National Security Network

No Time to Succumb to Politics of Fear

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Report 8 January 2010

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security Giuliani Isikoff Obama Politics of Fear terrorism Underpants Bomber


Announcing the steps his administration had undertaken to improve America's security following the failed terrorist attack last December, President Obama made it clear that the U.S. would not be ruled by fear.  The President affirmed that "great and proud nations don't hunker down, and hide behind walls," refusing to be intimidated by terrorists who wish for nothing more than for America to adopt a siege mentality.  His administration's response to the failed attack put this philosophy into practice.  There were no hysterical reactions.  Instead national security and justice department officials acted calmly, first gathering "actionable intelligence" from the bomber, and then beginning the process of bringing him to justice using America's most effective legal instruments.  While it's sad that some conservatives used the opportunity to attack the administration, or dress-up their own failed legacy fighting terrorism, a spirit of bipartisanship has begun to emerge that refuses to play into the terrorists' hands.  While some Republican voices have forgotten Bush's use of civilian courts and glossed over even the 9-11 attacks, others have echoed the President's call on Americans to "work together with the seriousness of purpose that our national security demands."

Obama: "Great and proud nations don't hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust." "President Obama on Thursday ordered intelligence agencies to take a series of steps to streamline how terrorism threats are pursued and analyzed, saying the government had to respond aggressively to the failures that allowed a Nigerian man to ignite an explosive mixture on a commercial jetliner on Christmas Day," reported the New York Times. Obama also made clear that his policies would not be ruled by fear. "Here at home, we will strengthen our defenses, but we will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans, because great and proud nations don't hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust.  That is exactly what our adversaries want, and so long as I am President, we will never hand them that victory.  We will define the character of our country, not some band of small men intent on killing innocent men, women and children."

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) chairwoman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence has also stressed that a calm response within the rule of law will actually help maintain security.  She told the Washington Post that "Civil liberties matter, and we must stay mindful that an overreaction has the potential to overwhelm the system and fail to make us more safe." Hunkering down and adopting a siege mentality plays directing into the hands of Al Qaeda. Marc Lynch, senior fellow at CNAS and professor at George Washington University, explains, "In fact, this risks becoming a classic case of massive overreaction playing right into the hands of a terrorist group." [NY Times, 1/7/10. President Obama, 1/7/10. Jane Harman, via Washington Post, 12/28/09. Marc Lynch, 1/2/10]

American legal system is the best tool for bringing underpants bomber to justice. Some conservatives like Rudy Giuliani worked themselves up over the decision to charge the would-be bomber as a common criminal. But the idea that Abdulmutallab should have been classified as an "enemy combatant" in order to better interrogate him is baseless.  On Tuesday, CNN reported on a White House press conference, in which Robert Gibbs explained how AbdulMutallab spent a "number of hours with FBI investigators in which we gleaned useable, actionable intelligence."  In addition, as the New York Times pointed out, Abdulmutallab's classification was in line with previous actions taken against suspected terrorists, including 2001 "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, who was also charged in civilian courts.  In fact, no terrorist suspect arrested in the United States has been classified an enemy combatant since 2003, according to Newsweek's Michael Isikoff.  Perhaps this is because, as former Oklahoma Congressman Mickey Edwards observed in the Atlantic, though nearly 200 terrorists have been convicted in federal courts, just three enemy combatants have been convicted by military commissions in the last nine years.  Appearing on CNN, Isikoff summed up conservative hypocrisy, saying that "not once during the last five years of the Bush administration did the subject [of enemy combatant classification] come up, it was not even raised. Nobody pressed it - to go the enemy combatant route. So it is a bit disingenuous at this point, for critics to come in and make a big issue about why it wasn't done in this instance, when it hadn't been done really for the last six years."  [Rudy Giuliani, 1/06/10. CNN, 1/05/10. NY Times, 1/04/10. Michael Isikoff, 1/07/10. Former Congressman Mickey Edwards, 1/05/10]

While some conservatives play into Al Qaeda's hands by fear mongering, GOP figures take up President's call for bipartisanship. Despite Obama's call to unity, conservatives have continued to ignore what is best for our national security.  The former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos this morning: "What he [Obama] should be doing is following the right things that Bush did -- one of the right things he did was treat this as a war on terror. We had no domestic attacks under Bush. We've had one under Obama," Giuliani said.  Giuliani seemed to forget the September 11th attacks, as well as the shoebmb attempt, and glossed over the fact that Bush received explicit intelligence warning of the attacks as early as August 2001 in a presidential daily briefing.

In recent days Giuliani and friends have been on the attack, but as conservatives like Bob Barr have warned, this kind of partisanship has gotten out of hand. "The sniping at the president by Republicans, including former Vice President Cheney, and by conservative radio and TV commentators, borders on - if not passing into - asinine...The fact is, there is nothing ‘conservative', nor ‘patriotic' about this blatant rejection of the American system of government and justice, this sneering distrust of the courts, the lawyers, the judges, the juries of rank-and-file Americans," said Barr.

Former Oklahoma congressman and member of the GOP leadership Mickey Edwards has also found the attacks by some conservatives to be distasteful:  "Partisanship truly has pervasively infected our political system when a reasonable, measured, factual, timely and substantive response by a president to a single security incident - the roots of which clearly indicate long-simmering problems that predated his tenure in office - is publicly blasted as irresponsible.  In point of fact, those levelling such counterproductive attacks are the ones engaging in irresponsible behavior."

In President Obama's address to the nation yesterday, he concluded by saying, "And in this cause, every one of us -- every American, every elected official -- can do our part.  Instead of giving into cynicism and division, let's move forward with the confidence and optimism and unity that defines us as a people.  For now is not a time for partisanship, it's a time for citizenship -- a time to come together and work together with the seriousness of purpose that our national security demands." [Rudy Giuliani, 1/8/10. PDB, 8/06/01. Bob Barr, 1/7/10. Former Congressman Mickey Edwards, 1/05/10. President Obama, 1/7/10]

What We're Reading

Top UN Envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide was in Washington meeting with American officials before his tenure ends. A suicide bomber attacked a pro-Afghan government militia commander killing 10 people and wounding 27, most of them civilians.  A federal grand jury charged two defense contractors working for a subsidiary of Xe (Formerly Blackwater) with the shooting deaths of two Afghan citizens in Kabul.

The US military is investigating allegations of detainee abuse at a military prison in Afghanistan. A federal appeals court expressed unease with the ramifications of allowing some detainees at a U.S. military prison in Afghanistan to challenge their imprisonment.

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad demanded that Pakistan stop detaining American diplomats at police checkpoints on the country's roads, following their earlier complains of harassment by Pakistani police.

15 Sunni political parties along with prominent Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq were banned from running in upcoming Iraqi Parliamentary election due to alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Five explosions that targeted mostly law enforcement officials ripped through the city of Hit in Iraq's restive Anbar province.

Five protesters arrested in Iran last week during antigovernment demonstrations will be tried on charges of warring against God, which carries an automatic death sentence if they are found guilty.

A Jamaican-born Muslim cleric whose online sermons drew the attention of the Nigerian man accused of trying to bring down an American airliner was deported from Kenya, where he had been arrested.

140 people were killed in clashes in a remote corner of southern Sudan, deepening worries that the American-backed peace deal there might collapse amid spasms of ethnically motivated violence.

Six military officers involved in the ouster of Manuel Zelaya from the Honduran presidency last year were charged with abuse of power, but the charges are expected to be dropped as part of a deal to ease tensions in the country, officials said.

US officials are continuing to meet with their Arab counterparts to revive efforts to have Arab states normalize relations with Israel and help move forward formal peace talks between Israelis and Palestinian.

Commentary of the Day

Stephen P. Cohen argues that President Obama needs take a cue from Presidents Truman and Eisenhower in his approach to revamping in Middle East peacemaking.

Roger Cohen explains how Communism in Asia is changing to adapt to the 21st century.

Carl Bildt and Anders Fogh Rasmussen explain the steps European nations can take in order to strengthen their commitment to the mission in Afghanistan.