In War On Terror, 'I Screwed Up' Won't Be Enough

This week, when a reporter asked Barack Obama about his avoidance of the use of the term “war on terror” (Obama has deployed the phrase in public only once, according to the Associated Press), our lawyer president suggested that he thought it best to be careful with his words so as not to alienate moderate Muslims.  

“Words matter in this situation,” Obama said, “because one of the ways we’re going to win this struggle is through the battle of hearts and minds.”  

Words do matter.  And Obama has spoken a lot of them in the first couple weeks of his presidency about such things as building “mutual interest and mutual respect” with the Muslim world.  But while Obama’s words are intended to reassure Muslims, his actions may be having the opposite effect on those whose security the president is charged first and foremost with protecting — the American people.    

A Gallup poll this week found that Obama’s decision “ordering that the Guantanamo Bay prison be closed” is the second least popular decision he’s made thus far. In fact, a majority of the over 1,000 Americans surveyed by Gallup disapproved of the decision.  

That share might have been even lower if Gallup had taken its poll after Wednesday, when Obama told NBC:

Can we guarantee that they’re [Gitmo prisoners] not going to try to participate in another attack?  No.  But what I can guarantee is that if we don’t uphold our Constitution and our values … that will make us less safe. And that will be a recruitment tool for organizations like Al Qaeda.

Once again, the president is demonstrating he has no clue about the nature of America’s jihadist enemy.  We know that many former Gitmo detainees indeed have returned to the global jihad upon their release.  We know that Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi was repatriated to Kuwait in 2005 after three years in Gitmo and subsequently acquitted of terrorism charges by a Kuwaiti court.  He went on to kill seven people in a suicide bombing targeting Iraqi security forces in Mosul.  

And this week brought news that a much praised “de-radicalization” program for imprisoned jihadists in Saudi Arabia isn’t all it was cracked up to be.  Saudi Arabia had claimed a perfect record in converting murderous jihadists into upstanding citizens.

Now the Saudi government admits that as many as 10 terrorists who completed the program had gone right back to waging jihad.  

In a much-discussed interview with Politico this week, former Vice President Dick Cheney pointed out that 61 former Gitmo inmates have “gone back into the business of being terrorists.”  And the 200 or so still there are, according to Cheney, “the hard core, whose recidivism rate would be much higher.”  

Obama still hasn’t said what he’ll do with the terror suspects at Gitmo once it’s closed.  But the prospect of them housed at the local penitentiary — where, as Chuck Colson has noted, their murderous ideology often becomes viral — helps explain why most Americans don’t want these thugs transferred here.    

Obama speaks of the battle to win the “hearts and minds” of the Muslim world.  He seems to believe that if America just abided more closely to “our values,” Islamic terrorism would go away.  But “our values” are exactly what our enemy loathes.

While many Muslims simply want peace (proof of which was seen in the successful Iraq elections this week), Obama may find it rather more difficult to win over the Muslims who matter most: those inculcated from birth with the idea that Jews and Christians are sub-human and that death is grander than life.  

We have become numb to stories of terrorists who exploit women, children and persons with disabilities by forcing them to become homicide bombers.  But this week, the jihadists put an evil twist on their deplorable acts.  An Iraqi woman is charged with recruiting more than 80 female homicide bombers.  Nothing new there, but get this: the woman, Samira Jassam, confessed to ordering that the girls be raped so that she could later convince them that martyrdom was the only way to escape the shame.

The heart and mind of an enemy animated more by the prospect of our death than by its own survival cannot be won over by soothing words from the Oval Office.

National security issues probably weren’t foremost on Obama’s mind this week.  Instead, he found himself in the middle of another scandal about one of his cabinet appointees.  When former Sen. Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination to become Secretary of Health and Human Services after it was discovered he had cheated on his taxes, Obama admitted, “I think I messed up.  I screwed up.”

I appreciate Obama’s candor.  But I hope the mistakes that have plagued his nomination choices do not presage more screw ups on national security matters.  In his interview with Politico, Cheney warned of a “high probability” that terrorists will attempt a nuclear or biological attack in the coming years and said the Obama administration’s policies may make it more likely to succeed.  

“Words matter,” and so do actions.  If Obama’s actions lead to the obliteration of a U.S. city, the words “I screwed up” won’t be enough.