Counterterrorism: Who’s playing politics?

By constantly attacking the Obama administration’s counterterrorism efforts, the Republicans are positioning themselves to say, in case of a future attack: “I told you Obama doesn’t know how to fight al Qaida.&#03

Even for Washington, it’s a blatantly irresponsible display of partisanship, former Clinton counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke said in the New York Daily News. Every week, Republicans mount a new attack on the Obama administration’s counterterrorism efforts—“often with total disregard to the facts.” The Right’s latest offensive is to claim that the administration somehow stopped underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from revealing crucial information about al Qaida by charging him as a criminal and reading him his legal rights. Actually, Abdulmutallab talked both before and after he heard his rights, and is now cooperating in hopes of leniency. But the real point of this game is to position critics to say, in case of a future attack: “I told you Obama doesn’t know how to fight al Qaida.”

The truth is that Obama has waged war on al Qaida far more effectively than George W. Bush ever did, said Peter Beinart in TheDailyBeast.com. Obama ordered stepped-up U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan that have taken out dozens of the organization’s leaders. Al Qaida’s popularity in the Muslim world, meanwhile, has fallen off a cliff, now that it can’t use Bush’s Crusader rhetoric or his torture scandals for propaganda and recruitment. Sorry, I’m not buying it, said Richard Cohen in The Washington Post. Obama spends far too much of his time worrying what America’s critics will think instead of how he can best protect Americans. If Abdulmutallab has resumed talking, weeks after nearly blowing a plane out of the sky, anything he knows about the location of al Qaida leaders is hopelessly out of date. Obama also displayed “a peculiar naïveté” when he ordered the closing of Guantánamo with no place to put the terrorists, and when he decided to hold a major terrorist trial in New York City, and then changed his mind. In fact, “almost nothing” Obama does “makes me feel safer.”

Perhaps that’s because you, like many Americans, suffer from “terrorist derangement syndrome,” said Dahlia Lithwick in Slate.com. “We’re terrified when a terror attack happens, and we’re also terrified when it’s thwarted.” We’re scared of keeping terrorists in Guantánamo, and we’re scared of moving them. “We can never be safe enough.” But when we permit—no, require—our government to read our e-mails and monitor our phone calls, torture suspects, and ignore the Constitution, “it’s not a terrorist’s time bomb that’s ticking. It’s us.”

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