Hole-In-One Diplomacy A Success Abroad, A Failure At Home

Okay, here’s a headline from a couple of weeks ago:

Saxby Chambliss gets hole-in-one golfing with Obama

Now, for me, the interesting thing about that story was not the “hole-in-one” but the “golfing with Obama.” The President, who has been encouraged by Washington-insider types to spend more time eating, drinking, and golfing with Republicans in Congress, apparently believes that if he hits the links with right-wingers like Georgia senator Saxby Chambliss, they will succumb to his charms and, at the very least, stop accusing him of secretly bedding down with jihadists who want to destroy us.

Fast forward from a couple weeks ago to yesterday, after President Obama gave that amazing speech on drones and the war on terrorism and Guantanamo and the inappropriateness of prosecuting reporters for doing their jobs:

Chambliss: President’s speech will be viewed by terrorists as a victory

That headline actually came from Senator Chambliss’ own website. His press release began:

The President’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory. 

The terrorists win! The terrorists win! Damn that Obama!

So much for whacking golf balls with the commander-in-chief.

Keep in mind that not only has President Obama sent Osama bin Laden deep-sea diving without a suit, but under his command we have pretty much decimated all of al Qaeda’s leadership and made would-be leaders of that group, to the extent one can all it a unified group, hide in fear that they will get the next drone-delivered enema or, to stay on topic, become a human hole-in-one.

Chambliss is all worried that closing a weird prison that we, who call ourselves the hope of the civilized world, operate in Cuba will give terrorists in Yemen and elsewhere a “victory.” That’s some victory. The United States actually trying to live up to its values is not what anyone, in Yemen or in Yonkers, should consider a victory for al Qaeda terrorists who are afraid to peek out their doors, lest they die.

In the mean time, I am sure that more golf outings and meals with Republicans are on the agenda for the President. But nothing, absolutely nothing, will change.

[Reuters/Reuters]

In Case You Didn’t Know, A “Lawless” President Obama Doesn’t Want To Kill You With Drones

More than a year ago I wrote about President Obama’s use of drones in the war against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world. I essentially endorsed, with some discomfort, the way the President was handling his job as commander-in-chief relative to his use of drones in general and the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al Awlaki in particular.

Mr. Obama’s incredibly thoughtful speech on Thursday, at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., confirmed by endorsement and took away much of the discomfort.

I don’t know how any fair-minded person, which excludes most of the conservatives you meet on the street, or on cable TV, these days, could have heard the President’s speech and not have come away with a great deal of comfort that he, and not John McCain or Mitt Romney, is our commander-in-chief.

I won’t analyze the entire speech, but I do want to point out a part that addresses what so many liberals and lefties—as well as the usual gaggle of libertarianish Republicans—have been harping on, with some increasing intensity, for quite a while:

For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen — with a drone or with a shotgun — without due process. Nor should any president deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.

But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens, and when neither the United States nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team.

That’s who Anwar Awlaki was. He was continuously trying to kill people. He helped oversee the 2010 plot to detonate explosive devices on two U.S.-bound cargo planes. He was involved in planning to blow up an airliner in 2009. When Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, went to Yemen in 2009, Awlaki hosted him, approved his suicide operation, helped him tape a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack, and his last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil.

I would have detained and prosecuted Awlaki if we captured him before he carried out a plot. But we couldn’t. And as president, I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took him out.

I suggest a careful reading of the entire speech for anyone interested in how our modern military power should be applied these days. It is essentially the President “thinking out loud” about some of these topics, while being resolute on others. (He also handled a Code Pink protester fabulously, granting her the dignity of her position and weaving her into his speech at the end.)

Particularly interesting was his comments on the Authorized Use of Military Force, which was passed on September 14, 2001:

Now, all these issues remind us that the choices we make about war can impact, in sometimes unintended ways, the openness and freedom on which our way of life depends. And that is why I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.

The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al-Qaida is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al-Qaida will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.

So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine and ultimately repeal the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. It’s what our democracy demands.

Contrast this discussion with what the now-ridiculous columnist George Will wrote in yet another ridiculous column about President Obama’s “lawlessness.”

Will was discussing Obama’s controversial recess appointments (the Supreme Court will ultimately determine their constitutionality) of three members to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and comparing that action, unbelievably, to the infamous racist act by George Wallace 50 years ago, “when he stood in the door of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama to prevent two young blacks from registering as students.”

If that comparison weren’t embarrassing enough, Will wasn’t finished:

Courts defeated Wallace’s lawlessness. Presumably the Supreme Court will defeat Obama’s by telling the NLRB that the D.C. court was right about recess appointments. By such judicial vigilance against the excesses of elected officials, democracy is disciplined and progressivism’s agenda — unchecked executive power — is understood to be unconstitutional.

I, being a progressive, wasn’t aware that progressivism’s agenda was “unchecked executive power.”  Geeze. I thought it was unchecked executive power that gave progressives and liberals the heebie jeebies. In any case, President Obama’s amazingly engrossing and thoughtful speech on Thursday, in which he wants Congress to take pack the “unbound powers” it has granted to the executive branch, makes a fool not only out of George Will, but all those who think this president is power mad.

The Right’s Convenient Outrage Over Benghazi

It’s official: John McCain thinks the President, who whipped his sorry behind four years ago, is a liar.

Regarding Benghazi, I heard him tell the low-information hosts on Fox this morning:

Why did the President of the United States continue to deceive the American people and the world? We need a select committee. Nobody died in Watergate. Nobody died in Iran-Contra. Four people died here because of their lack of action. As my friend Lindsey Graham says, they turned that consulate into a death trap.

Fox host Steve Doocy, in whose brain IQs go to die, followed McCain’s outrageous assertion with, “They did indeed.”

It’s amazing to me that without any evidence, with only “new questions” about what happened, the Foxers and their allies in Congress can continue to pretend that they know President Obama is guilty of everything from ignorance to treason.

I’m also amazed at how damned concerned are all those Foxers and Republican legislators about the four Americans who died in Libya, when those same people spent little time worrying about the Bush II administration’s failure to pay close attention to intelligence that seemed to foresee what happened on 9/11.

If Fox and its allies had spent a fraction of the time looking into that unfortunate episode as it has spent claiming that Obama is lying about what happened in Benghazi, we probably wouldn’t have had the second Bush administration.

And I guess that’s the point, isn’t it?

For the record, and because Fox “News” will never touch it, here is an excerpt from Kurt Eichenwald’s article two months ago in The New York Times:

On Aug. 6, 2001, President George W. Bush received a classified review of the threats posed by Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, Al Qaeda. That morning’s “presidential daily brief” — the top-secret document prepared by America’s intelligence agencies — featured the now-infamous heading: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” A few weeks later, on 9/11, Al Qaeda accomplished that goal.

It took almost three years for the Bushies to release that incriminating document, and they did so only under pressure from the 9/11 Commission. The Times article continued:

The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.

But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.

In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.

Eichenwald points out that despite the CIA’s “repeated warnings” and more briefs about the upcoming “planned assault,”

the White House failed to take significant action.

Get that, Fox? Get that, John McCain and Lindsey Graham and all you others out there who are now quick to blame Obama for Benghazi? George W. Bush failed to take significant action. He failed. Where was your outrage over that? Where is it today? Three thousand Americans died on 9/11 and many more have died in our response, much of it misguided, to those attacks that the CIA warned were coming. Where’s the ongoing outrage?

We don’t know if the 9/11 attacks could have been stopped, even if Bush and his neocon friends had paid sufficient attention to the warnings. But we know it wouldn’t have hurt if they had, as there were at least a couple of events—co-conspirator Mohamed al-Kahtani’s detention in Orlando in August of 2001 and flight-school trainee Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest later that month in Minnesota—that might have led to the unraveling of the entire plan.

And we all know that the death of four Americans in Benghazi was indeed a tragedy, apparently one that could have, should have, been prevented, even though we don’t yet know enough to say what went wrong and who was responsible for it.

And, sadly, we know that people like John McCain and his channelers at Fox “News” will not wait to find out what happened before they hurl accusations at President Obama, even though not a damned one of them bothered to so much as question Bush’s ham-handed handling of intelligence warnings, just prior to the worst terrorist attack in our history—and on our own soil.

If McCain and other Foxers had been all over the Bush administration’s pre-9/11 failures, if they had been on television demanding Watergate-like hearings over those failures, then perhaps they would have more credibility today, as they prematurely demand a “select committee” over Benghazi, which would quickly turn into an Obama hate fest.

But they didn’t say a word about those prior failures, and I, for one, don’t give a damn what they are saying now.

Can The Government Kill Citizens Overseas?

I’m sorry to disappoint some of my fellow liberals, but I can’t go all the way with the ACLU on this one:

“Few things are as dangerous to American liberty as the proposition that the government should be able to kill citizens anywhere in the world on the basis of legal standards and evidence that are never submitted to a court, either before or after the fact,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.

“Anyone willing to trust President Obama with the power to secretly declare an American citizen an enemy of the state and order his extrajudicial killing should ask whether they would be willing to trust the next president with that dangerous power,” she said.

The ACLU is suing the Obama administration, seeking to have documents regarding the targeted killing program made public.

It’s not that I “trust President Obama,” as much as it is that, as Eric Holder said,

The Constitution does not require the president to delay action until some theoretical end stage of planning, when the precise time, place, and manner of an attack become clear.

Look, the ACLU is right to raise questions and seek a public debate. And I admit that this whole thing makes me uncomfortable. But so too would the prospect of allowing someone like U.S. citizen Anwar al Awlaki—leader of Yemen’s al-Qaeda who was killed in a drone strike last September—to plot terrorist attacks with impunity in some faraway land and live to tell about his successes.  Al-Qaeda, after all, is at war with us and we with it.

NBC’s Pete Williams characterized Attorney General Eric Holder’s position this way:

The Fifth Amendment provides that no one can be “deprived of life” without due process of law.  But that due process, Holder said, doesn’t necessarily come from a court.

“Due process and judicial process are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security.  The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process,” the attorney general said.

Holder said a U.S. citizen can legally be targeted in a foreign country if that person is “a senior leader of al-Qaida or associated forces,” and is actively involved in planning to kill Americans.  Killing would be justified if the person poses an imminent threat of a violent attack against the U.S. and cannot easily be captured.

The key phrase here is “in a foreign country.” The expedient of obtaining a search warrant and the necessity of safeguarding other civil rights are not practical in such situations and the Constitution should not hamstring the government to such an extent that it cannot act to protect Americans from terrorists, even if the terrorists happen to be U.S. citizens living and plotting abroad.

Holder said,

Given the nature of how terrorists act and where they tend to hide, it may not always be feasible to capture a U.S. citizen terrorist who presents an imminent threat of violent attack. In that case, our government has the clear authority to defend the United States with lethal force.

The one caveat I would offer, I’m assuming in line with at least some civil libertarians, would be that the action should be reviewable after the fact by a special court that could examine classified documents, that court applying some rule of reason in determining if the authorities initiating the action acted prudently and judiciously and within the laws of war.

Sign Of The Times

Obama, Tomcat

Republicans, because they rightly don’t trust other Republicans, like to create—and force their candidates to sign—pledges. 

Forget the standard, the old allegiance-to-the-flag pledge (with, of course, the necessary “under God” language). That’s old school.

Nowadays, there are no-tax-increase pledges, anti-choice pledges, “Cut, Cap, And Balance” pledges, and the latest way to demonstrate Republican unseriousness, the it-was-better-to-be-a-negro-slave-than-an-Obama-era-negro pledge.

That last one is a creation of the Iowa Christian Taliban, better known as The Family Leader, a group headed by gay-gripped Bob Vander Plaats, a man every bit as obsessed with enforcing Allah’s God’s word than any member of al Qaeda, living or, thankfully, dead.

The Family Leader’s pledge, which Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum have duly signed, featured this:

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.

You see?  It is more important for kids to have both parents, even if they happen to be the property of wealthy white conservatives, than it is to be born “after the election” of Barack Obama, who is, when he’s not otherwise engaged in destroying America, responsible for every out-of-wedlock birth among American blacks today.

Obama is quite a tomcat, don’t you know.

Now, it is true that these religious zealots in Iowa—who have a mind-boggling amount of clout due to the state’s first-up primary—have “removed the language from the vow,” under pressure from people in their right minds.

But what kind of mind is it that would put such language in a pledge in the first place?  And, more important, what kind of presidential mentality would actually sign it?

On goes the 2012 conservative circus.

Bin Laden, War Casualty

For those who have questions as to the legality of the bin Laden killing, here is an excerpt from an informative piece by Raffi Khatchadourian at The New Yorker:

It is hard to regard Osama bin Laden’s killing as a “political assassination” in the conventional sense. The White House has been insisting that the raid was a military operation, conducted against a military target, and it makes a credible case in doing so. Bin Laden is not a politician, even if his ideology has political aspects to it. He is a declared enemy of the United States, the financier of numerous attacks against American infrastructure and civilians, and the chief signatory of a manifesto that states: “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.” By his rhetoric and by his actions he has unquestionably proven himself to be a combatant.
It appears to me—and I have no problem with a closer examination—that the killing was legally justifiable, unless it can be proven that bin Laden was holding two white flags in his upraised hands before the fatal shots were fired.
 
He begged for a war with the United States, not a day in court.

Remarks And Asides

Native Americans have raised a stink about the use of “Geronimo” as either the code name for Osama bin Laden or for the mission that was designed to get him.  Some folks at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where Geronimo was imprisoned and where he is buried, have asked for President Obama to apologize for the use of the name.

Damn, Obama can’t do anything right.

_______________________________

Reuters reported that the U.S. killed two “mid-level” al Qaeda leaders in Yemen today, in a “remote province where al Qaeda is active.” No doubt, these two terrorists, who were brothers, figured it was okay to stick their heads out for a couple of days, as those boastful Americans would be too busy celebrating the death of bin Laden to notice. 

Wrong.

_______________________________

Fidel Castro, who said it was bad manners to kill bin Laden in front of his family, believes that the way bin Laden perished “has turned him into a much more dangerous man.”  No. That can’t be. CNN has confirmed that bin Laden is in hell, or at least that 61% of Americans believe so.  And everyone knows that if you go to hell, you’re too busy searching for shade to perpetrate any earthly mischief.   However, I’m with Alex Parenne of Salon, who urges President Obama to release the “photographic proof” that bin Laden is, in fact, in hell, so we can settle this pressing matter.

________________________________

President Obama is in New York City today to lay a wreath at Ground Zero and meet with the families of the victims of 9/11.  He had invited President Bush to come along, but according to reports, Mr. Bush “has chosen to remain out of the spotlight during his post-presidency.”

If only Mr. Bush had chosen to remain out of the spotlight during his pre-post-presidency.

_________________________________

John Kasich, Republican governor of Ohio, who essentially declared war on public employees when he took office, declared this week, “Public Service Appreciation Week.”  Short of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad being let out of jail to lay a wreath at Ground Zero, I can’t think of a worse idea.

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Sam Stein reports: “Health Care Repeal Is ‘Dead.’  He says that a “top Republican” concedes that legislative efforts to overturn Obama’s health care law are doomed.  I, of course, won’t believe it ’till I see the photo.

_________________________________

Finally, this shouldn’t go unnoticed:

SYDNEY — Claude Stanley Choules, the last known combat veteran of World War I, died Thursday at a nursing home in the Western Australia city of Perth, his family said. He was 110.

I recommend following the link and reading a little bit about Mr. Choules, who became a pacifist later in life and wrote his first book at the age of 108.

He told ABC in November of 2009:

I had a pretty poor start, but I had a good finish.

Words to live, and die, by.

Some of McCain’s Heroes Today Were Bush’s Terrorists Yesterday

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who pulled his head out of John McCain’s rectum long enough to talk to CNN, said of the U.S. involvement in Libya:

I like coalitions: It’s good to have them, it’s good to have the U.N. involved.  But the goal is to get rid of Gaddafi…So, I would not let the U.N. mandate stop what is the right thing to do.

In other words, to hell with the rest of the world, we’ve got bombs to drop!

For his part, John McCain, who seemed to be enjoying his Graham-free rectum, said on Sunday that a stalemate in Libya “would open the door for Al Qaeda to come in.”

Whoops!  It may be too late.  McCain, who on Friday called the Libyan rebels the “legitimate voice of the Libyan people,” and his “heroes,” also said,

I have met these brave fighters and they are not al Qaeda,” he said. “To the contrary, they are Libyan patriots who want to liberate their nation.

Except that the New York Times reported this weekend that a former Guantanamo detainee—he was released by the Bushies in 2007—who was “judged ‘a probable member of Al Qaeda’ by analysts there,” and deemed a “medium to high risk” as a threat to the United States, is now leading a “ragtag band of fighters” in Libya.  And the paper reported that,

American officials have nervously noted the presence of at least a few former militants in the rebels’ ranks. 

None of this gives Lindsey Graham or John McCain (or Israeli representative, Sen. Joe Lieberman) pause, however.  They want the U.S. to engage more aggressively in Libya, with Graham urging Obama to bomb Libya’s capital. He told CNN’s Candy Crowley:

My recommendation to NATO and to the administration is to cut the head of the snake off, go to Tripoli, start bombing Gaddafi’s inner circle, their compounds their military headquarters in Tripoli. The way to get Gaddafi to leave is to have his inner circle break and turn on him, and that’s going to take a sustained effort through an air campaign.

Apparently NATO was listening.  This morning comes word that NATO aircraft bombed Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, which renewed charges that the good guys are trying to assassinate Gaddafi. 

Whether we are, or whether we’re just trying to put the fear of Allah in him or his “inner circle,” as Graham suggested, it is clear that there will be no stalemate in Libya, even though a stalemate might be the best possible outcome, in terms of short-term regional stability.  Gaddafi’s days are numbered. 

What remains is the obvious question: What happens after Gaddafi is gone?  

Nobody, not Barack Obama or, Allah knows, not even John McCain, can give us a credible answer to that question.  Somehow, though, I suspect that whatever happens, President Obama—who is under pressure from the militaristic Right to step us his Libya game—will never get any credit for a good outcome, only blame for a bad one.

The War On Obama

Given that conservatives have continued to prosecute their all-out war on Obama’s handling of our fight against Al Qaeda, it was nice to hear a strong defense of the administration coming from somewhere near the top. Here is one excerpt from Joe Biden’s appearance on Meet The Press today:

DAVID GREGORY: What about the general proposition that the President according to former Vice President Cheney doesn’t consider America to be at war and is essentially soft on terrorism? What do you say about that?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don’t think the Vice– the Former Vice President Dick Cheney listens. The President of the United States said in the State of the Union, “We’re at war with Al Qaeda.” He stated this– and by the way, we’re pursuing that war with a vigor like it’s never been seen before. We’ve eliminated 12 of their top 20 people. We have taken out 100 of their associates. We are making, we’ve sent them underground. They are in fact not able to do anything remotely like they were in the past. They are on the run. I don’t know where Dick Cheney has been. Look, it’s one thing, again, to– to criticize. It’s another thing to sort of rewrite history. What is he talking about?

This follows Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan’s piece last week in USA Today in which he said:

This administration’s efforts have disrupted dozens of terrorist plots against the homeland and been responsible for killing and capturing hundreds of hard-core terrorists, including senior leaders in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond — far more than in 2008. We need no lectures about the fact that this nation is at war.

Now, no doubt these defenses will not placate Obama’s political enemies. They are at war with Obama himself.  The right-wing will not be satisfied by good news that the 9/11 perpetrators are being diminished on a daily basis. They don’t like Obama’s approach because it lacks the language of authoritarianism that conservatives covet.

Not content with merely being at war with Al Qaeda, they want Obama to buy into their larger “war on terror” because such a posture allows for a wide array of possibilities—both domestic and foreign—that will help satisfy their authoritarian cravings.  From wanting more warrantless surveillance of Americans to suggesting starting a war with Iran,  their authoritarian jones simply can’t be satisfied by a thoughtful, “professorial” approach they claim Obama’s policies represent.

Especially now that the Obama administration has tripled down on the efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan—with unarguable success—conservatives these days have to focus on some other aspect of the administration’s policy they want to make the public believe is leaving us vulnerable to terrorism.  Thus, a return to an emphasis on the language that Obama uses, as he prosecutes the war on actual terrorists, as opposed to an amorphous war on a tactic, “terror.”

What some have called a right-wing meme still makes its way about the culture.  You’ve heard it: “Obama won’t even use the word ‘terror.”  In a stunning example of not only right-wing hysteria, but of mainstream media compliance with such hysteria, here is a transcript from CNN from early January:

SEN. JIM DEMINT (Rep-S.C.): There’s no question that the president has down-played the risk of terror since he took office. He is investigating the CIA, rather than build them up.

GLORIA BORGER: How has he — Senator DeMint, how — how has he down-played the risk of terror?

DEMINT: Well, it begins with not even being willing to use the word.

BORGER: Well, aside from the semantics, aside from that.

As Greg Sargent pointed out,

Politico ran with DeMint’s claim today, also without fact-checking it. So did The Hill and MSNBC. CBS also ran similar DeMint comments without rebutting them.

The rebuttal is that not only has Obama repeatedly used the word, he had used it as recently as one day before DeMint’s accusation!  You gotta love that liberal media, letting hard-core conservatives lie about Obama that way.

But thankfully, there are other outlets.  Here is one example that utterly destroys the Obama-won’t-use-the-word-terror meme:

  

If you think such a devastating rebuttal of outrageous right-wing hysteria would stop the insane references to language and Obama’s war efforts, you would be wrong.  Here is something Sarah Palin said, to much applause, at the Tea Party Convention last weekend:

Let me say, too, it’s not politicizing our security to discuss our concerns because Americans deserve to know the truth about the threats that we face and what the administration is or isn’t doing about them. So let’s talk about them. New terms used like “overseas contingency operation” instead of the word “war.” That reflects a world view that is out of touch with the enemy that we face. We can’t spin our way out of this threat. It is one thing to call a pay raise a job created or saved. It is quite another to call the devastation that a homicide bomber can inflict a “manmade disaster.” I just say, come on, Washington, if no where else, national security, that is one place where you’ve got to call it like it is.

She went on to say:

We need a foreign policy that distinguishes America’s friends from her enemies and recognizes the true nature of the threats that we face.

The “true nature of the threats that we face” is what Obama and his administration have finally got right.  And for that the right-wing offers nothing but ridicule and fear.  The latest book by a former Bush official, Marc Thiessen, has as part of its title the following:

How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack

Thiessen began his attacks on Obama rather early.  Last year he wrote:

It’s not even the end of inauguration week, and Obama is already proving to be the most dangerous man ever to occupy the Oval Office.

All of this illustrates that conservatives are more interested in a “War on Obama” than anything else.

[Biden photo: AP; Palin photo: Tennessean.com]

No Cause For Hysteria

Obviously, all of us are justifiably concerned about the utter failure of our government to stop the panty bomber from getting a U.S. visa or getting on an airplane bound for Detroit.

But what isn’t so obvious, and what we sometimes fail to appreciate, is the fact that after eight years of prosecuting a “war” against al Qaeda (despite the rather large and costly deviation in Iraq), we have made considerable progress.

Thanks to the Bush administration’s initial efforts (which lost focus after Iraq), and thanks to the Obama administration’s refocusing on the terrorist group, al Qaeda is just not what it used to be, even though what it is now is menacing enough.

Peter Beinart, writing for Time, pointed out the obvious fact that the panty bomber failed, but suggested that his failure was a sign of the relative weakness of al Qaeda:

…Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was just one terrorist. Once upon a time, al-Qaeda’s modus operandi was to launch multiple, simultaneous attacks. That way, even if one attack failed, the entire operation wouldn’t…

Second, the underwear attack failed because Abdulmutallab wasn’t particularly well trained. The 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were personally selected by Osama bin Laden from the tens of thousands of potential killers who went through al-Qaeda’s Afghan training camps in the 1990s. The ringleaders got extensive training on the design of airplanes and the behavior of aircraft crews, even before they enrolled in U.S. flight schools. The grunts were made to slit the throats of camels and sheep to overcome their inhibitions about murder. Abdulmutallab, by contrast, reportedly used a syringe to try to detonate a notoriously hard-to-detonate explosive called PETN. “To make this stuff work,” says Van Romero, an explosives expert at New Mexico Tech, “you have to know what you’re doing.” Abdulmutallab, it appears, did not.

Beinart catalogues some of the things that have been done internationally to thwart al Qaeda’s ability to do what it did prior to the 9/11 attacks. Such efforts include “scrutinizing financial transactions and cell-phone calls,” as well as the use of drones to track al Qaeda leaders “around the clock.”  He even mentions the flawed no-fly lists, which today contain around 4000 names, compared to 16 before 9/11.

But the most surprising reminder from Beinart is the fact that al Qaeda is “under more pressure from fellow Muslims”  and that, “Al-Qaeda’s butchery has wrecked its image among ordinary Muslims“:

After jihadists bombed a wedding in Amman in 2005, the percentage of Jordanians who said they trusted bin Laden to “do the right thing” dropped from 25% to less than 1%. In Pakistan, the site of repeated attacks, support for al-Qaeda fell from 25% in 2008 to 9% the next year. In 2007, the Pew Research Center found that in Pakistan, Lebanon, Indonesia and Bangladesh, support for terrorism had dropped by at least half since 2002.

Because of such dissipating support, Muslim governments–if not Muslim religious leaders–are taking action, sometimes secretly, to root out terrorist cells or terrorist training camps, making it more difficult for them to train adequately potential terrorists to do the kind of damage that was done on 9/11.

So, in an odd way, the Christmas bombing attempt can be seen as good news for a reason beyond the fact that it was a failure.  As Beinart wrote,

…al-Qaeda seems to be relying more on solo operators, people like Abdulmutallab, Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Malik Hasan and Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan American arrested last year for allegedly plotting to blow up buildings in New York. These lone wolves are harder to catch, but they’re also less likely to do massive damage…Not exactly a cause for celebration, but certainly not cause for the hysteria that has gripped Washington since Christmas Day.

Pakistani Paranoia

Thursday on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports, Pervez Hoodbhoy, a prominent Pakistani professor in Islamabad, said a couple of things that Americans should pay attention to, particularly those whose foreign policy philosophy amounts to, “We are Americans, and nothing else matters.”

Travelling with Secretary of State Clinton in Pakistan, Ms. Mitchell was questioning the professor about Clinton’s three-day “charm offensive,” the purpose of which is to improve relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, and to gain some degree of trust among the Pakistani people.  Professor Hoodbhoy, who has previously written, “Pakistan is probably the most anti-American country in the world,” replied to Mitchell’s question:

The purpose of the charm offensive is to reduce the level of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, which is at a very high level.  And one sees all kinds of conspiracy theories.  In fact even the suicide bombings that are carried on—people say, “Ah, it’s really the Americans who are trying to destabilize Pakistan,” and so forth.

On the one hand, it is somewhat comforting to know that the Beck-Hannity-Limbaugh phenomenon isn’t just a distinctly American affliction, and that paranoid conspiracists are not limited to jobs as Fox “News” commentators or bombastic blowhards on American radio. 

On the other hand, it is rather dispiriting that a country—so vital to our success in rooting out and destroying al Qaeda—largely doesn’t trust American intentions.  We must ask ourselves, just what kind of opinion do average Pakistanis hold of Americans, if they can entertain the notion that we are behind the suicide bombings in Pakistan?

Professor Hoodbhoy laments the state of his society:

What we see today in Pakistan is paranoia, and I think that we’ve got to the point where it’s become ridiculous where all of our ills are being blamed on America.

I’m sure the professor would find little solace in the fact that here in America, the right-wing is blaming all of our ills on Barack Hussein Obama, and is steadfastly resisting our president’s efforts to improve our country’s image around the world.

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