President Obama spent the first months in office distancing himself from George W. Bush and from America.
That priority has left American less safe a year after his inauguration, as Obama has moved to de-emphasize al Qaeda’s threat to the homeland and criminalize the people defending it.
His bash-Bush world tour sent a signal to terrorists, and his own counter-terror bureaucracy, that his predecessor over-stated the danger and that America had lost its way.
In Cairo last June, he blamed Americans for fueling mistrust of Islam.
"The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights," he said. "This has bred more fear and mistrust."
Obama compared American women’s drive to succeed with Muslim countries where women in some instances cannot vote, drive a car, choose a husband, walk alongside a man or dress as they choose.
"The struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world," he said, adding, "I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal."
In other speeches, he declared that the United States is not a Christian nation, but would be one of the world’s largest Muslim countries. Population numbers show the latter statement to be wrong.
Amid the foreign speeches came the policy shifts: the commander in chief:
• Dropped the Bush phrase "war on terror" because it might offend Muslims, and replaced it with "overseas contingency." An act of terror became a "man-caused disaster.”
• Ended the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques on key al Qaeda captives. The CIA is now essentially out of the interrogation process. Obama allowed the Justice Department to launch a second criminal investigation into the officers who preformed it under Justice guidelines, after pledging earlier not to reopen the case. This came in the face of two facts. Career Justice Department prosecutors already cleared the CIA officers. The information the CIA procured stopped attacks and save lives.
• Publicly released once-secret Justice Department memos that justified the techniques, disclosing to terrorists how the questioning works. This came despite pleas from seven former CIA directors not to do it.
• Announced the closing of Guantanamo prison, a special facility created by Bush to hold and try al Qaeda war criminals. The closing announcement came without a plan for what to do with hundreds of murderous inmates.
• Moved the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a close aide to Osama bin Laden who orchestrated the September 11 attacks, from a military tribunal at Gitmo to a federal courthouse in Manhattan, a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center carnage. KSM went from war criminal to just plain criminal, with full constitutional rights.
• Announced a policy, through his chief counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, that it is better to plea bargain with terror suspects via defense attorneys than to turn them over to the military, CIA and FBI for extended questioning. This pronouncement came in the case of underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was given a defense attorney shortly after he tried to blow up Detroit-bound flight 253 on orders from al Qaeda.
• Attempted to marginalize the impact of Fort Hood murderer Nidal Malik Hasan and Abdulmutallab by declaring their attacks were confined to them alone. Obama, days after Abdulmutallab was arrested and with knowledge of his al Qaeda training in Yemen, told the American people he was an "isolated" actor.
Taken together, these words and policy shifts left the counter-terror professionals, if not asleep at the switch, at least dozing a bit.
In the case of Abdulmutallab, the White House conceded the system produced sufficient information to stop him from boarding that Christmas Day flight from Amsterdam. But counter-terror personnel failed to act.
"Our review found the intelligence agencies and analysts had the information they needed," Brennan told reporters January 7. "No agency or individual was denied access to that information … It was a failure to connect and integrate and understand the intelligence we had."
As the Heritage Foundation’s James Jay Carafano told HUMAN EVENTS, "So then the question is: Why aren’t the analysts doing their job? It’s leadership. If people aren’t pressing you to move forward on these things then nothing happens."
To his credit, Obama has stuck to Bush’s troop withdrawal timeline for Iraq. He mostly met Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for more forces in Afghanistan, but then doomed the effort by imposing a too-short timetable for withdrawal. He has approved continued use of Predator assassin drones to kill terrorists in Pakistan. And he continues to rely on Bush’s terrorist surveillance intercepts to monitor communications in and out of the U.S. with militants. (In fact, Hasan’s emails to a radical imam in Yemen were intercepted and could have been used as justification for the FBI to question the Army officer. But it did not."
Yet, Obama has overshadowed those pro-war policies by his bevy of "anything-but-Bush" approach, especially regarding interrogations. He left America less safe.
As former Bush speech writer Marc A. Thiessen writes in his new book, Courting Disaster, "In shutting down the CIA program, Obama eliminated our nation’s most important tool to prevent the terrorists from striking America. And in releasing highly sensitive documents describing the details of how we have interrogated captured terrorists and the legal limits of our interrogation techniques Obama gave critical intelligence to the enemy. These were two of the most dangerous and irresponsible acts an American president has ever committed in a time of war."
It is not just a partisan like Thiessen who is crying foul. Seven former CIA directors — both under Democratic and Republican presidents — wrote to Obama in September urging him not to re-investigate CIA officers.
"Attorney General Holder’s decision to re-open the criminal investigation creates an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy for those whose cases the Department of Justice had previously declined to prosecute," they wrote. "Those men and women who undertake difficult intelligence assignments in the aftermath of an attack such as September 11 must believe there is permanence in the legal rules that govern their actions."
The letter came from Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet, John Deutch, R. James Woolsey, William Webster and James R. Schlesinger. In addition, Leon Panetta, Obama’s CIA director, opposed the second investigation.
A former FBI agent told HUMAN EVENTS, "In the past ten months there has been a surge of jihadi activity targeting the United States. The Christmas day attack over Detroit, the Fort Hood jihadi in the Army officer corps, the killing of an Army Recruiter in Arkansas by a jihadi, and others, as well as over a dozen thwarted plots, several of which were large scale operations, are indicative of a total failure in leadership at all levels of government from the homeland security, FBI, the National Counter terrorism Center, and others all the way to a White House, whose policies and political posturing effectively green-lights our enemies to attack the Homeland."
Obama’s decision to treat terrorists as criminal defendants, while criminalizing tough interrogations, is creating confusion in the heart of the war on terror Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Just back from a battlefield tour there, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he found "confusion" up and down the ranks on how to treat captives.
"This operational confusion has been created, it strikes me, unnecessarily and, frankly, dangerously, by the administration," McConnell said.
"This sort of preoccupation, if you will, that we see on full display here in the U.S. with the example of the Christmas would-be bomber being turned over not to the military for interrogation, but to criminal courts and told he’s entitled to a lawyer, is a mentality that I think is very dangerous in the war on terror," he added. "So we see this preoccupation with prisoners’ rights, both on foreign battlefield and here at home, that seems to be consuming the administration in this war on terror."
Obama readily released the Bush legal memos on interrogations, but withheld CIA documents that showed how the information stopped terror attacks. Enter former Vice President Dick Cheney, who went so far as to file a Freedom of Information request to get all the facts out. Cheney won. Two CIA reports showed the lives saved by getting information from Sheik Mohammed and others.
Obama went to CIA headquarters to explain his moves. There, he made the extraordinary admission that he, the commander in chief, had made their job of defeating al Qaeda more difficult by releasing the Bush memos, something he did not have to do and which his CIA director urged against.
"What makes the United States special and what makes you special is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals even when it’s hard, not just when it’s easy; even when we are afraid and under threat, not just when it’s expedient to do so," he said.
That’s what makes us different. So yes, you’ve got a harder job and so do I. And that’s okay, because that’s why we can take such extraordinary pride in being Americans. And over the long term, that is why I believe we will defeat our enemies because we’re on the better side of history."
As Thiessen writes in his new book, "The president has, by his own admission, forced the CIA to operate with one hand tied behind its back. He has, by his own admission, made the agency’s job of protecting us from terror harder. And he says that’s okay. It’s not."