it cannot be shared with the American people or the media?” Wolf asked. “I have reviewed the materials. These are dangerous individuals. To release committed al Qaeda terrorists back to Yemen under these conditions would be an act of gross malfeasance that undermines the safety of the American people.”

In his statement, Wolf also raised the red flag about Anwar al-Aulaqi, “the radical cleric now living in Yemen who has ties to Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal M. Hasan and also mentored two of the 9/11 hijackers.” Wolf does not subscribe to the view that Hasan was simply suffering from post-traumatic stress:

“As the facts surrounding the Fort Hood attack have emerged, it is becoming clear that anyone who is cited in the 9/11 Commission Report — as al-Aulaqi was on page 221 — as a ‘significant’ contact for 9/11 terrorists Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar should be considered a ‘significant’ connection to Hasan,” Wolf wrote. “Al-Aulaqi has subsequently praised Hasan’s attack stating on his Web site: ‘Nidal Hassan is a hero. … Nidal opened fire on soldiers who were on their way to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. How can there be any dispute about the virtue of what he has done? In fact the only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the US army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal,’’’ according to a translation.

Really, if not for the appalling decision to move 9/11 ringleader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the U.S. for a trial — that will soon devolve into a three-ring circus in which the U.S. and its defenders are in the dock — the decision to export the Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, where they can hear the same pearls of wisdom that inspired Hasan, would be tops on the list of “most outrageous things” the Obama team has done recently. But there is always plenty of competition for that distinction.

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Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Goes to New York

The Obama administration is pursuing the prosecution of the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court in New York. In light of this astonishing decision, I was reminded by a friend that, according to the New York Times, Sheikh Mohammed met his captors with cocky defiance at first, telling one veteran CIA officer that he would talk only when he got to New York and was assigned a lawyer. It looks as though Sheikh Mohammed has seen his defiance vindicated. He has now found an administration more amenable to his view of justice than was the previous one. The Holderization of American justice continues. And I suspect that there will be bad consequences all around for this action.

The Obama administration is pursuing the prosecution of the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court in New York. In light of this astonishing decision, I was reminded by a friend that, according to the New York Times, Sheikh Mohammed met his captors with cocky defiance at first, telling one veteran CIA officer that he would talk only when he got to New York and was assigned a lawyer. It looks as though Sheikh Mohammed has seen his defiance vindicated. He has now found an administration more amenable to his view of justice than was the previous one. The Holderization of American justice continues. And I suspect that there will be bad consequences all around for this action.

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Let’s Help al Qaeda to Kill Americans

What is the best way for terrorists to wreak havoc in the United States? That was the question posed, and answered, yesterday on the New York Times website by Steven D. Levitt, the University of Chicago professor of economics and author of the best-selling book, Freakonomics.

Levitt’s advice to al Qaeda, based upon the economic principle of generating the greatest quantity of harm with the least possible input of resources, would be to learn from the Washington D.C snipers of 2002. He suggests arming

20 terrorists with rifles and cars, and arrang[ing] to have them begin shooting randomly at pre-set times all across the country. Big cities, little cities, suburbs, etc. Have them move around a lot. No one will know when and where the next attack will be. The chaos would be unbelievable, especially considering how few resources it would require of the terrorists. It would also be extremely hard to catch these guys. The damage wouldn’t be as extreme as detonating a nuclear bomb in New York City, of course; but it sure would be a lot easier to obtain a handful of guns than a nuclear weapon.

This does indeed sound like a terrifying scenario and perhaps there is a terrorist cell hidden here that will carry it out.

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What is the best way for terrorists to wreak havoc in the United States? That was the question posed, and answered, yesterday on the New York Times website by Steven D. Levitt, the University of Chicago professor of economics and author of the best-selling book, Freakonomics.

Levitt’s advice to al Qaeda, based upon the economic principle of generating the greatest quantity of harm with the least possible input of resources, would be to learn from the Washington D.C snipers of 2002. He suggests arming

20 terrorists with rifles and cars, and arrang[ing] to have them begin shooting randomly at pre-set times all across the country. Big cities, little cities, suburbs, etc. Have them move around a lot. No one will know when and where the next attack will be. The chaos would be unbelievable, especially considering how few resources it would require of the terrorists. It would also be extremely hard to catch these guys. The damage wouldn’t be as extreme as detonating a nuclear bomb in New York City, of course; but it sure would be a lot easier to obtain a handful of guns than a nuclear weapon.

This does indeed sound like a terrifying scenario and perhaps there is a terrorist cell hidden here that will carry it out.

Levitt believes that putting such suggestions in print for terrorists to read is “a form of public service.” By thinking of plausible ways of causing violent destruction, he writes, “it gives terror fighters a chance to consider and plan for these scenarios before they occur.”

Levitt’s column generated what he says today, in a subsequent posting on the Times website, was an immense amount of hate mail: “The people e-mailing me can’t decide whether I am a moron, a traitor, or both.”

But there are also quite a few letters on the site applauding Levitt, like this one from a person who identifies herself simply as Kelly: “I think you are doing a terrific job actually THINKING about our situation rather than reacting like so many of our fellow Americans.”

Is Levitt indeed performing a public service, or is he a moron, traitor, or both?

Answering this is not as easy as it might appear at first glance. The fact is that we do need to think carefully about the manifold ways terrorists might attack us again. The U.S. government has failed abysmally at that task in the past.

In his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, CIA Director George Tenet recalls with some pride how on the evening of September 12, 2001, he was sitting in his office “kicking around ideas” with a senior agency official when they hit upon the idea of creating “a group with the CIA whose sole purpose in life would be to think contrarian thoughts.” Such a unit, duly created by Tenet and dubbed the “Red Cell,” was given the assignment of “speculat[ing] on what was going through Osama bin Laden’s mind.”

In other words, up until September 11, it never occurred to the clueless Tenet or anyone else in a position of responsibility at our premier intelligence agency to perform the elementary task of thinking systematically about how our terrorist adversaries were thinking about us, including about how they might attack us.

There is thus a case for a public discussion of the issue raised by Levitt. But raising the issue and generating actual scenarios in public are two different things. Levitt defends himself on this point by noting that “a lot of the angry responses [he received made] me wonder what everyday Americans think terrorists do all day. My guess is that they brainstorm ideas for terrorist plots. And you have to believe that terrorists are total idiots if it never occurred to them after the Washington D.C. sniper shootings that maybe a sniper plot wasn’t a bad idea.”

True enough. Or is it true at all?

Yes, there are terrorist masterminds out there who do not need our help cooking up the most intricate and lethal plots against the United States. The attacks of September 11 alone are sufficient evidence of that.

But there are also more than a few terrorists and would-be terrorists roaming around who might qualify as “idiots,” or something close. Most recruits for terrorist action in the Islamist cause are not sophisticated planner types like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed but angry, ignorant, low-level figures, used by the higher-level terrorist plotters as expendable “muscle.”

Richard Reid is one such figure. If he had been smart enough to set off his shoe-bomb in the privacy of the bathroom instead of while remaining in his seat, American Airlines Flight 63 might now be resting quietly on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean with all of it 197 passengers and crew.

Then there was Zacharias Moussaoui, who was encountering trouble in his Minnesota flight school. This deranged fanatic might have only needed scant prompting, perhaps by stumbling across a clever scenario cooked up by Steven Levitt, to find a way to work al Qaeda’s will that was easier than poring through aviation manuals and struggling to operate a Boeing 747 simulator.

There was also el Sayyid Nosair, an operative in the nascent al Qaeda operation, part of the band that was to attack the World Trade Center the first time around in 1993. In 1990, Nosair spent his time and energy planning and carrying out the assassination of the firebrand rabbi Meir Kahane. Given the combination of Kahane’s extremist views and marginal status, this act was senseless, and even counterproductive, from the point of view of Nosair’s own cause. In choosing his victim, Nosair could well have used some help from an economist like Levitt. Will Levitt now offer to provide a public list of superior human targets, whose deaths would be far more useful to the Islamist cause? The logic of his argument suggests that the answer would be yes.

But beyond the logic or illogic of Levitt’s argument, there is something else. Thousands of Americans died on September 11. Although Levitt minimizes the dangers that lie ahead, blithely writing that his guess is that “the terrorism threat just isn’t that great,” the fact is that, like everyone else, he does not know what he does not know. It is entirely possible that the United States will be hit again, and hit harder than we were on September 11.

To Levitt, however, this solemn subject is not solemn at all. He writes about it in a glib and flippant tone, as in his summons to the public to come up with even more lethal scenarios by which al Qaeda might wreak death and destruction on the United States: “I’m sure many readers have far better ideas. I would love to hear them.”

One of the better ripostes to Levitt on the Times website came from a reader named Steve: “Sir, unable to determine if you are demonic, but your actions are demonic. Contemplate this name, Christine Lee Hanson.”

Christine Lee Hanson was a two-year old who perished on board United Airlines Flight 175 when it plowed into the World Trade Center on September 11.

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