Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bush and Obama on CT

The challenge of terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11 is the absence of easy and good choices.  The NYT has a piece addressing the secret side of things.  It includes one long sentence that presents the downsides of engaging in the secret side:
 Yet such wars come with many risks: the potential for botched operations that fuel anti-American rage; a blurring of the lines between soldiers and spies that could put troops at risk of being denied Geneva Convention protections; a weakening of the Congressional oversight system put in place to prevent abuses by America’s secret operatives; and a reliance on authoritarian foreign leaders and surrogates with sometimes murky loyalties.
The funny thing is that people are surprised that Obama would be pursuing counter-terrorism with a similar kind of enthusiasm and with similar use of secret sauce as the Bush Administration.  While they have perhaps not identical attitudes about executive authority, Bush and Obama have faced similar sets of ugly choices.  Bush could not and Obama cannot be seen as being weak on counter-terrorism.  The domestic costs of a severe attack would be huge--politically. 
 When terrorists threaten Americans, Mr. Zenko said, “there is tremendous pressure from the National Security Council and the Congressional committees to, quote, ‘do something.’ ”
 In terms of means, the US tends to focus too much on the military side--that counter terrorism is multi-dimensional.  Of course, multi-dimensionality means that military tools are part of any strategy, and, given the nature of the threat--individuals and sub-state groups--using special ops and other less conventional and more secretive tools/tactics is inevitable.

People tend to forget that Obama did not pose as a pacifist during the campaign--he was opposed to Iraq but promised to stay in Afghanistan and engage in counter-terrorism.  Being a Liberal does not mean one has to be squishy.  But the administration could do a better job of allowing oversight to take place.  Fighting hard does not mean you have to fight without any oversight.  It might be easier but not necessarily better.  We could use some of those values in Obama's Mosque speech here.

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