Monday, September 12, 2011

Anatomy of a Myth V – Obama Deserves Kudos for “Ramping-Up” the Drone Attacks

Even the most ardent Obama detractors manage to offer the President kudos for “ramping-up” the drone attacks on terror targets. Then they usually throw in a nice word or two about him “getting bin Laden” and then it’s right back to berating him for just about everything else. Well, I’m not going to play that game. Nope. I give him no credit for bin Laden OR the increased drone attacks. In fact, I think both are emblematic of perhaps Obama’s biggest failure of all: losing the intelligence war. To understand why, let's go back in time to the very beginning.

The very first item on Obama’s to-do list was to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. This had nothing to do with making America stronger. It was a political promise motivated by a mistaken belief that the prison violated international norms and/or the Geneva Conventions. Some prominent Republicans, including John McCain, were also among those calling for closing the prison. But Obama went much further. He wanted to close the prison, move the prisoners onto US soil, try them in civilian courts, treat them like citizens, offer them defense attorneys, place them in witness protection programs, provide them with high-paying union “green jobs”, and get them all slots on American Idol.  (OK, I made those last ones up.)

Of course, Gitmo is still up and running but the administration has pledged to add no new prisoners there. No prisoners? What to do? The answer: kill them all. Rather than engaging in the hard work of capturing live terrorists and interrogating them, Obama prefers dropping bombs on them and their villages from un-manned drones at thirty thousand feet. To the left, indiscriminate death from above is morally just, but capture and interrogation, while perhaps saving hundreds of innocent lives, is unthinkable! The result of this kill-all policy has been a dearth of new first-person intelligence. Are we safer? Are we morally better-off executing suspects than we were holding and questioning them? Are we making more friends in Pakistan and Yemen this way?

Bin Laden’s assassination was part of that same pattern. By now everyone accepts that bin Laden would never have been found were it not for the policies of George W Bush which Obama universally opposed. Moreover, Obama had no way of dealing with a live terrorist, so his only option was execution. Had he been interested in learning as much as he could about al-Qaeda and preventing future attacks, he would have captured bin Laden and dealt with the political ramifications. But his interest was to make the headline and avoid the sticky politics. As for any intelligence gathered from that raid, its value was instantly undermined by the administration's leaks. Why tell the enemy what we found? Why not keep hush or say everything was destroyed?

No, on this 10th anniversary of 9/11 if I’m going to praise President Obama, it will have to be on the grounds that he seems to be a decent father. In fact, he’d make an excellent full-time father!

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