“Don’t be afraid to see what you see,” President Reagan counseled in his farewell address. We would do well to heed his advice as President Obama attempts to lead America backwards, to September 10. Make no mistake: That was the not-so-subtle message he sent last week during his speech at the National Defense University—a speech that was so full of inaccuracies that one is left to conclude the president is either living in an alternate universe or willfully disregarding the facts. Just consider some of the statements he made.
1. “There have been no large-scale attacks on the United States, and our homeland is more secure.”
In fact, Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and injured 32 others during his shooting rampage at Ft. Hood in November 2009—an attack authorized by al Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen (AQAP). Since the U.S. Army—no doubt following orders far up the chain of command—refuses to classify the Ft. Hood shooting as a terrorist attack, the survivors’ injuries and acts of bravery cannot be categorized as “combat related.”
In addition, the Boston Marathon bombing was a large-scale attack carried out by individuals who were radicalized to jihad and trained by jihadist elements in Russia.
Moreover, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, inspired and trained by AQAP, almost took down a passenger plane in December 2009; and Faisal Shahzad, trained by jihadists in Pakistan, deployed an IED in Times Square in 2010. Just as catching a thief in the act doesn’t mean he hasn’t committed a crime, the fact that these attacks failed does not mean they were not attacks.
2. “The core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the path to defeat…They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston.”
Like a five-year-old, the president seems to believe that if he says something often enough and loud enough, it will become true. In fact, al Qaeda affiliates did carry out the attacks on Benghazi. No matter what the final draft of those infamous talking points said, several of the attackers were al Qaeda operatives.
3. “Unrest in the Arab world has also allowed extremists to gain a foothold in countries like Libya and Syria.”
In fact, American acquiescence and aloofness have allowed extremists to gain a foothold in these places.
4. “In the 1980s, we lost Americans to terrorism at our Embassy in Beirut; at our Marine Barracks in Lebanon; on a cruise ship at sea; at a disco in Berlin; and on a Pan Am flight—Flight 103—over Lockerbie. In the 1990s, we lost Americans to terrorism at the World Trade Center; at our military facilities in Saudi Arabia; and at our Embassy in Kenya. These attacks were all brutal; they were all deadly; and we learned that left unchecked, these threats can grow. But if dealt with smartly and proportionally, these threats need not rise to the level that we saw on the eve of 9/11.”
In fact, President Reagan in the 1980s and President Clinton in the 1990s thought they were dealing with global terrorism smartly and proportionally. For Reagan, it was bombing command-and-control centers in Libya, deploying peacekeepers to Lebanon and hitting terrorist camps with air strikes and artillery. For Clinton, the “smart and proportional” policy included cruise missiles and indictments. But both approaches failed.
In fact, General Tommy Franks, former CENTCOM commander, traces a line from Beirut to 9/11.
“What did we see happen in 1983 in Beirut, Lebanon? We saw the interests of the United States of America attacked by terrorists,” he observed in 2007, pointing to a long list of attacks after Beirut that went largely unanswered. “I do believe there is a connection,” he said, “an indication served up to terrorists over the course of almost two decades that says it is okay to attack the interests of the United States of America without fear of serious retribution.”
5. After blaming just about every terrorist attack against the U.S. before and after 9/11 itself on “unrest in the Arab world” or “regional networks” or “radicalized individuals here in the United States”—and dismissing any connective tissue between them—Obama then declares, “Most, though not all, of the terrorism we faced is fueled by a common ideology.”
Which one is it? Are our terrorist enemies lone wolves, self-radicalized killers, independent nut-jobs, or are they motivated by a common ideology?
6. Obama re-re-reminded us that “Osama bin Laden is dead.” (Who knew?)
What the president fails to grasp is that “bin Ladenism” is anything but dead. The struggle against jihadism is a generational struggle that will be measured in decades, not presidencies. Don’t take my word for it. “The cancer has metastasized to other parts of the global body,” as then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta explained in 2012. Those inspired by bin Laden, as the 9/11 Commission warned in 2004, “will menace Americans and American interests long after Osama bin Laden and his cohorts are killed or captured.”
7. “America’s actions are legal. We were attacked on 9/11…Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban and their associated forces.”
In fact, although the U.S. government contends that a state of war has existed since September 11, 2001—a reasonable and defensible contention—the UN Human Right Council argues that it is “problematic” for the U.S. to show “it is in a transnational non-international armed conflict” beyond Afghanistan. Moreover, the UN recently announced plans to create “an investigation unit” within the Human Rights Council to “inquire into individual drone attacks…in which it has been alleged that civilian casualties have been inflicted.” This is not suggest that the UN is correct in these conclusions, but rather to underscore that just because the White House says something is legal does not necessarily make it legal.
8. “America does not take strikes to punish individuals; we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people.”
In fact, according to The New York Times portrait of the inner workings of the drone war, the Obama Administration has embraced a controversial method for determining civilian casualties that “counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants…unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” And The Washington Post has reported that a growing number of drone strikes in Yemen have targeted “lower-level figures who are suspected of having links to terrorism operatives but are seen mainly as leaders of factions focused on gaining territory in Yemen’s internal struggle.” (Italics added.)
9. “To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties—not just in our cities at home and our facilities abroad, but also in the very places like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu where terrorists seek a foothold.”
This is the essence of Bush’s post-9/11 doctrine: take the fight to the enemy relentlessly—wherever he may be—in order to deny him the tools, wherewithal, territory and means to strike the U.S. homeland. Yet the thrust of this speech by Obama—and indeed Obama’s entire approach to the jihadist threat—is to do less, in fewer places, less often.
10. Obama warns that policymakers should not “view drone strikes as a cure-all for terrorism.”
Yet as Panetta famously put it, drones are “the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership.” Moreover, Obama’s withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as his cuts to the defense budget, make reliance on armed drones inevitable.
11. “Success on all these fronts requires sustained engagement.”
Yet the president has sounded a general retreat from every battlefield.
12. “The best way to prevent violent extremism inspired by violent jihadists is to work with the Muslim American community.”
This is not true. The best way to accomplish this goal is to defeat the enemy at its source, to be “the strongest tribe,” as Bing West has written, to never wave the white flag—whether in Beirut in 1983 or Mogadishu in 1993 or the AfPak theater in 2013. As bin Laden once explained, seeing America “defeated in the three Islamic cities of Beirut, Aden and Mogadishu” fueled his global guerilla war.
13. “As a matter of policy, the preference of the United States is to capture terrorist suspects.”
In fact, The New York Times overview of the drone war describes President Obama as “at the helm of a top secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical.”
14. “There is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should have never have been opened.”
This is one of Obama’s favorite memes—that opposition to his view is always political, never based on conviction. In fact, there are many justifications for not closing the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo. Obama’s first secretary of defense—Robert Gates—called on Congress to pass legislation to prevent Gitmo detainees from being transferred into the United States. Bipartisan majorities in Congress have repeatedly made it clear—most recently in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act—that Guantanamo detainees may not be transferred into the United States because they worry about escapes; they don’t believe host countries have the will or capacity to keep these men locked up; and perhaps most of all, they are concerned that if these terrorists are sent to stateside prisons, Guantanamo’s lifers would recruit other inmates to their jihadist cause and radicalize individuals who might be released. That’s something they cannot do from Guantanamo. Radicalization is a serious enough problem that the Department of Homeland Security announced in 2011 a federal-state effort to thwart “terrorist use of prisons for radicalization and recruitment.” Congressional testimony reveals that dozens of Americans who were radicalized to jihadism while in U.S. prisons “have travelled to Yemen to train with al Qaeda.”
15. “I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the [post-9/11] Authorization for the Use of Military Force…I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further…this war, like all wars, must end.”
This would be akin to President Eisenhower letting Congress (and the Soviets) know in, say, 1957, that he was ready to repeal the National Security Act of 1947 and shred NSC-68. The former retooled and revamped America’s military and intelligence machinery to wage the Cold War. The latter provided a roadmap for the long, twilight struggle against the Soviet ideology. Like the war on terror today, the Cold War was far from over in 1957.
Regardless of whether President Obama is tired of being commander-in-chief, tired waging a war of unknown duration, tired of Guantanamo and drones and flag-draped coffins, one thing is beyond debate: The enemy is not tired and is still very much at war with us.
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