Obama: Weak On Terror

[A. Serwer]


The Times:


WASHINGTON -- The Taliban's top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces, according to American government officials.

The commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban's founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.

It's not yet clear whether this is evidence of a real sea change in the relationship between Pakistani intelligence,(which has long seen certain factions of the Taliban as intelligence assets) and the United States, or whether this is a one-shot deal. It's also not clear whether Baradar is replaceable, and whether his capture hurts the Taliban's military operations in the long term as well as the short term. (Gregg Carlstrom has a good post on the potential impact on reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan government.)

As Spencer Ackerman notes, last week, the torture wing of the GOP was in full force attacking the Obama administration's policies in the war on terrorism. You had former Bush speechwriter and torture aficionado Marc Thiessen complaining that Obama was killing too many terrorists in drone attacks instead of torturing them, several members of Congress went on the Sunday shows demanding the resignation of Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, and Dick Cheney  tacitly admitted that the policies of the current administration aren't all that different from the prior administration still had the chutpzah to argue Obama was "slow to do was to come to that -- that recognition that we are at war."

On top of all that, failed underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab has been talking to investigators, reportedly revealing that there were several other English-speaking recruits at the Yemen training camp of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and offering details about the plots they may be involved in. Rather than torture him, his interrogators brought pressure to bear through his family--who would not have cooperated had he been mistreated.

Responding to Baradar's capture, one of the pro-torture partisans at National Review can only muster this tired diss:

He probably has a lot to tell -- and the Pakistanis will not read him his Miranda rights.

So either May is really so dense that he thinks trained terrorist only shut up if they're told they can, or confronted with the success of Obama's approach, May is hoping the ISI tortures Baradar so he can ultimately be proven right. I also refuse to believe that May can't make the distinction between the capture of a military leader of a political faction the U.S. is currently fighting in a zone of active military combat (in a third country no less) and someone apprehended on U.S. soil, where civilian law enforcement has jurisdiction. The point is that mirandizing a terrorist is ultimately irrelevant to whether or not they yield information, not that it's necessary in all circumstances.

What makes this charade so irritating is that beyond torture, there's little substantive difference between late Bush era national security policies and Obama national security policies--with the exception that Obama has been more aggressive with the use of drones and has escalated the war in Afghanistan. Obama is arguably more hawkish on terror--if slightly less lawless. Shortly after the failed Christmas bombing, Rep. Peter King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee could only offer one "specific" recommendation: "I think one main thing would be to -- just himself to use the word terrorism more often."

Ultimately it all amounts to superstition, Obama isn't saying the right words or performing the right rituals to make the bogeyman go away. The actual results of his policies are irrelevant, because he's not stepping over the cracks in the sidewalk or prancing around in a flight suit on an aircraft carrier he's going to doom us all.

At any rate, in the aftermath of Baradar's capture, it's clear that the only way al Qaeda or the Taliban is going to take Obama seriously is if he says "terrorism" more often.

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Adam Serwer is a staff writer for The American Prospect.

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