Commentary Magazine


Topic: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

Flotsam and Jetsam

Because they haven’t beaten this one to death: “To minimize expected losses in next fall’s election, President Barack Obama’s party is testing a line of attack that resurrects George W. Bush as a boogeyman and castigates Republicans as cozy with Wall Street.” I imagine that the GOP will be gleeful if this is the best the Democrats can do.

Kathleen Parker thinks blaming Bush is so 2008: “George W. Bush is officially retired as the fault-guy for the nation’s ills, and Barack Obama owns the game. Whether he wants to or not.”

The CIA is apparently sick of being the fall-guy for the Obami: “‘One day the President is pointing the finger and blaming the intelligence services, saying there is a systemic failure,’ said one agency official. ‘Now we are heroes. The fact is that we are doing everything humanly possible to stay on top of the security situation. The deaths of our operatives shows just how involved we are on the ground.’ But CIA bosses claim they were unfairly blamed at a time the covert government. . .Some CIA officials are angry at being criticised by the White House after Abdulmutallab, 23, was allowed to slip through the security net and board a U.S.-bound flight in Amsterdam despite evidence he was a terror threat.’” And then there is the special prosecutor who is reinvestigating the CIA operatives as well as the decision to take interrogation duties away from them. You can see why they are mad.

Marc Thiessen: “Those who argue that we should not used enhanced techniques even on the KSM’s of the world are effectively arguing from a position of radical pacifism.  They are opposed to coercion no matter what the cost in innocent lives.  We should respect their opinion, they way we respect the right of conscientious objectors to abstain from military service.  But that does not mean we put pacifists in charge of decisions on war and peace.  Same should go for decisions when it comes to interrogation.”

Terrible news: the former Washington Post ombudsperson Deborah Howell, a classy lady, has been killed. R. I. P.

The Obami have apparently convinced themselves that those “crippling sanctions” will make them unpopular with the Iranian people who have been pleading for the U.S. to adopt a policy of regime change: “Sanctions will be a difficult balancing act for the administration, since it acknowledges that three previous rounds of sanctions have failed to deter Iran, and it also wants to avoid angering Iranians protesting in the streets by depriving them of Western goods. That is why the administration is focusing on the Revolutionary Guards, who are increasingly detested by the protesters, and who have built up billions of dollars of business interests in telecommunications, oil and construction.” And we think the Revolutionary Guards can’t figure out how to evade “focused” sanctions? Oy. So many excuses for doing so little. But at least they’ve figured out (when was it exactly?) that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate was wrong about Iran’s nuclear program.

Remember when liberals used to be funny and artistic? Now they are humorless, while conservatives are the funny and poetic ones.

Marty Peretz notices that liberals are also shy these days: “Joe Klein, who spent a lot of print trying more or less to exonerate Dr. Major Nidal Malik Hasan by dint of his being a nutcase, has been curiously silent about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. In fact, there’s been a certain shyness among the whole left-wing blogosphere (and among Democrats, generally) about the skivvies terrorist. There is no place for these journalists to hide and no logic, however dubious, with which they can transfer the guilt to us. And, believe me, if they can’t invent this, there is nothing to invent—nothing.”

Because they haven’t beaten this one to death: “To minimize expected losses in next fall’s election, President Barack Obama’s party is testing a line of attack that resurrects George W. Bush as a boogeyman and castigates Republicans as cozy with Wall Street.” I imagine that the GOP will be gleeful if this is the best the Democrats can do.

Kathleen Parker thinks blaming Bush is so 2008: “George W. Bush is officially retired as the fault-guy for the nation’s ills, and Barack Obama owns the game. Whether he wants to or not.”

The CIA is apparently sick of being the fall-guy for the Obami: “‘One day the President is pointing the finger and blaming the intelligence services, saying there is a systemic failure,’ said one agency official. ‘Now we are heroes. The fact is that we are doing everything humanly possible to stay on top of the security situation. The deaths of our operatives shows just how involved we are on the ground.’ But CIA bosses claim they were unfairly blamed at a time the covert government. . .Some CIA officials are angry at being criticised by the White House after Abdulmutallab, 23, was allowed to slip through the security net and board a U.S.-bound flight in Amsterdam despite evidence he was a terror threat.’” And then there is the special prosecutor who is reinvestigating the CIA operatives as well as the decision to take interrogation duties away from them. You can see why they are mad.

Marc Thiessen: “Those who argue that we should not used enhanced techniques even on the KSM’s of the world are effectively arguing from a position of radical pacifism.  They are opposed to coercion no matter what the cost in innocent lives.  We should respect their opinion, they way we respect the right of conscientious objectors to abstain from military service.  But that does not mean we put pacifists in charge of decisions on war and peace.  Same should go for decisions when it comes to interrogation.”

Terrible news: the former Washington Post ombudsperson Deborah Howell, a classy lady, has been killed. R. I. P.

The Obami have apparently convinced themselves that those “crippling sanctions” will make them unpopular with the Iranian people who have been pleading for the U.S. to adopt a policy of regime change: “Sanctions will be a difficult balancing act for the administration, since it acknowledges that three previous rounds of sanctions have failed to deter Iran, and it also wants to avoid angering Iranians protesting in the streets by depriving them of Western goods. That is why the administration is focusing on the Revolutionary Guards, who are increasingly detested by the protesters, and who have built up billions of dollars of business interests in telecommunications, oil and construction.” And we think the Revolutionary Guards can’t figure out how to evade “focused” sanctions? Oy. So many excuses for doing so little. But at least they’ve figured out (when was it exactly?) that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate was wrong about Iran’s nuclear program.

Remember when liberals used to be funny and artistic? Now they are humorless, while conservatives are the funny and poetic ones.

Marty Peretz notices that liberals are also shy these days: “Joe Klein, who spent a lot of print trying more or less to exonerate Dr. Major Nidal Malik Hasan by dint of his being a nutcase, has been curiously silent about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. In fact, there’s been a certain shyness among the whole left-wing blogosphere (and among Democrats, generally) about the skivvies terrorist. There is no place for these journalists to hide and no logic, however dubious, with which they can transfer the guilt to us. And, believe me, if they can’t invent this, there is nothing to invent—nothing.”

Read Less

Enough with the Yemen Terrorist Pipeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Profile Me if You Must

I don’t want to be profiled at the airport. It has happened before, and I hate it. Volunteering for more isn’t what I feel like doing right now, but our airport security system is so half-baked and dysfunctional it may as well not even exist, and flying is about to become more miserable anyway. So rather than doubling down on grandma and micromanaging everyone on the plane, we might want to pay as much attention to people as to their luggage, especially military-aged males who make unusual and suspicious-looking travel arrangements. That’s what the Israelis do, and that’s why security agents take me into a room and interrogate me every time I pass through Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Israeli airport security is the most thorough and strict in the world, as one might expect in one of the most terrorized countries. No plane leaving Ben-Gurion has ever been hijacked or otherwise attacked by a terrorist. The system works, yet you don’t have to take off your shoes in the security line, no one cares if you pack perfume from the duty-free in your carry-on, you can listen to your iPod 55 minutes before landing, and you don’t have to stand in front of invasive and expensive body-scanning machines.

The Israelis look for weapons, of course. You aren’t at all likely to sneak one on board. Just as important, though, the Israelis are on the look-out for terrorists. Who would you rather sit next to? A woman carrying shampoo and tweezers, or 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta, even if he’s not carrying anything?

Israeli security agents interview everyone, and they subject travelers who fit certain profiles to additional scrutiny. I don’t know exactly what their criteria are, but I do know they aren’t just taking Arabs and Muslims aside. They take me aside, too, partly because of my gender and age but mostly because a huge percentage of my passport stamps are from countries with serious terrorist problems.

“Does anyone in Lebanon know you’re here?” they usually ask me. They’ve also asked if I’ve ever met with anyone in Hezbollah. I am not going to lie during an airport security interview, especially not when the answer can be easily found using Google. They know I’ve met with Hezbollah. That’s why my luggage gets hand-searched one sock at a time while elderly tourists from Florida skate through. I can’t say I enjoy this procedure, but I don’t take it personally, and it makes a lot more sense than letting me skate through while grandma’s luggage is hand-searched instead.

The United States need not and should not import the Israeli system. It’s labor intensive, slow, and at times incredibly aggravating. Americans wouldn’t put up with it, and it wouldn’t scale well. The one thing we can and should learn from the Israelis, though, is that we need to pay as much attention to who gets on airplanes as to what they’re bringing on board.

I don’t like being profiled, but the Israelis aren’t wrong for looking more closely at me than at, say, an 80-year-old black woman from Kansas or a 12-year-old kid from Japan. When I get on a plane in the United States, though, I often breeze past women decades older than me while they’re being frisked. Almost every single person in line knows it’s ridiculous. We don’t say anything, partly because we don’t want to get in trouble, and partly because it feels vaguely “fair.”

Maybe it is, but it’s no way to catch terrorists. And it’s not as if the only alternative is a separate policy for Arabs and Muslims. Racial and religious profiling won’t even work. Shoe bomber Richard Reid wouldn’t have been caught that way, and it’s probably safe to let a 90 year-old woman from Dubai through with minimal hassle.

Right now there appears to be no effort whatsoever to discriminate among passengers using any criteria, let alone racist criteria. “Pants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did not have a passport, did not have any luggage, and bought a one-way ticket with cash. His name is in a database of possible terrorists. Any Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, or all-American white boys from Iowa who fit that description should be stopped. Abdulmutallab wasn’t stopped. In 2004, though, Senator Ted Kennedy found himself with his name on the no-fly list.

The TSA’s whole mindset is wrong. Its agents confiscate things, even harmless things, and they apply additional scrutiny to things carried by people selected at random. If they were also tasked with looking for dangerous people, they would rightly ease up on grandmothers and senators, and they’d have a competently compiled list in the computer of those who are known to be dangerous. And if some kind of broad profiling means I’ll have to suffer the indignity of being frisked while the nun in line behind me does not, it’s no worse, really, than the embarrassment and contempt I’ll feel if the nun gets frisked instead.

Security agents will never find everything or everyone. It’s impossible. Abdulmutallab sewed a bomb into his underwear. Not even the most draconian new rules imaginable will allow agents to search inside anyone’s underwear. Patting down grandpa below the mid-thigh won’t do any good. Patting down Abdulmutallab below the mid-thigh wouldn’t have done any good either — all the more reason to start paying as much attention to people as to what they carry.

I don’t want to be profiled at the airport. It has happened before, and I hate it. Volunteering for more isn’t what I feel like doing right now, but our airport security system is so half-baked and dysfunctional it may as well not even exist, and flying is about to become more miserable anyway. So rather than doubling down on grandma and micromanaging everyone on the plane, we might want to pay as much attention to people as to their luggage, especially military-aged males who make unusual and suspicious-looking travel arrangements. That’s what the Israelis do, and that’s why security agents take me into a room and interrogate me every time I pass through Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Israeli airport security is the most thorough and strict in the world, as one might expect in one of the most terrorized countries. No plane leaving Ben-Gurion has ever been hijacked or otherwise attacked by a terrorist. The system works, yet you don’t have to take off your shoes in the security line, no one cares if you pack perfume from the duty-free in your carry-on, you can listen to your iPod 55 minutes before landing, and you don’t have to stand in front of invasive and expensive body-scanning machines.

The Israelis look for weapons, of course. You aren’t at all likely to sneak one on board. Just as important, though, the Israelis are on the look-out for terrorists. Who would you rather sit next to? A woman carrying shampoo and tweezers, or 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta, even if he’s not carrying anything?

Israeli security agents interview everyone, and they subject travelers who fit certain profiles to additional scrutiny. I don’t know exactly what their criteria are, but I do know they aren’t just taking Arabs and Muslims aside. They take me aside, too, partly because of my gender and age but mostly because a huge percentage of my passport stamps are from countries with serious terrorist problems.

“Does anyone in Lebanon know you’re here?” they usually ask me. They’ve also asked if I’ve ever met with anyone in Hezbollah. I am not going to lie during an airport security interview, especially not when the answer can be easily found using Google. They know I’ve met with Hezbollah. That’s why my luggage gets hand-searched one sock at a time while elderly tourists from Florida skate through. I can’t say I enjoy this procedure, but I don’t take it personally, and it makes a lot more sense than letting me skate through while grandma’s luggage is hand-searched instead.

The United States need not and should not import the Israeli system. It’s labor intensive, slow, and at times incredibly aggravating. Americans wouldn’t put up with it, and it wouldn’t scale well. The one thing we can and should learn from the Israelis, though, is that we need to pay as much attention to who gets on airplanes as to what they’re bringing on board.

I don’t like being profiled, but the Israelis aren’t wrong for looking more closely at me than at, say, an 80-year-old black woman from Kansas or a 12-year-old kid from Japan. When I get on a plane in the United States, though, I often breeze past women decades older than me while they’re being frisked. Almost every single person in line knows it’s ridiculous. We don’t say anything, partly because we don’t want to get in trouble, and partly because it feels vaguely “fair.”

Maybe it is, but it’s no way to catch terrorists. And it’s not as if the only alternative is a separate policy for Arabs and Muslims. Racial and religious profiling won’t even work. Shoe bomber Richard Reid wouldn’t have been caught that way, and it’s probably safe to let a 90 year-old woman from Dubai through with minimal hassle.

Right now there appears to be no effort whatsoever to discriminate among passengers using any criteria, let alone racist criteria. “Pants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did not have a passport, did not have any luggage, and bought a one-way ticket with cash. His name is in a database of possible terrorists. Any Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, or all-American white boys from Iowa who fit that description should be stopped. Abdulmutallab wasn’t stopped. In 2004, though, Senator Ted Kennedy found himself with his name on the no-fly list.

The TSA’s whole mindset is wrong. Its agents confiscate things, even harmless things, and they apply additional scrutiny to things carried by people selected at random. If they were also tasked with looking for dangerous people, they would rightly ease up on grandmothers and senators, and they’d have a competently compiled list in the computer of those who are known to be dangerous. And if some kind of broad profiling means I’ll have to suffer the indignity of being frisked while the nun in line behind me does not, it’s no worse, really, than the embarrassment and contempt I’ll feel if the nun gets frisked instead.

Security agents will never find everything or everyone. It’s impossible. Abdulmutallab sewed a bomb into his underwear. Not even the most draconian new rules imaginable will allow agents to search inside anyone’s underwear. Patting down grandpa below the mid-thigh won’t do any good. Patting down Abdulmutallab below the mid-thigh wouldn’t have done any good either — all the more reason to start paying as much attention to people as to what they carry.

Read Less

The Politics of Whining

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is: “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is: “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

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A Systematic Failure, Certainly

Four days after an al-Qaeda-supported Islamic terrorist nearly butchered 278 people, two days after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said “the system worked,” and a day after a slovenly and disengaged performance in which Obama told us that the Christmas Day bomber was really an “isolated extremist,” Obama emerged once again to assure us that, well, okay, we had a “catastrophic breach” of security and a “systematic failure.”

As more details trickle out, we learn that the bomber was likely aided by al-Qaeda and inspired by the same imam who was Major Nadal Hassan’s e-mail pal. Not isolated at all, was he. And now we learn just how catastrophic was the failure:

The father of terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab met with the Central Intelligence Agency at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, and told of his son’s likely radicalization, according to the CIA.The initial meeting Nov. 19 led to a broader gathering of multiple U.S. agencies the next day, including representatives of the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and the CIA, in which the information was shared, a U.S. official said.

With no hint of irony, some hapless official tells us (on background, of course) that “it is unclear whether intelligence officials in Washington effectively collected and analyzed all the relevant information gathered in Nigeria, pointing toward a possible lapse that could have helped prevent Mr. Abdulmutallab getting on the plane he attempted to bomb.” Let me take a stab at that one: they didn’t effectively collect and analyze all the relevant information because Abdulmutallab got on the plane and almost incinerated hundreds of people. So what were Napolitano and the president talking about up until now? Were they trying to flim-flam us or were they grossly and inexcusably unprepared and ill-informed?

This is a scandal of the first order. On this one there is no George W. Bush to blame. There is only the president and his tragically clueless administration. Unlike the  pre-9/11 bits of data, which never wound up in the right hands, in this case we had a specific bomber, a specific tip, and the imam was literally in our gun-sights (reports say he escaped the predator attack). And the intelligence community was given it all on a silver platter. This is the quintessential failure to connect dots. Had the detonator not failed or an alert passenger not intervened, we would have had not a catastrophic failure but a catastrophe.

Two suggestions for the president: end the vacation and fire some people. And if he wants to show that he isn’t cowering from an increasingly infuriated public, he would do well to hold a press conference and answer each and every question put to him. If he chooses not to, the scandal may turn into Obama’s political hurricane, akin to Katrina. Perhaps it already has.

Four days after an al-Qaeda-supported Islamic terrorist nearly butchered 278 people, two days after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said “the system worked,” and a day after a slovenly and disengaged performance in which Obama told us that the Christmas Day bomber was really an “isolated extremist,” Obama emerged once again to assure us that, well, okay, we had a “catastrophic breach” of security and a “systematic failure.”

As more details trickle out, we learn that the bomber was likely aided by al-Qaeda and inspired by the same imam who was Major Nadal Hassan’s e-mail pal. Not isolated at all, was he. And now we learn just how catastrophic was the failure:

The father of terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab met with the Central Intelligence Agency at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, and told of his son’s likely radicalization, according to the CIA.The initial meeting Nov. 19 led to a broader gathering of multiple U.S. agencies the next day, including representatives of the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and the CIA, in which the information was shared, a U.S. official said.

With no hint of irony, some hapless official tells us (on background, of course) that “it is unclear whether intelligence officials in Washington effectively collected and analyzed all the relevant information gathered in Nigeria, pointing toward a possible lapse that could have helped prevent Mr. Abdulmutallab getting on the plane he attempted to bomb.” Let me take a stab at that one: they didn’t effectively collect and analyze all the relevant information because Abdulmutallab got on the plane and almost incinerated hundreds of people. So what were Napolitano and the president talking about up until now? Were they trying to flim-flam us or were they grossly and inexcusably unprepared and ill-informed?

This is a scandal of the first order. On this one there is no George W. Bush to blame. There is only the president and his tragically clueless administration. Unlike the  pre-9/11 bits of data, which never wound up in the right hands, in this case we had a specific bomber, a specific tip, and the imam was literally in our gun-sights (reports say he escaped the predator attack). And the intelligence community was given it all on a silver platter. This is the quintessential failure to connect dots. Had the detonator not failed or an alert passenger not intervened, we would have had not a catastrophic failure but a catastrophe.

Two suggestions for the president: end the vacation and fire some people. And if he wants to show that he isn’t cowering from an increasingly infuriated public, he would do well to hold a press conference and answer each and every question put to him. If he chooses not to, the scandal may turn into Obama’s political hurricane, akin to Katrina. Perhaps it already has.

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Time to Distance From the White House?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Jamie Fly on Obama’s new expression of “deep admiration” for the Iranian protesters: “Now that the President seems so concerned about the events unfolding on Iran’s streets, perhaps someone should ask the White House whether the President believes that Sen. Kerry should even contemplate a visit to Tehran to meet with the very officials that are ordering the beatings and killings he has just condemned.  The answer might tell us how far he is really willing to go to ‘bear witness.’”

Stephen Hayes observes that Obama’s comments “fell so flat,” given the lack of any “action item” other than calling for the Iranian regime to meet its international obligations. It was a “silly statement,” he says. Charles Krauthammer adds: “Meaningless words. . . This is a hinge of history. . . This is a moment in history and he is missing it.”

It isn’t easy being a Democratic incumbent in the Obama era: “Political observers should expect more retirement announcements from centrist Democrats, according to Rep. Dan Boren (Okla.), himself a centrist Democrat.”

Rep. Pete Hoekstra blasts Obama: “After eleven months in office, the president is still sending contradictory messages on national security. . . He says he wants to address the threats yet look at how he has responded to this, how he responded to Fort Hood, how he’s open to prosecuting folks in the CIA, how he’s closing Guantanamo Bay, and how he’s bringing terror suspects to New York City.”

Rory Cooper of Heritage on Obama’s reaction to the Christmas Day bombing attack: “The overwhelming negative opinion of the President’s reaction is a result of Obama’s reckless complacency over the past year. President Obama spent the past 12 months beating up on the men and women of the CIA, on the soldiers who ably run Gitmo, campaigning against the Patriot Act (even though he now recognizes its importance), making terrorism a law enforcement issue, announcing a show trial for KSM in NYC, and cutting defense appropriations in favor of sweetheart stimulus deals. The first thing he did with Abdulmutallab was to read him his rights.”

Only a day before Obama spinmeister Marc Ambinder was praising the “strategy” of having Obama hide after a terrorist attack. Now he muses: “Did Obama, attempting to make a clean break from the Bush years vis-a-vis communicating to the public about terrorism, put too much faith in DHS Secretary Napolitano to serve as the front-line communicator?” Really, the obsession with being “not Bush” is getting to be pathological — Bush talked to the public directly about terrorism so Obama shouldn’t? Good grief.

You want horrifying? Ann Althouse takes us through the entire Janet Napolitano interview. The full interview is actually worse than the “system worked” snippet. Okay, she’s not the real problem but she’s a horrid Homeland Security Secretary and really should go.

Marc Thiessen warns us: “Instead of looking for ways to release these dangerous men, we should be capturing and interrogating more of them for information on planned attacks. But that is something the U.S. no longer does. President Obama has shut down the CIA interrogation program that helped stop a series of planned attacks — and in the year since he took office, not one high-value terrorist has been interrogated by the CIA. . . The problem with this approach is that dead terrorists cannot tell their plans. According to ABC News, Abdulmutallab has told investigators there are ‘more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.’ Who are these terrorists? Where have they been deployed? We may not find out until it is too late because we launched a strike intended to kill the al-Qaeda leaders who could give us vital intelligence.”

Sobering: “A dangerous explosive allegedly concealed by Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in his underwear could have blown a hole in the side of his Detroit-bound aircraft if it had been detonated, according to two federal sources briefed on the investigation.”

Jamie Fly on Obama’s new expression of “deep admiration” for the Iranian protesters: “Now that the President seems so concerned about the events unfolding on Iran’s streets, perhaps someone should ask the White House whether the President believes that Sen. Kerry should even contemplate a visit to Tehran to meet with the very officials that are ordering the beatings and killings he has just condemned.  The answer might tell us how far he is really willing to go to ‘bear witness.’”

Stephen Hayes observes that Obama’s comments “fell so flat,” given the lack of any “action item” other than calling for the Iranian regime to meet its international obligations. It was a “silly statement,” he says. Charles Krauthammer adds: “Meaningless words. . . This is a hinge of history. . . This is a moment in history and he is missing it.”

It isn’t easy being a Democratic incumbent in the Obama era: “Political observers should expect more retirement announcements from centrist Democrats, according to Rep. Dan Boren (Okla.), himself a centrist Democrat.”

Rep. Pete Hoekstra blasts Obama: “After eleven months in office, the president is still sending contradictory messages on national security. . . He says he wants to address the threats yet look at how he has responded to this, how he responded to Fort Hood, how he’s open to prosecuting folks in the CIA, how he’s closing Guantanamo Bay, and how he’s bringing terror suspects to New York City.”

Rory Cooper of Heritage on Obama’s reaction to the Christmas Day bombing attack: “The overwhelming negative opinion of the President’s reaction is a result of Obama’s reckless complacency over the past year. President Obama spent the past 12 months beating up on the men and women of the CIA, on the soldiers who ably run Gitmo, campaigning against the Patriot Act (even though he now recognizes its importance), making terrorism a law enforcement issue, announcing a show trial for KSM in NYC, and cutting defense appropriations in favor of sweetheart stimulus deals. The first thing he did with Abdulmutallab was to read him his rights.”

Only a day before Obama spinmeister Marc Ambinder was praising the “strategy” of having Obama hide after a terrorist attack. Now he muses: “Did Obama, attempting to make a clean break from the Bush years vis-a-vis communicating to the public about terrorism, put too much faith in DHS Secretary Napolitano to serve as the front-line communicator?” Really, the obsession with being “not Bush” is getting to be pathological — Bush talked to the public directly about terrorism so Obama shouldn’t? Good grief.

You want horrifying? Ann Althouse takes us through the entire Janet Napolitano interview. The full interview is actually worse than the “system worked” snippet. Okay, she’s not the real problem but she’s a horrid Homeland Security Secretary and really should go.

Marc Thiessen warns us: “Instead of looking for ways to release these dangerous men, we should be capturing and interrogating more of them for information on planned attacks. But that is something the U.S. no longer does. President Obama has shut down the CIA interrogation program that helped stop a series of planned attacks — and in the year since he took office, not one high-value terrorist has been interrogated by the CIA. . . The problem with this approach is that dead terrorists cannot tell their plans. According to ABC News, Abdulmutallab has told investigators there are ‘more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.’ Who are these terrorists? Where have they been deployed? We may not find out until it is too late because we launched a strike intended to kill the al-Qaeda leaders who could give us vital intelligence.”

Sobering: “A dangerous explosive allegedly concealed by Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in his underwear could have blown a hole in the side of his Detroit-bound aircraft if it had been detonated, according to two federal sources briefed on the investigation.”

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Yemen — the New “Good War”?

Yemen’s importance as a terrorist base appears to be growing. It is the place where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the Nigerian airline bomber) was radicalized and where Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s spiritual guide, Anwar al-’Awlaki, lives. This chilling warning reads entirely plausible: “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253, told FBI agents there were more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.”

No doubt this will cause the usual chorus to chant that Afghanistan is the “wrong war” (remember when Iraq was the “wrong war” and Afghanistan was the “right one”?) and that we should really be focused on Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia–all those countries where we don’t currently have ground troops. This critique has a certain plausibility but it is not clear what its implications are. Those who make these arguments are not advocating that we invade Yemen, Pakistan, or Somalia. So what, precisely, do they want us to do? Pretty much what we’re already doing: providing aid to the governments in question in fighting the jihadists while also conducting a few covert strikes of our own.

The question is whether drawing down in Afghanistan would make it easier or harder to prosecute the war on terrorism on other fronts. On the plus side, there is no denying that certain ISR assets (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) are tied up in Afghanistan (and Iraq) that could be useful elsewhere–although there are sharp limitations to how much intelligence gathering we can do over the sovereign territory of other states. But this marginal advantage is more than counterbalanced by the larger consequences of defeat in Afghanistan, which would have devastating implications not only for the poor people of Afghanistan but also for the wide struggle against violent extremism.

Having (in their own minds at least) already defeated one superpower in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his confederates would be immeasurably boosted if they were able to claim that they had then defeated the sole remaining superpower too. Such a victory for the jihadists would undoubtedly help recruiting all over the world and make states like Pakistan and Yemen even less likely to cooperate with the United States because they would be in mortal fear of al Qaeda and other radical jihadists. A defeat for the Taliban in Afghanistan would by no means make the wider terrorist threat disappear but it would certainly decrease its magnitude. Assuming that the Karzai government can stabilize its control over Afghanistan, this will deny the terrorists a huge staging ground for attacks elsewhere. In the process of defeating the terrorists, we will also wind up killing or incarcerating a lot of them. It’s true that terrorists are replaceable, but still it will be a setback for them to lose so many hardened operatives–and not only in Afghanistan. One of the key advantages gained by our presence in Afghanistan is that it makes it easier to target terrorist lairs in Pakistan. If we scuttle out of Afghanistan, it is doubtful that the government of Pakistan will extend the same kind of anti-terrorist cooperation we receive today.

We cannot ignore the terrorist threat emanating from Yemen or other states but nor should we use this undoubted danger as an excuse to lose the war of the moment–the one NATO troops are fighting in Afghanistan. Winning the “war on terror” will require prevailing on multiple battlefields–Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, and a host of other countries, including, for that matter, Western Europe and the United States. The methods and techniques we will use in each place have to be tailored to the individual circumstances. Few countries will require the kind of massive troop presence needed in Afghanistan or Iraq. In most places we will fight on a lesser scale, using Special Forces and security assistance programs. But because a lower-profile presence may work elsewhere doesn’t mean that it will work in Afghanistan–or would have worked in Iraq. We know this because the Bush administration already tried the small-footprint strategy in Afghanistan. It is this strategy that allowed the Taliban to recover so much ground lost after 9/11–territory that can only be retaken by an influx of additional Western troops. There is no reason why we can’t fight and prevail in Afghanistan even as we are fighting in different ways in different countries.

Yemen’s importance as a terrorist base appears to be growing. It is the place where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the Nigerian airline bomber) was radicalized and where Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s spiritual guide, Anwar al-’Awlaki, lives. This chilling warning reads entirely plausible: “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253, told FBI agents there were more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.”

No doubt this will cause the usual chorus to chant that Afghanistan is the “wrong war” (remember when Iraq was the “wrong war” and Afghanistan was the “right one”?) and that we should really be focused on Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia–all those countries where we don’t currently have ground troops. This critique has a certain plausibility but it is not clear what its implications are. Those who make these arguments are not advocating that we invade Yemen, Pakistan, or Somalia. So what, precisely, do they want us to do? Pretty much what we’re already doing: providing aid to the governments in question in fighting the jihadists while also conducting a few covert strikes of our own.

The question is whether drawing down in Afghanistan would make it easier or harder to prosecute the war on terrorism on other fronts. On the plus side, there is no denying that certain ISR assets (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) are tied up in Afghanistan (and Iraq) that could be useful elsewhere–although there are sharp limitations to how much intelligence gathering we can do over the sovereign territory of other states. But this marginal advantage is more than counterbalanced by the larger consequences of defeat in Afghanistan, which would have devastating implications not only for the poor people of Afghanistan but also for the wide struggle against violent extremism.

Having (in their own minds at least) already defeated one superpower in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his confederates would be immeasurably boosted if they were able to claim that they had then defeated the sole remaining superpower too. Such a victory for the jihadists would undoubtedly help recruiting all over the world and make states like Pakistan and Yemen even less likely to cooperate with the United States because they would be in mortal fear of al Qaeda and other radical jihadists. A defeat for the Taliban in Afghanistan would by no means make the wider terrorist threat disappear but it would certainly decrease its magnitude. Assuming that the Karzai government can stabilize its control over Afghanistan, this will deny the terrorists a huge staging ground for attacks elsewhere. In the process of defeating the terrorists, we will also wind up killing or incarcerating a lot of them. It’s true that terrorists are replaceable, but still it will be a setback for them to lose so many hardened operatives–and not only in Afghanistan. One of the key advantages gained by our presence in Afghanistan is that it makes it easier to target terrorist lairs in Pakistan. If we scuttle out of Afghanistan, it is doubtful that the government of Pakistan will extend the same kind of anti-terrorist cooperation we receive today.

We cannot ignore the terrorist threat emanating from Yemen or other states but nor should we use this undoubted danger as an excuse to lose the war of the moment–the one NATO troops are fighting in Afghanistan. Winning the “war on terror” will require prevailing on multiple battlefields–Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, and a host of other countries, including, for that matter, Western Europe and the United States. The methods and techniques we will use in each place have to be tailored to the individual circumstances. Few countries will require the kind of massive troop presence needed in Afghanistan or Iraq. In most places we will fight on a lesser scale, using Special Forces and security assistance programs. But because a lower-profile presence may work elsewhere doesn’t mean that it will work in Afghanistan–or would have worked in Iraq. We know this because the Bush administration already tried the small-footprint strategy in Afghanistan. It is this strategy that allowed the Taliban to recover so much ground lost after 9/11–territory that can only be retaken by an influx of additional Western troops. There is no reason why we can’t fight and prevail in Afghanistan even as we are fighting in different ways in different countries.

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Needed: Wartime Commander in Chief

If nothing else, the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should remind us that the “war on terror” (oh, that now banished phrase!) was not dreamed up by some neocon conspiracy bent on curtailing Americans’ civil liberties and on colonizing poor defenseless countries. It is nothing but a simple, accurate description of the threat we face from Islamist extremists bent on mass murder to advance their deranged worldview.

It is not only luck that has kept us (relatively) safe since 9/11, aside from a few random nuts like the Beltway sniper (John Allen Muhammad) and the Fort Hood shooter (Major Malik Nadal Hasan). There has been no lack of larger plots against American targets here and abroad. A few, such as the attempted bombings by Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, have been foiled by a combination of bad planning on the part of the terrorists and active resistance by airline passengers. Many more plots, such as the attempt to blow up airliners flying across the Atlantic by using liquid explosives, have been defeated by active intelligence and law enforcement work. A vital contribution to that work has been made by the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 changes, which have made it easier to wiretap suspects, share intelligence, and (don’t forget) aggressively interrogate captured terrorists and keep them in custody even if they cannot be convicted beyond a shadow of a doubt in a civil court.

Unfortunately all too many people have drawn the wrong lesson from these post-9/11 successes, concluding that we are so safe that we can go back to the pre-9/11 status quo, back when we treated terrorism as a law-enforcement problem and nothing more. This has become the conventional wisdom of the mainstream, left-wing of the Democratic Party and a tiny, right-wing fringe of the Republican Party (Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan), which see the U.S. government as the biggest threat we face—not al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers.

It would be unfair to say that President Obama has bought into this worldview. To his credit, he has continued an active program of using drones and Special Forces to assassinate terrorist kingpins from Pakistan to Somalia; has ramped up our military efforts in Afghanistan; and has continued an active program of intelligence and military cooperation designed to allow states such as Yemen and the Philippines to fight their own wars on terror. Moreover, he has signed off on wider wiretapping and intelligence-gathering authority than the ACLU is comfortable with. But there are certainly some worrisome trends evident from this administration, which insists on trying Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court, which has banned the use of all stress techniques in interrogation, and which continues releasing detainees from Guantanamo, many of whom go right back to the sorts of activities that got them interred in the first place. And let us not forget the president’s unwillingness to get tough with Iran, whose nuclear-weapons program could before long radically increase the chances of our allies’ suffering a nuclear terrorist attack.

Obama has actually been a little tougher on terrorism (and Iraq and Afghanistan) than his record as an ultra-liberal senator would have led us to expect; certainly a lot tougher than Michael Moore or his ilk would like him to be. But not perhaps as tough as the situation demands. If there is any good that comes out of the attempted bombing of the Detroit flight, or the Iranians’ rejections of his naive overtures, it is that he may finally shed some of his remaining illusions about the world and start acting more as a wartime commander in chief should.

If nothing else, the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should remind us that the “war on terror” (oh, that now banished phrase!) was not dreamed up by some neocon conspiracy bent on curtailing Americans’ civil liberties and on colonizing poor defenseless countries. It is nothing but a simple, accurate description of the threat we face from Islamist extremists bent on mass murder to advance their deranged worldview.

It is not only luck that has kept us (relatively) safe since 9/11, aside from a few random nuts like the Beltway sniper (John Allen Muhammad) and the Fort Hood shooter (Major Malik Nadal Hasan). There has been no lack of larger plots against American targets here and abroad. A few, such as the attempted bombings by Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, have been foiled by a combination of bad planning on the part of the terrorists and active resistance by airline passengers. Many more plots, such as the attempt to blow up airliners flying across the Atlantic by using liquid explosives, have been defeated by active intelligence and law enforcement work. A vital contribution to that work has been made by the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 changes, which have made it easier to wiretap suspects, share intelligence, and (don’t forget) aggressively interrogate captured terrorists and keep them in custody even if they cannot be convicted beyond a shadow of a doubt in a civil court.

Unfortunately all too many people have drawn the wrong lesson from these post-9/11 successes, concluding that we are so safe that we can go back to the pre-9/11 status quo, back when we treated terrorism as a law-enforcement problem and nothing more. This has become the conventional wisdom of the mainstream, left-wing of the Democratic Party and a tiny, right-wing fringe of the Republican Party (Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan), which see the U.S. government as the biggest threat we face—not al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers.

It would be unfair to say that President Obama has bought into this worldview. To his credit, he has continued an active program of using drones and Special Forces to assassinate terrorist kingpins from Pakistan to Somalia; has ramped up our military efforts in Afghanistan; and has continued an active program of intelligence and military cooperation designed to allow states such as Yemen and the Philippines to fight their own wars on terror. Moreover, he has signed off on wider wiretapping and intelligence-gathering authority than the ACLU is comfortable with. But there are certainly some worrisome trends evident from this administration, which insists on trying Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court, which has banned the use of all stress techniques in interrogation, and which continues releasing detainees from Guantanamo, many of whom go right back to the sorts of activities that got them interred in the first place. And let us not forget the president’s unwillingness to get tough with Iran, whose nuclear-weapons program could before long radically increase the chances of our allies’ suffering a nuclear terrorist attack.

Obama has actually been a little tougher on terrorism (and Iraq and Afghanistan) than his record as an ultra-liberal senator would have led us to expect; certainly a lot tougher than Michael Moore or his ilk would like him to be. But not perhaps as tough as the situation demands. If there is any good that comes out of the attempted bombing of the Detroit flight, or the Iranians’ rejections of his naive overtures, it is that he may finally shed some of his remaining illusions about the world and start acting more as a wartime commander in chief should.

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Read Him His Rights?

The Wall Street Journal editors note that the Obama administration is up to its sickeningly familiar pre-9/11 tactics in handling the Christmas Day terrorist bombing plot:

It immediately indicted Mr. Abdulmutallab on criminal charges of trying to destroy an aircraft, despite reports that he told officials he had ties to al Qaeda and had picked up his PETN explosive in Yemen. The charges mean the Nigerian can only be interrogated like any other defendant in a criminal case, subject to having a lawyer present and his Miranda rights read.

Yet he is precisely the kind of illegal enemy combatant who should be interrogated first with the goal of preventing future attacks and learning more about terror networks rather than gaining a single conviction. We now have to hope he cooperates voluntarily.

And if the administration is following the same criminal justice script, one wonders how the Bush-bashing Left will fare in sticking to theirs. Like Major Nadal Hassan, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab does not follow the Left’s fantasy that terrorists are driven to kill by poverty or lack of education or post-traumatic stress. To the contrary, “Like many of the 9/11 murderers, he came from an affluent family and was highly educated.” He just wanted to kill people, it seems.

We are seeing the same inconvenient facts and remarkably similar pattern of malfeasance by our government. We didn’t catch the warning calls (e.g., Hassan’s bizarre behavior, Abdulmutallab’s father’s warning), one portion of the government didn’t or wouldn’t coordinate with another, the administration proceeds in criminal-justice mode rather than war mode and no one ever seems to be held responsible in the Obama national security apparatus.

Ordinary people, I suspect, are increasingly appalled by all this. And if we are not so lucky next time, the Obama administration’s sloth in conducting the war on terror will result in tragedy and their own political ruin.

The Wall Street Journal editors note that the Obama administration is up to its sickeningly familiar pre-9/11 tactics in handling the Christmas Day terrorist bombing plot:

It immediately indicted Mr. Abdulmutallab on criminal charges of trying to destroy an aircraft, despite reports that he told officials he had ties to al Qaeda and had picked up his PETN explosive in Yemen. The charges mean the Nigerian can only be interrogated like any other defendant in a criminal case, subject to having a lawyer present and his Miranda rights read.

Yet he is precisely the kind of illegal enemy combatant who should be interrogated first with the goal of preventing future attacks and learning more about terror networks rather than gaining a single conviction. We now have to hope he cooperates voluntarily.

And if the administration is following the same criminal justice script, one wonders how the Bush-bashing Left will fare in sticking to theirs. Like Major Nadal Hassan, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab does not follow the Left’s fantasy that terrorists are driven to kill by poverty or lack of education or post-traumatic stress. To the contrary, “Like many of the 9/11 murderers, he came from an affluent family and was highly educated.” He just wanted to kill people, it seems.

We are seeing the same inconvenient facts and remarkably similar pattern of malfeasance by our government. We didn’t catch the warning calls (e.g., Hassan’s bizarre behavior, Abdulmutallab’s father’s warning), one portion of the government didn’t or wouldn’t coordinate with another, the administration proceeds in criminal-justice mode rather than war mode and no one ever seems to be held responsible in the Obama national security apparatus.

Ordinary people, I suspect, are increasingly appalled by all this. And if we are not so lucky next time, the Obama administration’s sloth in conducting the war on terror will result in tragedy and their own political ruin.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Sen. Mitch McConnell sounds the theme for Republicans in 2010: “Every single Democrat in the Senate provided the one vote that passed this 2,700-page monstrosity. It cuts Medicare by half a trillion dollars, raises taxes by half a trillion dollars, and instead of curbing the rate of increase of insurance premiums, most Americans’ insurance premiums are going to go up. This bill is a colossal failure, and that’s why the American people were literally screaming at us, you know, please, don’t pass this bill.”

Even the New York Times figured it out: a lot of Blue State senators blew it in the health-care bill by agreeing to help fund other states’ Medicaid obligations and doing little or nothing for their own states. Perhaps if they hadn’t been in such a mad rush, the Democrats wouldn’t have missed an issue worth billions to their states.

The White House, according to A.P.’s Jennifer Loven, is worried about “getting ahead of the criticism” on the handling of our terrorist watch lists. (By the way, it seems that the “Free Mara!” campaign has plowed new ground, opening up Fox New Sunday to the A.P.’s White House reporter.) One senses that the Obami only perk up about the nature of the international threats we face after the fact, when the political fall-out mounts. And Bill Kristol points out that we are treating the bomber as a “one-off, law enforcement case.”

It is reapportionment time: “The Constitution requires, every decade, the redistribution of congressional districts to account for changes in the country’s population. The projections offer some long-term encouragement for Republicans. President Barack Obama won nine of the 10 states slated to lose seats, and Democrats hold congressional delegation majorities in all but one (Louisiana).”

Jonah Goldberg on the ever-hapless Secretary of Homeland Security: “I watched her on three shows and each time she was more annoying, maddening and absurd than the previous appearance. It is her basic position that the ‘system worked’ because the bureaucrats responded properly after the attack. That the attack was ‘foiled’ by a bad detonator and some civilian passengers is proof, she claims, that her agency is doing everything right. That is just about the dumbest thing she could say, on the merits and politically.” If not for Eric Holder, she’d be the worst cabinet secretary — by far.

Rep. Peter King doesn’t think the system worked: “One thing is clear about the attempted terror attack on Christmas Day — we need answers. There is obviously going to be a full-scale congressional investigation into how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was allowed to board Flight 253 and head to the United States with plans to incinerate 300 innocent people. Mere hours after it happened, I was told that this man was known to our government, and that there was a classified file on him that said he definitely was involved in terrorist activity. The exact words the authorities used when they told me were ‘terrorist nexus.’”

Undoing himself in the sycophantic spinning department, Marc Ambinder praises Obama for golfing the day after the Christmas bombing. It’s all part of a strategery. . .  er. . .  strategy, he says.

From Maureen Dowd’s column: “In dismissing the tea parties and pushing through plans the American people obviously don’t want, they have made the fatal disconnect between the representatives and the represented.” Okay, she subcontracted her column to her conservative brother, who apparently is the savvy political analyst in the family.

Noemie Emery explains: “The Left, which invented first ‘hate speech’ (opinions they didn’t like) and then ‘hate crimes’ (crimes judged less on the criminal’s actions than on what he was presumed to be thinking), has now gone on to its epiphany, which is “hate” defined not by your words or deeds but by what other people have decided you really think. ‘Hate’ is no longer what you do or say, but what a liberal says that you think and projects on to you. You are punished for what someone else claims you were thinking. It hardly makes sense, but it does serve a political purpose. You could call it Secondhand Hate.” And it’s all the rage, so to speak, in the Obama era.

Sen. Mitch McConnell sounds the theme for Republicans in 2010: “Every single Democrat in the Senate provided the one vote that passed this 2,700-page monstrosity. It cuts Medicare by half a trillion dollars, raises taxes by half a trillion dollars, and instead of curbing the rate of increase of insurance premiums, most Americans’ insurance premiums are going to go up. This bill is a colossal failure, and that’s why the American people were literally screaming at us, you know, please, don’t pass this bill.”

Even the New York Times figured it out: a lot of Blue State senators blew it in the health-care bill by agreeing to help fund other states’ Medicaid obligations and doing little or nothing for their own states. Perhaps if they hadn’t been in such a mad rush, the Democrats wouldn’t have missed an issue worth billions to their states.

The White House, according to A.P.’s Jennifer Loven, is worried about “getting ahead of the criticism” on the handling of our terrorist watch lists. (By the way, it seems that the “Free Mara!” campaign has plowed new ground, opening up Fox New Sunday to the A.P.’s White House reporter.) One senses that the Obami only perk up about the nature of the international threats we face after the fact, when the political fall-out mounts. And Bill Kristol points out that we are treating the bomber as a “one-off, law enforcement case.”

It is reapportionment time: “The Constitution requires, every decade, the redistribution of congressional districts to account for changes in the country’s population. The projections offer some long-term encouragement for Republicans. President Barack Obama won nine of the 10 states slated to lose seats, and Democrats hold congressional delegation majorities in all but one (Louisiana).”

Jonah Goldberg on the ever-hapless Secretary of Homeland Security: “I watched her on three shows and each time she was more annoying, maddening and absurd than the previous appearance. It is her basic position that the ‘system worked’ because the bureaucrats responded properly after the attack. That the attack was ‘foiled’ by a bad detonator and some civilian passengers is proof, she claims, that her agency is doing everything right. That is just about the dumbest thing she could say, on the merits and politically.” If not for Eric Holder, she’d be the worst cabinet secretary — by far.

Rep. Peter King doesn’t think the system worked: “One thing is clear about the attempted terror attack on Christmas Day — we need answers. There is obviously going to be a full-scale congressional investigation into how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was allowed to board Flight 253 and head to the United States with plans to incinerate 300 innocent people. Mere hours after it happened, I was told that this man was known to our government, and that there was a classified file on him that said he definitely was involved in terrorist activity. The exact words the authorities used when they told me were ‘terrorist nexus.’”

Undoing himself in the sycophantic spinning department, Marc Ambinder praises Obama for golfing the day after the Christmas bombing. It’s all part of a strategery. . .  er. . .  strategy, he says.

From Maureen Dowd’s column: “In dismissing the tea parties and pushing through plans the American people obviously don’t want, they have made the fatal disconnect between the representatives and the represented.” Okay, she subcontracted her column to her conservative brother, who apparently is the savvy political analyst in the family.

Noemie Emery explains: “The Left, which invented first ‘hate speech’ (opinions they didn’t like) and then ‘hate crimes’ (crimes judged less on the criminal’s actions than on what he was presumed to be thinking), has now gone on to its epiphany, which is “hate” defined not by your words or deeds but by what other people have decided you really think. ‘Hate’ is no longer what you do or say, but what a liberal says that you think and projects on to you. You are punished for what someone else claims you were thinking. It hardly makes sense, but it does serve a political purpose. You could call it Secondhand Hate.” And it’s all the rage, so to speak, in the Obama era.

Read Less




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