Obama, the Weak Horse

Soon upon us will be the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s inauguration.  It’s time to ask, are we safer or in more danger than we were a year ago?  

By every objective measure — what we know about Islamic terrorism, its intentions and capabilities — the answer is no. We are far less safe now than we were then.

To ask how much danger are we in is fatuous. You may as well ask, “[H]ow much danger is there”? The president has taken actions that — again objectively — have increased our vulnerability tremendously. Two of the actions he took immediately after taking office prove the point. And the actions he and Attorney General Eric Holder have since taken only increase the danger.

One of the first things the president did on taking office was to ban the “enhanced interrogation methods” used successfully during the Bush administration to gain current, actionable intelligence from terrorist prisoners.  

We know from several sources that these interrogation methods were legal and productive.  And essential.  

As George Tenet, the CIA Director under Presidents Clinton and Bush, said: "I know that this [enhanced interrogation methods] program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots. I know this program alone is worth more than the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us."

President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, said: "High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al-Qaeda organization that was attacking this country."

Those statements were proven redundantly by the documents released by the CIA Inspector General last year. They showed, in detail, how Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other high-value prisoners provided specific information that was used to interdict terrorist plots and capture some of the terrorists who were planning them.

Yet President Obama has prohibited the use of these interrogation methods. If they were as valuable as Tenet and Blair said, we are now left with intelligence gathering methods which are inferior and inadequate.  The president and his White House political staff are now controlling interrogations, rather than leaving that business to those who know how to gain the intelligence that can be used to prevent coming attacks.

If Obama were interested in improving the intelligence community’s ability to protect us, he would return to them the authority to use whatever interrogation methods that are still legal, and get himself out of the business.

President Obama campaigned on the promise to close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and ordered its closure within a year of his inauguration without any plan on where the detainees would go, or how they would be tried and possibly punished for their violations of the law of war.

He now plans to purchase the Thomson, Illinois maximum security prison and move the Gitmo detainees there. And even those such as 9-11 planner Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his cohort will be tried by civilian courts in American cities, not by the military commissions created for that purpose.  

Last week, White House counterterrorism czar John Brennan said that we would still, on a case by case basis, release Gitmo detainees to Yemen. This despite the facts that would-be underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was trained there by an al Queda cel that reportedly contains two Gitmo alumni and that the Yemenis released Jamal al-Badawi, one of the men responsible for the 2000 attack on the USS Cole.

Brennan’s statement has drawn wide condemnation.  Even the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) — joining with Ranking Republican Kit Bond (R-Mo) — has asked Obama to stop releases to Yemen.  In a January 5 joint letter to Obama, Feinstein and Bond objected strongly to Brennan’s statement, writing that:

“The Intelligence Committee has held a number of briefings and hearings in the past year that clearly demonstrate that the security situation in Yemen has deteriorated.  Terrorists, including al Queda, have found Yemen to be a relative safehaven from which to plan attacks, both against Yemeni targets and externally.  Unfortunately, we cannot rely on assurances that detainees transferred to Yemen for detention will be held securely until they no longer pose a threat.”

There is no substantive or legal reason to close Gitmo, only political calculation.  And there is great danger in releasing its inmates. As the Bond-Feinstein letter points out, at least 18 of those released have been captured again or killed on the battlefield, and — as of 2008, according to the Defense Department, 43 more are suspected of having returned to terrorism. 

Obama has classified the more recent estimates of how many Gitmo alumni have returned to terrorism. He is committed to closing Gitmo regardless of the risks, and doesn’t want us to know how many more of those released have gone back to their murderous ways.

Keeping Gitmo open — and subjecting the enemy combatants there who can be tried to military commissions — would keep us safer. But Obama rejects both ideas.  

Abdulmutallab has something in common with Mohammed Abdi, the young Somali pirate captured by Navy SEALs in their spectacular Easter Day rescue of a U.S. merchant ship captain last year. Both have been placed in the civilian court system, denying intelligence interrogators the chance to get current information from them.  

Abdulmutallab’s isolation from intelligence gatherers may literally cost lives.  He must know who trained him and where, and may know other terrorists who went through training with him. The others are a current threat. If — as the Obama Justice Department plans — he cooperates and negotiates a plea agreement, we may get some of that information. A year or more from now, when it’s no longer current. When it can no longer be used to save American and other lives.

On December 13, 2001 the Defense Department released the transcript of a videotaped conversation held the month before (probably in Kandahar, Afghanistan) between Osama bin Laden and a number of his followers.  In it, bin Laden claimed credit for the 9-11 attacks.  And he said, “…when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.”  

Obama is a weak horse.  His weakness is the weakness of all liberals, just as Ronald Reagan defined it: “the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so.”  

Obama said last week that we are at war with al Qaeda, which misdefines our enemy.  We are at war with the nations that sponsor terrorism as well as their proxies such as al Qaeda, Hizballah, Lashkar e-Taiba and the rest.  You cannot win a war by fighting only the enemy’s proxies.

The president believes we can talk terrorists out of terrorism.  He might as well believe he could talk the Neytiri character in “Avatar” out of being blue.  He has no understanding of how powerful the Islamofascist ideology is, how deeply-rooted or widespread.    

Obama believes Gitmo is an instrument of terrorist recruitment that must be closed regardless of the risks that may create. But — as former Attorney General Michael Mukasey told me two weeks ago — a successful attack is the best recruitment tool.  The only other one that matters is the Islamofascist ideology, which we must defeat in order to defeat its instrumentalities.

Obama believes that terrorists should be treated like common criminals, put into our civilian criminal justice system and protected from intelligence interrogations by methods because he finds them distasteful.  

And Obama believes that we should still extend an open hand to Iran, regardless of the number of times it is slapped away. He is apparently willing to accept a nuclear-armed Iran rather than take the military action which is the only path remaining to deny the world’s principal sponsor of terrorism those arms.

As Don Rumsfeld was fond of saying, weakness is provocative.  Provocation results in danger, and loss of life.

Are we in less danger than we were a year ago?  By the objective criteria we have to measure the danger of terrorism, the answer is an emphatic “no.”  And, unfortunately, we likely soon to be able to measure it by another objective criterion — the number of lives that will be lost to terrorism, the butcher’s bill — that is paid for Obama’s knowledge of so much that just isn’t so.