The Meaning of Ists

What’s the difference between Obama’s anti-terrorism policies and Bush’s?

One of the Bush administration’s most pernicious legacies is the never-ending War on Terrorism, a perpetual state of emergency that supposedly authorizes the president to break the law, abridge civil liberties, and ignore due process, all under a cloak of secrecy. Last week former Vice President Dick Cheney accused the Obama administration of forsaking Bush’s War on Terrorism. If only it were true.

After watching the official reaction to the failed Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, Cheney complained that “President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war.” In addition to Obama’s “low-key response” to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s fizzled underwear bomb, Cheney cited the administration’s plans to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, release some detainees held there, and try suspected terrorists in federal court. “We are at war,” Cheney insisted, “and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe.”

If Obama is pretending we are not at war, he is not doing a very good job of it. “Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred,” he declared in his inaugural address. “I don't think there's any question but that we are at war” with terrorists, his attorney general, Eric Holder, said at his confirmation hearing that same month. “We are indeed at war with Al Qaeda and its affiliates,” Obama said in May. “As the president has made clear,” his chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, said in August, “we are at war with Al Qaeda.”

It’s true that Obama prefers to say we are at war with terrorists rather than terrorism, because, as Brennan put it, “you can never fully defeat a tactic like terrorism any more than you can defeat the tactic of war itself.” But since Al Qaeda and its allies won’t be signing an instrument of surrender anytime in the foreseeable future, the implications are similar.

Nor does there seem to be much difference between Bush and Obama in terms of the policies said to be justified by this permanent war. The closing of Guantanamo, which was supposed to happen this month but has been delayed until next year at the earliest, is by the Obama administration’s own account a symbolic move, aimed at removing a conspicuous “recruiting tool” for Al Qaeda. But the policy that Guantanamo represents will continue.

Under the Bush administration, detainees were either released, tried in civilian court, tried by military tribunals, or held indefinitely without trial, depending on the president’s whim. Under the Obama administration, detainees will either be released, tried in civilian court, tried by military tribunals, or held indefinitely without trial, depending on the president’s whim. Furthermore, Obama reserves the right to keep detainees locked up even if they are acquitted, an option that makes you wonder why he bothers with trials at all.

Obama and Bush are also of one mind when it comes to the necessity and propriety of shipping detainees off to cooperating countries that may have fewer compunctions about torture and of listening to Americans’ phone calls and reading their email without a warrant. They likewise agree that national security requires the suppression of lawsuits aimed at holding the government accountable for violating people’s rights in the name of the War on Terrorism—excuse me, the War on Terrorists.

Cheney not only exaggerates the differences between his former boss’s anti-terrorism policies and Obama’s; he puts way too much faith in the power of martial rhetoric to stop bombs from going off. In the case that provoked his tirade, as with the September 11 attacks, it was the government’s failure to connect crucial pieces of information that prevented the attacker from receiving the scrutiny he should have.

“We need to…make sure we can put those pieces together,” Brennan said on Sunday, “so that we take every step possible to prevent these individuals from getting on planes.” Does such competence require a declaration of war?

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Copyright 2010 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • Suki||

    Good Morning reason!

  • Dumbstruck||

    Craziest comment of 2009:

    "Besides, to be a Paul supporter, you’d have to be—well, nuts. The guy … is generally delusional when it comes to foreign affairs—so much so that to him, even a liberal pansy like Barack Obama is a war-monger."

    I guess "liberal pansy" means hasn't invaded Iran yet.

  • Suki||

    Furthermore, Obama reserves the right to keep detainees locked up even if they are acquitted, an option that makes you wonder why he bothers with trials at all.

    He thinks that's where Stalin went wrong.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Ist ist nicht gut?

  • ||

    Cheney's just jealous that Obama gets to do all the stuff he wanted to do and gets almost no shit for it. "Penal envy", if you will.

  • ||

    Curse you Epi. It's way too early to laugh this hard.

  • ||

    If Obama is pretending we are not at war, he is not doing a very good job of it. “Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred,” he declared in his inaugural address. “I don't think there's any question but that we are at war” with terrorists, his attorney general, Eric Holder, said at his confirmation hearing that same month. “We are indeed at war with Al Qaeda and its affiliates,” Obama said in May. “As the president has made clear,” his chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, said in August, “we are at war with Al Qaeda.”

    Science, you would have thought by now that Sullum would be able to recognize the fact that Obama only lies when he is speaking.

    He said he was going to ect, ect, ect that he has not done. Saying "we are at war" but not acting like we are at war is more of the same. Did Churchill say "we will fight in the fields, we will fight in the streets and on the beaches, but if we haven't won by X date we will quit?" Yeah, he really believes we are at war.

    Isn't it embarrassing pretending to believe something this man has said? Or is Sullum really that gullible? Either way I sure wouldn't want to confirm it for posterity in print.

  • Suki||

    Did Churchill say "we will fight in the fields, we will fight in the streets and on the beaches, but if we haven't won by X date we will quit?"

    That was implied. Heard it from a historian someplace. In the future the date will be filled in.

  • ||

    What’s the difference between Obama’s anti-terrorism policies and Bush’s?

    Bush was bad.

  • ||

    While I generally do not agree with Dick Cheney, and most of the his criticism is completely wrong, Obama has the CIA watching ice melt. Again, the CIA was watching ice melt while information regarding the underwear bomber sat on someone's desk.

    The nation’s top scientists and spies are collaborating on an effort to use the federal government’s intelligence assets — including spy satellites and other classified sensors — to assess the hidden complexities of environmental change. They seek insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests.

    The collaboration restarts an effort the Bush administration shut down and has the strong backing of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In the last year, as part of the effort, the collaborators have scrutinized images of Arctic sea ice from reconnaissance satellites in an effort to distinguish things like summer melts from climate trends, and they have had images of the ice pack declassified to speed the scientific analysis.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01.....mp;emc=rss

  • ||

    ""The monitoring program has little or no impact on regular intelligence gathering, federal officials said, but instead releases secret information already collected or takes advantage of opportunities to record environmental data when classified sensors are otherwise idle or passing over wilderness.""

    As long as it doesn't affect intel gathering, what's wrong with it?

  • ||

    How can it not? it requires resources

  • Jordan||

    And you believe them?

  • The Man||

    Perhaps this is the moral equivalent of spying?

  • ||

    Everyone just take another drink of Hope Gin.

  • ||

    Seems like this dude is really full of himself doesnt it?

    RT
    www.total-anonymity.at.tc

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Obama's terrorist list includes:

    Ron Paul supporters
    Tea Party attendees
    Constitution Party voters/candidates
    Anti-Obama groups
    Free-market advocates
    Gun owners

    Which may explain why screeners and scrutinizers were distracted by shiny objects while the Taint Bomber flash-fried his own crotch over Detroit...

  • ||

    Obama's terrorist list includes:

    Ron Paul supporters
    Tea Party attendees
    Constitution Party voters/candidates
    Anti-Obama groups
    Free-market advocates
    Gun owners
    =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
    You forgot Joan Rivers...

    http://www.nydailynews.com/gos.....ivers.html

  • Some Guy||

    You forgot Joan Rivers...

    Well I guess he can't always be wrong.

  • ||

    Puhlezze, this is not what I would have expected from Reason! It appears that Jacob Sullum has reverted back to his Commie Cornell roots....is he an official Leftytarian now? It's hard to tell when there's so much Hopey Juice around.

  • ||

    Just yesterday, in a Pakastani Newspaper, it was mentioned that a recent drone attack had killed a teacher and his nine year old son.

    So far this year, about 700 civilians who were not identified as terrorists have died in the drone attacks.

    We should not stop fighting terrorists, but we also need to curtail our own terrorism.

    The trouble with Cheney's concept is that he would have to be fighting himself, a terrorist if there ever was one.

    El Quaeda and Dick Cheney have much in common. Neither have much compunction about killing innocent people.

  • ||

    So if you slip and fall on the icy sidewalk, clonk into your girlfriend, and chip one of her teeth, it's like totally the same as if you got pissed, punched her in the mouth, and broke the tooth that way?

    There's this weird little concept in law and ethics called intention you might want to look into some day.

  • Big John||

    Carl Pham

    +1

  • DJF||

    So dropping bombs is like slipping on the ice? Its just an oops?

  • ||

    While I agree that Obama's talk about being tough on terrorists is not the same as action, I also can't discern much difference between his policies and Bush-Cheney's policies (other than a few actions meant to put a veneer over his continuing disrespect of the Constitution- e.g., closing Guantanamo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's civilian trial). Cheney and company, however, actually seem to value the rhetoric as much as the action. After Obama's speech yesterday, I heard much acclaim on news shows about how he finally sounded angry. I also heard Republicans suggest that, if he were really tough on terrorism (or terrorists or whatever), he would have acted really mad and panicky from the outset of this incident. In the absence of any real change in policy, it seems like Republicans have gotten to the point where they just object to Obama's demeanor when speaking about these issues. I don't care for the policies of either Obama or Bush, but I found Obama's calm demeanor at first to be much more appropriate than Bush's bloviating.

  • ||

    It’s true that Obama prefers to say we are at war with terrorists rather than terrorism, because, as Brennan put it, “you can never fully defeat a tactic like terrorism any more than you can defeat the tactic of war itself.” But since Al Qaeda and its allies won’t be signing an instrument of surrender anytime in the foreseeable future, the implications are similar.

    I'm actually starting to think the US and its allies should offer some kind of peace deal with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. At the same time, they should make contingency plans for a major offensive in the event that some significant subset of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda reject the offer (hear me out).

    We have a public relations problem regarding our current war in Afghanistan. About half the people in the US (and higher percentages in most other countries including many of our NATO allies) are in favor of outright withdrawal of international forces even though the Taliban still has a plausible chance of defeating the current government and regaining power, and even though the top management of Al-Qaeda remains at large.

    If the Taliban (especially the 2001 core leadership faction led by Mullah Omar) regained power it would be a disaster for the credibility of US/NATO deterrence, and a human rights disaster for the citizens of Afghanistan. It would be a shot in the arm for Osama bin Laden’s beleaguered jihadist ideology – as he would say “Look, I told you Allah would grant victory if only we remained faithful and fought the infidels, and now it has happened”. It may make it possible for Al-Qaeda to reestablish training camps in Afghanistan. It would also make it more difficult to recruit local allies next time we have occasion to do so – as it would give the impression that the US will abandon them to brutal fanatics as soon as fighting those fanatics became politically inconvenient.

    So Barak Obama faces the challenge of prevent these sorts of outcomes, while at the same time dealing with domestic and international opposition to the most effective method of preventing them: having the US-led coalition in Afghanistan. If the coalition withdraws, with opposing militant groups still in their current state, the US would have much less ability to fight those militant groups or influence facts on the grounds. And Obama would be forced to rely more heavily on airstrikes – which tend to cause more civilian casualties thus alienating the local population.

    So the goal of the peace offer would be to accomplish one of two things: either create a situation where the coalition can withdraw without much risk (if it is accepted); or help make the case for continuing the fight, even launching a new offensive, to war-weary domestic and foreign audiences (if it is rejected).

    But Obama would have to be very strategic about his approach in making such an offer, and it would need to something Americans can live with if accepted (which means it would probably be rejected).

    Before making any offer or even hinting that an offer is forthcoming; the US would have to consult with other coalition members and the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan (at the very least). It might also be useful to consult with others: Afghan tribal leaders or warlords who are allied with (or neutral to) the government but not officially part of it, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel, India, or any other country that might have an interest in the terms of such an agreement.

    Before making this offer we should establish a common negotiating position: all parties should include what they consider to be their essential demands that must be met, and the parties should agree that nobody will make a separate peace with the Taliban, Al-Qaeda central, or any subset thereof. The message to these groups is: “you make an agreement that is acceptable to all of us, or you fight all of us, there is no making peace with only some of us”.

    What should our essential demands be? Osama bin Laden and his top deputies must agree to undergo house arrest or imprisonment (though if he would prefer to be a martyr we should be open to that also). He must issue an order to all those under his command (anywhere in the world) to stand down, stop engaging violence, and refrain from trying to forcefully overthrow any government. Under house arrest, he must agree to have all his communications monitored and prior approval will be required for any public statement to ensure that no orders for terrorism are being sent. The same goes for Mullah Mohammed Omar and the rest of the 2001 Taliban leadership.

    Importantly, nobody should inherit any of these positions within either organization – those top leadership positions must be abolished.

    What will we offer in exchange for this? We will withdraw troops from Iraq in accordance with the established timetable to which the government of Iraq has agreed. In addition, once all the relevant terrorist and insurgent groups have accepted the agreement put forth by the US and its allies, we will request that the Afghan government hold a referendum on a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from that country. We will also make similar referendum requests to the government of any other Muslim-majority country where US troops are stationed, and to abide by the results if they vote for us to leave. We can also agree that if a government of such a country refuses to hold a referendum, the US will withdraw (of course we always have the right to withdraw unilaterally if we want, even if a country’s public votes to let us stay).

    But the offer must make it clear that the Afghanistan referendum will be requested only when all the relevant factions have agreed and turned themselves in for house arrest. If only some factions do so, the US puts itself under no obligation to request a referendum on withdrawal from Afghanistan (thus running the risk that we would be required to leave while the factions that did not agree remain a threat). We could put those who turn themselves in under house arrest, and stop military action in the areas they used to occupy (unless we have other enemies there), but for the withdrawal referendum it must be all the relevant factions.

    The situation is complicated by the fact that “the Taliban” and “Al-Qaeda” are coalitions whose factions may have different degrees of fanaticism and may differ on whether to accept such an offer. The offer would need to be explicit on who must accept the offer and fulfill their obligations for the withdrawal referendum clause to be effective.

    As far as the US is concerned in this offer, “Al-Qaeda” would be Al-Qaeda central of Afghanistan/Pakistan. There are terrorist groups that use the name “Al-Qaeda” in other parts of the world (for example North Africa), and have a similar ideology, but little or no direct logistic ties. These groups might not heed an order from Osama bin Laden to stand down. The agreement would have to make clear that such groups, if they ignore a stand down order, are separate matters. The US and all other countries would retain all their ordinary rights in dealing with such organizations.

    Where the Taliban is concerned, the faction which must undergo house arrest (and from which no person should ever be allowed to hold office) is the core leadership faction (the “Quetta Shura” I think) which for years refused to shut down Al-Qaeda in their territory and extradite bin Laden, and continued this refusal even after 9/11. The Afghan and Pakistani governments might have additional members of these coalitions who they insist must undergo house arrest for the agreement to become effective.

    Lower level members or marginal factions of these coalitions may be able to be reintegrated into Afghan or Pakistani society. It would depend on how likely they are to pose a threat and how much they had to do with past aggression.

    While Al-Qaeda and the Taliban would be reluctant to accept such an offer, making one would put them under pressure to explain to the world why they are continuing the jihad. Osama’s primary complaints prior to 9/11 were related to US policy during the Gulf War, and post-war containment policies against Saddam’s regime: US bases in Saudi Arabia (with that government’s consent), no fly zones, UN sanctions, and occasional bombing of suspected WMD development sites. With Saddam gone, containment is no longer necessary and those policies have been discontinued.

    To the extent that Osama bin Laden wants US forces out of all Muslim-majority countries, we can point out that we’ve offered to let the people in those countries decide. If he says it doesn’t matter what they want because US presence there violates the “sanctity of Muslim land”, we can point out how irrational that is.

    If the Taliban wants to re-impose its social system on Afghanistan, or Al-Qaeda want a similar system imposed in other countries (probably Iraq and Pakistan), then we point out that the majority of people in those countries have asserted their right to not have to live under such repression. We can say we support them in this.

    In both of these cases, we can point out that it is Al-Qaeda, not the US, which is seeking to impose its will on Muslim individuals and countries by force.

    Our reasons for wanting Al-Qaeda central put out of business are related to our own right to self-defense and security, not an attempt to “remake the Muslim world in our image”. Our reasons for wanting to ensure that the Taliban doesn’t regain power are also related to self-defense and security; particularly the credibility of our deterrence should another tin-pot regime in another part of the world decide to weigh the costs and benefits of hosting a terrorist training camp in its territory. It is also related to the credibility of our promises to potential allies that they will benefit from our victory over the hypothetical fanatic regime that fails to learn from the example of the Taliban. Barak Obama should highlight these points, both to the US public and the world. He should point out that by offering this peace deal, he has made every effort to achieve these security goals without further bloodshed – and that rejection by the Taliban or Al-Qaeda makes it necessary to continue the war.

    If the Taliban or Al-Qaeda say that they don’t want to undergo house arrest, or that they don’t trust us to withdraw from those countries, we can point out that we have something to lose if we don’t abide by the agreement. If we bomb the building where these people are under house arrest (assuming that wasn’t part of the agreement), or refuse to withdraw in defiance of referendum results; everyone will know. This is a problem for us since we still have to negotiate with Iran and a variety of other regimes, and it will be harder for us to obtain agreements if it appears that we won’t do what we say we will do. By contrast, if Osama bin Laden issues secret orders to someone to resume terrorist activities, we may not be able to tie the terrorist act to him. And even if we do, he doesn’t have much to lose by being thought dishonest. For that reason, it should be our word that would be trusted in any such agreement.

    Osama bin Laden might complain about US aid “oppressive regimes” in the Muslim world. To this we can reply that we don’t oppose democratic and liberal reform in any country, and that we would encourage the ruling classes in countries allied with us to engage in dialogue with non-fanatical domestic opposition (if any exists). If would also be worth pointing out that Al-Qaeda’s alternative to an “oppressive regime” like the one in Egypt is a far more oppressive regime similar to the Taliban.

    If Osama bin Laden refuses the deal for any of the reasons cited above, he is putting himself in the position of fighting to impose policies in certain countries that are unfavorable to the local population. He will have a hard time citing any grievances that will resonate with most Muslims – given the nature of the offer described above. In that case, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban may be sufficiently hated by the Pakistani public to get them to accept large, temporary US troop presence on their soil for the purpose of a major offensive (including house-to-house and cave-to-cave searches for the top jihadist leaders). If not, they should at least want to have their own army pursue these groups with increased vigor.

    If all the relevant factions accept that offer, the US should abide by its agreement fully. But having bin Laden and company lay down their arms would be major blow, strategically and psychologically, to the international Sunni jihadist movement. Whatever uncoordinated splinter factions still wanted to fight in Afghanistan after that would probably be a negligible threat to the Afghan government (though if they don’t think so, the people of Afghanistan could request that we stay).

    The wild card is if Osama bin Laden starts talking about the Israel/Palestine situation (a peripheral issue in his earlier fatwas) as his reason for rejecting the offer and continuing the jihad. This would have more resonance within the Muslim world than anything else he might cite. We could reiterate that we support a two state solution, but it will make it harder to get the public relations gains desired. The PR pressure would be back on us to justify our aid to Israel in light of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the West Bank. If the US just flat out cuts off aid immediately after a terrorist complains, it could create a problematic incentive system. That’s why it may be useful to consult with Israel beforehand to see what concessions they would be willing to make to help in that situation and what they would want in return.

    Sorry this post is longer than the article, but I started writing and it just got away from me.

  • ||

    Why is my screen name (BG) not showing up above my absurdly long post?

  • Some Guy||

    What’s the difference between Obama’s anti-terrorism policies and Bush’s?

    Biden is way less menacing when lurking in the shadows.

  • Zenmaster||

    ...and wielding a shotgun.

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