National Security Network

Confidence Grows in the Ability of Progressives to Protect the Country

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Report 12 January 2010

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security iran Israeli-Palestinian conflict joe lieberman john mccain President Barack Obama Yemen


Yesterday, two polls found that an increasing majority of Americans feel confident in the Obama administration's ability to keep America safe from terrorism.  This trend has developed in the wake of the failed attack by the underwear bomber, as the Administration projected a measured, responsible and determined approach to dealing with the issue, rather than resorting to hysterics.  The result has been to reinforce the progressive view that the U.S. would not let the terrorists win by allowing itself to be ruled by fear - and Americans appear to take comfort in this view.    Yet despite the reaction from the American people, certain conservative politicians and commentators continue to work to undermine the President's agenda.  Whether it's pushing the politics of fear or undermining the Administration's efforts to advance America's security abroad, these conservatives have displayed a clear pattern of putting politics above national security.  Nonetheless, the American people, strengthened by the progressives' ability to protect the country and remain calm in the face of adversity, continue to refuse to succumb to the politics of fear that would deliver a valuable victory to America's enemies. 

Despite incessant political attacks from conservatives, poll shows that the American people are confident in the Obama administration's ability keep America safe from terrorists.  After weeks of overreaction, fear mongering, and political posturing from conservatives over the Obama administration's handling of the failed underpants bomber, the two new polls show that the American people's confidence in the Obama administration to keep America safe has risen.  A new poll from CNN was released yesterday, which finds that, "[i]n the wake of the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner, most Americans remain confident the Obama administration can protect the country from terrorism... Nearly two-thirds of people questioned in the poll said they have a moderate or great deal of confidence in the administration to protect the public from future terrorist attacks, up 2 percentage points from August. Thirty-five percent said they have not much or no confidence, down 1 percentage point from August."  Similarly, a poll by CBS News found that "While some Republicans have criticized the president and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano's responses to the attempted Christmas Day terror attack, most Americans don't share their opinion. In the poll, 57 percent of Americans approve of the way the Obama administration has responded to the attempted attack, and 29 percent disapprove."  These polls show that Americans prefer a responsible progressive approach to national security over the hysterical fear mongering that the country has seen from conservative politicians and commentators.   [CNN, 1/11/10.  CNN Poll, 1/11/10. CBS News, 1/11/10]

Americans confident in Obama, despite conservative attempts to fear-monger and undermine his agenda.   As the CNN poll demonstrates, the President has managed to inspire confidence in his handling of national security matters, even as conservatives have worked to undermine him across several foreign policy issues.

Conservatives resort to politics of fear to attack the President, feeding a narrative that Al Qaeda would like to exploit.  Appearing on ABC's This Week, Liz Cheney accused the President of viewing terrorism as an "inconvenient sidelight," arguing that the President's team had been lax in its approach to such burgeoning extremist enclaves as Yemen.  In fact, U.S. assistance to Yemen five times larger than what it was under the Bush administration.  More broadly, the approach pushed by Cheney and other conservatives - of elevating terrorists to center stage - risks feeding into their strategy.  Osama bin Laden himself explains in a 2004 video "We [Al Qaeda] are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah." [Liz Cheney,1/10/10. IPS, 1/06/10. Al Qaeda video via CNN, 11/1/04]

While in Israel, Senators Lieberman (I-CT) and McCain (R-AZ) work against President's Middle East peace plan.  The Obama administration appears to be gearing up for a push on achieving Middle East peace, as evidenced by recent statement and activity, including a rare Saturday National Security Council deputies meeting, as well as a statement by Envoy George Mitchell that the U.S. envisions final status negotiations would be completed within two years.  Meanwhile, Senators Lieberman  and McCain traveled to Israel to reassure the Netanyahu Government that they would lead efforts to block any attempt to pressure Israel into returning to the negotiating table, referring to a measure of potentially withholding loan guarantees once used by the first Bush administration.  "Any attempt to pressure Israel, to force Israel to the negotiating table, by denying Israel support will not pass the Congress of the United States. In fact, Congress will act to stop any attempt to do that," said Lieberman. Media Matters' MJ Rosenberg lamented: "What happened to the idea that it was inappropriate for American Members of Congress to go abroad and publicly endorse a foreign government's policy over that of their own government?  Apparently, it died."  [Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain 1/10/10. Politico, 1/10/10. Andrew Sullivan, 1/10/10. MJ Rosenberg, 1/11/10]

Sen. Lieberman moves ahead of the President and Iranian dissidents in CNN interview.  In the same interview where he vowed to constrain the administration on Middle East peace, Senator Lieberman also called for the U.S. "to put economic sanctions on Iran because of their development of nuclear weapons." Lieberman's comments come at a sensitive time for the Administration, which is preparing targeted sanctions on the Iranian regime, not broad-based economic sanctions of the kind receiving consideration in Congress, according to Reuters.  The Washington Post reported "The aim of any sanctions is to force the Tehran government to the negotiating table, rather than to punish it for either its apparent push to develop a nuclear weapon or its treatment of its people." [Senator Joe Lieberman, 1/10/10. Reuters, 12/30/09. Washington Post, 12/30/09]

National security experts fight back, ensuring that Americans do not fall victim to the politics of fear being spread by extreme conservatives. President Obama has made it clear that his policies will 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." Despite President Obama's calm and level-headed approach, hysteria has continued to run rampant in the aftermath of the failed Christmas day bombing.  National security experts agree that this approach does nothing but play into the hands of Al Qaeda:

Fareed Zakaria writes, "The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn't work. Alas, this one worked very well...His mission failed entirely, killing not a single person. The suicide bomber was not even able to commit suicide. But al-Qaeda succeeded in its real aim, which was to throw the American system into turmoil. That's why the terror group proudly boasted about the success of its mission."

Stephen Walt elucidates on conservatives who have been on the front lines of the underpants bomber hysteria and their continued push for a "tougher" response.  "The point is that you can be tough without being hawkish, and that's usually preferable to the mindless militarism that most politicians adopt to show their faux ‘toughness.' And that's why it's much more important that a president be smart and strategic and able to identify the right policy choices, and not worry very much about whether he's being sufficient ‘tough' to satisfy his critics.  And if Obama tries to base his foreign policy on proving to the GOP he meets their definition of ‘tough,' he'll end up exactly where the GOP's former standard-bearer did."

Marc Lynch further elaborates: "The last few weeks show that -- aside from some very good op-eds calling for calm and warning against overreaction -- bad old habits of political discourse die hard, and a lot of people don't want them to die at all... It was the media -- egged on by right wing critics eager to score political points, but manifestly enthusiastic all on its own -- which took a failed plot and blew it up into a major national crisis. The American media and political frenzy had a real political impact where it matters most -- in the Arab and Muslim audiences whose views of al Qaeda and America are at stake. The initial Arab response to the attempt was a collective shrug, indifference at yet another failed plot by a marginalized actor. Now, the Arab public seems increasingly fascinated by the story, with more articles and commentary about a resurgent al Qaeda than in the immediate aftermath, and Arab commentators seem increasingly angered by the Obama administration's reactions. Between them, the American media and political gamesmanship transformed yet another al Qaeda failure into what it can now claim as a success.  They must be very proud." [President Obama, 1/7/10. Fareed Zakaria, 1/11/10. Stephen Walt, 1/11/10. Marc Lynch, 1/11/10]

What We're Reading

The traditional winter lull in fighting in Afghanistan appears to be waning early this year, as six coalition soldiers were killed, including three Americans.

Pakistan suffered its worst year from terrorism yet, with over 3,000 civilians killed in a number of terrorist attacks that increased 45% from 2008. Meanwhile, police in Karachi are hoping to stem the increasing tide of murders and attacks on candidates for political office.

An Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in a rare bombing in Tehran, varying accounts of this death raises suspicion.

The latest fear over Yemen is their liberal immigration policy for Somali refugees, including some who may have been radicalized by Al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Sheik Abdul Majid Al Zindani, Yemen's most influential Islamic scholar, is courted by Yemen's government to support a new campaign against Al Qaeda fighters.

On the first day of her trip to Asia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton downplays any policy differences between the United States and China.  Economists look at China, with their economic boom while the rest of the world languishes, and wonders when their bubble will burst. Japan's foreign minister has reaffirmed his country's strong alliance with the United States.

The United States rejects North Korea's conditions for progress on nuclear talks. South Korea is implementing a program to better integrate defector youth from North Korean into South Korean society.

Northern Ireland's first minister, Peter Robinson, has stepped down amid a growing political sex scandal.

In India, the social taboo of selling gold, normally reserved to make family jewelry or cultural gifts, is crumbling amid tough economic times and soaring prices for the precious metal.

Commentary of the Day

Edmund J. Hull demystifies the various misconceptions people have about the security and political situation in Yemen.

Anne Applebaum sees the emergence of a new, educated, middle-class, jihadi "elite", and asks for a strategy for it to be addressed.

David Brooks explores the entrepreneurial cluster that is shining in Tel Aviv.