Obama De-Securitizes America’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy

-

Obama.Brennan.jpg
(President Barack Obama meets with John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, in the Oval Office, Jan. 4, 2010. Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
While assessing President Obama’s first year in office many analysts have insisted that there is something different and better about Obama’s foreign policy compared to that of his predecessor, but have struggled to identify a single policy shift or achievement to justify that claim.
I would argue that President Obama’s most significant foreign policy accomplishment in his first year in office was the “de-securitization” of the United States’ counter-terrorism efforts.
The ‘securitization’ of foreign policy has been described in this way, “By labeling something a security issue, an actor claims a need for the use of extraordinary means, emergency measures and other actions outside the boundaries of normal political procedures. (Rabia Karakaya Polat, “The Kurdish Issue: Can the AK Party Escape Securitization? Insight Turkey, Vol. 10, No. 3, (2008) p. 77)
The concept of “securitization” is often used to describe Turkey’s foreign policy for most of its history, and particularly in the 1990s. In the Turkish context, the literature suggests that Ankara engaged in a “securitized” foreign policy as a result of the political power of the military, which benefited directly from its indefinite and extra-legal battle with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) throughout the 1990s.
Peter Baker, in his fascinating new article for the New York Times Magazine on Obama’s approach to what his predecessor called the “Global War on Terrorism”, demonstrates that while President Bush managed to simultaneously exude over-confidence and press the ‘high-fear’ button, President Obama has sought relentlessly to identify the balance between “acknowledging danger and projecting confidence.”
Whether justifying additional troops for Afghanistan or addressing last week’s domestic terrorist threat, Obama has deliberately refrained from attempting to hijack the domestic debate by stoking fear, by claiming that more is always better, or by arguing that his political opponents are unpatriotic.
I know that some are dissatisfied with the delay in closing Guantanamo Bay and the continuation of some of Bush’s constiutionally questionable legal practices, but President Obama’s refusal to use fear for his personal political advantage is his administration’s most significant foreign policy accomplishment thus far.
— Ben Katcher

Comments

39 comments on “Obama De-Securitizes America’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy

  1. Dan Kervick says:

    “What a weird blindness you have. So it’s not worth noticing if it merely kills hundreds or thousands of Americans, and destroys American influence in country after country? Only if it threatens to actually destroy America will you notice.”
    Nadine, I literally can’t understand your response here. My point in the paragraph you quoted was that most of the people participating in the diffuse global movement that is referred to collectively as “Islamism” or “political Islam” are not involved in violent acts of any kind whatsoever.
    Increasingly, it is hard to have any discussion with you because you seem to be carrying on a conversation with yourself, throwing pre-conceived talking points against opposing views of your own construction.
    Anyway, I think your reason has been overcome by fear and paranoia.

    Reply

  2. nadine says:

    “Most varieties of Islamism are not engaged in “destroying global targets”, Nadine, unless you are using “destroying” in an exaggerated or figurative sense.” (Dan Kervick)
    What a weird blindness you have. So it’s not worth noticing if it merely kills hundreds or thousands of Americans, and destroys American influence in country after country? Only if it threatens to actually destroy America will you notice. Talk about a head-in-the-sand attitude. At least you seem to imply that they are not merely isolated criminals, which is how you want to treat them when they get caught.
    Some Islamists want to take over their local countries, e.g. the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Some have global targets.
    Iran is engaged in destroying global targets: the Great and Little Satan. If they can’t destroy America, they’ll settle for destroying American influence in the Middle East. While the regime is shaky it’s like to get more aggressive, not less, in the hopes of being propped up by an external enemy. Yet Israel and the US (if it weren’t being run by dopes) cannot just sit and accept that an unstable, theocratic, revolutionary regime like Iran should possess nuclear weapons.
    Al Qaeda has a similar goal, and has been destroying American targets all over the world for some time now. They move from safe haven to safe haven. They are trying to take over Yemen now for a new base.

    Reply

  3. Dan Kervick says:

    Most varieties of Islamism are not engaged in “destroying global targets”, Nadine, unless you are using “destroying” in an exaggerated or figurative sense.
    In any case, the Islamist movement is diffuse and contracting, and quite limited in its collective ability to impose its will on others. Most of the Middle Eastern countries that are home to the Islamist tendency are somewhat-to-very poor per capita, are economically and socially stagnant, and are in possession of grossly underdeveloped industrial bases. The people in these regions are thus in no position to mount any sort of sustained threat to western nations, and the zealots among them can only mount one-off nuisance attacks. The region is also destined to face a further economic hit in the coming decades as the world transitions away from petroleum, their chief exportable resource.
    You might think I’m blind. But to me you look like a hysterical pants-wetting ninny. Get over your Islamist night terrors, and stop sowing cowardice among Americans.

    Reply

  4. nadine says:

    “And while I appreciate your history of the Islamic world, I am rather more stuck on the evolving history of the USA, and not so nearly concerned about the history of the chosen people in the holy land vis a vis Muslims, and would not yoke US prospects to Israeli prospects, optimistic as that might be.” (DonS)
    What I am trying to tell you is that the Arabs have done the yoking, since before there even was any alliance, so you don’t have that choice.

    Reply

  5. nadine says:

    “But when someone murders someone else, you should treat them like a murderer. It doesn’t matter whether they did the deed because they are hunting after an insurance payoff, taking vengeance on an ex-lover, or acting out the agenda of the People’s Aryan Objectivist Army of Simbianese Liberation.” (Dan Kervick)
    Well, US law obviously disagrees with you, as it treats first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter, hate crimes, and conspiracy all as different crimes. Intent matters in law.
    “But for the most part, political ideologies are properly the business of the people who hang onto that ideology, and the business their countrymen.”
    Unless the political movement is global, and aims at destroying global targets. While Islamism was mainly aiming at local targets we did ignore it. Then it turned toward Western targets. You are being willfully blind about the nature of the movement because you don’t want to deal with the implications.

    Reply

  6. DonS says:

    “exactly what you give up when you Mirandize him”
    Well, Nadine, as a lawyer (as well as a therapist) let me tell you that, somewhat unfortunately, the authorities get the information they want. And you would be hard pressed, assuming Mr. Terrorist got competent counsel, to find a judge who would either throw out evidence, or turn the defendant loose in circumstances that smacked of deprivation of constiutional rights of some bomber or other.
    And while I appreciate your history of the Islamic world, I am rather more stuck on the evolving history of the USA, and not so nearly concerned about the history of the chosen people in the holy land vis a vis Muslims, and would not yoke US prospects to Israeli prospects, optimistic as that might be.

    Reply

  7. Dan Kervick says:

    “Criminals are in it for money and power. Criminals don’t commit suicide for a cause.”
    Sure they do. It happens all the time. The jails are full of people who are motivated by factors other than greed, including sometimes political ideology. But when someone murders someone else, you should treat them like a murderer. It doesn’t matter whether they did the deed because they are hunting after an insurance payoff, taking vengeance on an ex-lover, or acting out the agenda of the People’s Aryan Objectivist Army of Simbianese Liberation.
    There are behavioral rules and boundaries that need to be enforced. We can enforce the boundaries vigorously when they are violated, and otherwise leave people to stew smoke in their overheated thoughts.
    I’m not in any doubt about the widespread existence of many varieties of Islamism around the world, Nadine. A fairly limited number of Islamists are driven to political violence by their ideology, and so we have to pay attention to the threat they pose. But for the most part, political ideologies are properly the business of the people who hang onto that ideology, and the business their countrymen. People can be left to work out on their own how they want to organize their own countries politically. It’s only those who commit violent acts against American interests and disturb our peace that we have to take action against. When they do, we should prosecute them whenever possible, just like any other thugs. If we can’t get our hands on them to apprehend them, and they pose a persistent danger, then we might have to employ more pro-active and violent means. But allowing ourselves to descend into a hysterical ideological freakout brings us down to their level and induces us to act in stupid and unbalanced ways.
    The world is full of people who believe all sorts of utterly crazy, fanatical and extreme things. But we can’t do much about the twisted and bizarre patterns of human thought. I hope you’re not proposing some sort of worldwide crusade of ideological hygeine.

    Reply

  8. nadine says:

    “What I get and you don’t get, or pretend not to, is the extent to which the “Islamist” enemy is the enemy in large part because our head is stuck up Israel’s butt to put it bluntly. It’s hard to see the light that way, or even develop a coherent strategy.” (DonS)
    You don’t really get it, because you don’t understand how they think. The Islamist mindset is consumed with history on the one hand; on the other, everything happened yesterday. The great grievance, the Mother of All Grievances, is that supreme power in the world now belongs to Western powers when it used to belong to the Islamic world and always should – Allah promised! All the little grievances spring from the Great Grievance, and there’s a never-ending list to chose from. Osama bin Laden is still mad about losing Spain in 1492!
    Hatred of the West has been a recurring theme in the Muslim world for 200 years, ever since they woke up and figured how far they were behind the “Franks”. This underlying hatred has different targets uppermost at different times – England, France, America, the CIA, Israel.
    Israel sticks in the craw because Islamists have contempt for Jews so being unable to destroy them is particularly humiliating. Think of how the KKK would have regarded an all-black state being founded somewhere in the former Confederacy, which was strong enough to fight off attempts to destroy it.
    So the Arabs (this includes the Islamists but goes for most Arabs) consider Israel part of America, since that lessens the humiliation (it’s not as bad to have to knuckle under to a great power). Plus, Arab governments have been propagandizing hatred of Israel as a VERY useful external scapegoat since the Nazis started it in the 30s, before Israel was even established.
    What Israel actually does, beyond surviving, is of much less importance. If you think the other Arabs actually care what happens to Palestinians, you are sadly mistaken. This is strictly a case of “Me against my brother; Me and my brother against our cousin; Me, my brother, and our cousin against the stranger.”
    It’s important to understand how deep this goes so you don’t fool yourself into thinking that there is some easy fix available. There isn’t.

    Reply

  9. nadine says:

    “Because that elevates [Al Qaeda’s] stature. If you treat a man like a soldier in a foreign army, instead of like a mere crook belonging to a criminal conspiracy, you validate his and his comrades’ desires to raise their standing in the world by becoming fighters in an enemy power with which the greatest military power in the world officially regards itself as being at war.” (Dan Kervick)
    Odd, I thought you were normally all for treating third-worlders with respect and deploring American arrogance. But when it comes to taking their most fundamental religious/political ideology seriously, you want to treat them with contempt. Criminals are in it for money and power. Criminals don’t commit suicide for a cause. You have give them that.
    Your problem, Dan, is that you are in denial about the existence of Islamism as a real political philosophy. It has millions of adherents; the violent terrorists are just the tip of the spear. You desperately want to deny this, to say it’s just a few nutcases in a cave somewhere who shouldn’t be “exalted” by being taken seriously. President Obama has the same reaction; thus his words about Abdulmutallab being an “isolated extremist” when we already had plenty of information that he was part of an Al Qaeda network.
    I would also point out that this mental effort to dismiss violent Islamism as a few nutcases, or something that didn’t exist before cowboy Bush, or is all our fault so we mustn’t fight back, etc, is what left us open and undefended before 9/11.

    Reply

  10. nadine says:

    “As far as “decriminalizing”, the criminal justice system provides ample room to get the convictions and information we need without jettisoning the constitution, and without compromising sources and methods.” (DonS)
    One, it does not provide ample room. It’s false. Ample room for getting information on a network is room to interrogate the prisoner; exactly what you give up when you Mirandize him and he lawyers up. Abdulmutallab said there were a hundred more suicide bombers where he came from; now we can’t question him to find if it’s true or not. This point holds regardless of what methods of interrogation are allowed or not allowed.
    Second, alien enemy combatants are not entitled to Constitutional protection like American citizens and never received them before. If they were legitimate combatants, like German soldiers in WWII, they became POWs with no charges and no sentence except the duration of the war; if they were illegimate combatants like Nazi saboteurs, they were tried by military tribunals and hung. Military tribunals have been in use for over 200 years and are perfectly Constitutional.

    Reply

  11. DonS says:

    Glenn Greenwald speaks of the taboo against recognizing the degree to which America’s actions in the world are a huge factor in the radicalization of extremists. A significant aspect of the taboo is against recognizing and talking about how the US’ blind support for Israel has become a factor, by no means the sole factor he notes, in the cycle of radicalization. Specifically he highlights very recent sources linking Israel’s January attack in Gaza to the two most recent high profile ‘terrorist’ events: the Christmas day airline failed attempt; and the suicide bombing of the CIA outpost in Afghianistan:
    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/01/07/terrorism/index.html
    Terror attacks don’t originate in a vacuum, but the US is so arrogant as to feel it should be insulated from the results of it’s contributory role in creating hostile environments around the world. Or at least that is a reasonable inference from the one sided logic we are fed that sees the US, and the client Israel, as being entitled to take any action, no matter how disproportionate because we are the sole arbiters of the terms of debate, and the characterization of actions. It’s truly insane.

    Reply

  12. DonS says:

    What Kervick just said.

    Reply

  13. Dan Kervick says:

    “Besides, Al Qaeda says they are at war with us; why not take them seriously?”
    Because that elevates their stature. If you treat a man like a soldier in a foreign army, instead of like a mere crook belonging to a criminal conspiracy, you validate his and his comrades’ desires to raise their standing in the world by becoming fighters in an enemy power with which the greatest military power in the world officially regards itself as being at war.
    Taking this approach rewards jihadists by bestowing upon them the allures of dignity and gravity they crave. “Enemy soldier” is a term of respect, and suggest a kind of parity or equality with the United States. “Criminal” is a classification that societies use instead to humble and demean those who transgress its rules, and to communicate the power, control, legitimacy and superiority of the lawful polity over the outlaw violators. Every time we exalt some jihadist psychopath by calling him a “soldier” or a “prisoner of war”, requiring some separate and special system of prosecution, we help recruit 100 more would-be “soldiers” for Al Qaeda and their ilk.
    The most important thing is for the proceedings against there characters to be very public. Secrecy breeds conspiracy theories and allows for the substitution of imagined heroic narratives in place of the tawdry and repulsive facts. Let the world see what a murderous twit and jibbering fool he is. Put him in the stocks, read out the charges against him, and then let him humiliate and soil himself further with his own contemptible words.
    Criminal conspiracies abound in the world, and pursuing and prosecuting them frequently requires the use of informants. The fact that the prosecution might endanger the work of a network of informants is nothing new. That’s always a challenge. But it is a challenge that is generally well matched by the many benefits that come from the routine public application of justice and the opportunity to reassert the majesty of the law, the governing prerogatives of the the people of the law, and the superiority of the latter to the outlaw rebels.
    I don’t know why the right is so determined to give Al Qaedists props for being an “army”. But I do know that much of the right hates law and government, and has a romantic attraction to outlaws. Maybe they’re secretly enamored of these terrorists.

    Reply

  14. DonS says:

    “What I get and you don’t is that US and Israel are fighting the same enemy who hates them both for the same reasons’ (Nadine)
    No, I get that there are bad guys out there. I also get that our strategy isn’t working. If Obama’s approach parallels Bush due to receiving briefings, it means Obama is as controlled by the perception of fear and institutional rigidity and hasn’t shown ability top think outside the box. If we “lose a city” it will only be in part and despite our failed strategy, whatever it is at the time, because no strategy is foolproof. Our current beligerant approach is radicalizing more “Islamists”. As far as Obama’s second term, who cares? There are larger issues than that.
    As far as “decriminalizing”, the criminal justice system provides ample room to get the convictions and information we need without jettisoning the constitution, and without compromising sources and methods. Good police work and good human intelligence seem to be key, not locking down the airports and overburdening the system with unfiltered garbage data. What you are implying I think is that we need to be able to torture, even though that is of dubious value.
    What I get and you don’t get, or pretend not to, is the extent to which the “Islamist” enemy is the enemy in large part because our head is stuck up Israel’s butt to put it bluntly. It’s hard to see the light that way, or even develop a coherent strategy.

    Reply

  15. nadine says:

    “Your suggestion that Obama must acknowledge an Islamic problem is a case in point. What is the difference between calling something “isolated extremists” and “Islamic terrorists”? I suggest it is the difference between the context for a floundering world power, the US, and a junkyard dog, Israel, perspective. Bush showed no concern for world opinion. Obama implies that he does”
    (DonS)
    The main point about Islamic terrorists is that they are Islamists, which is the more accurate word to use. “Islamist” means belonging to an Islamic political movement that believes in theocratic Islamic rule. There are some non-violent Islamist parties (cf. PR Erdogan’s in Turkey), but our enemy is the violent radical form of Islamism such as that practiced by Al Qaeda.
    Thus the most obvious difference between “isolated extremists” and “Islamist terrorists” (to use the better word) is that Islamist terrorists belong to an active political movement and are thus not isolated. That has implications for the methods that you can use to combat them.
    It is no use to “de-securitize” (a strange term; I think he means “criminalize”) counter-terrorism efforts if you mean to treat the terrorist as if he were an individual criminal. This is misguided and terribly counter-productive, since you can’t convict without making intelligence sources and methods public, and then you can’t use them to get the rest of the network. Besides, Al Qaeda says they are at war with us; why not take them seriously?
    Has it occurred to you that Obama switched from wholly deploring Bush counter-terror policies to continuing many of them at the very time he began receiving the same security briefings that Bush was getting? Maybe it dawned on him that Bush wasn’t making it up. If (God forbid) we lose an American city, Obama can kiss his presidency good-bye, for you’re right about this: Democrats don’t get the same slack as Republicans on national security issues. That’s because the public understand that Democrats aren’t really serious about national security issues.
    I don’t just look at things from the lens of Israel, btw. What I get and you don’t is the US and Israel are fighting the same enemy who hates them both for the same reasons; Israel is just the canary in the coalmine.

    Reply

  16. samuelburke says:

    israelis love it that americans have an existential threat just like
    theirs.
    what a friggin coinkiddink.

    Reply

  17. Paul Norheim says:

    I prefer being a jester too – especially in Kotzabasis` eyes. If Kotz one day suddenly
    started taking me seriously, not to mention agreeing with one of my statements, I`d panic
    immediately:
    “Holy Shit! Did my inner Kurtz finally manage to get out of the closet while I was
    writing my last comment?”

    Reply

  18. Carroll says:

    I like being a jester..what else can one be when, as the song says…
    “Clowns to the right of me, Jokers to the left and here I am stuck in the middle with you..”
    But onto the mad Xmas day underwear bomber. I understand his father gave warning to the US State Dep. or some agency about his sons’s radical
    beliefs and strange behavior.
    This is just like the 911 terriers who were also on watch list and boarded planes anyway.
    Now someone(s) screwed up just as they did on 911.
    Obviously intelligence..even when it is layed in their laps.. doesn’t work if you have morans or worse in our security agencies who are either stupid or don’t do their job.
    In the 911 circus no one was fired even though several whistleblowers came forward with proof of slack and incompetent way info on the bombers was sluffed off and buried.
    Don’t expect in improvement unless everyone down the line who failed is identified and sacked.
    But that won’t happen in the Nanny government employees system.

    Reply

  19. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Gee, Ben, doncha just love it here?

    Reply

  20. kotzabasis says:

    Ben Katcher is the court jester of the Washington Note followed by a long thread of other TWN jesters, from Norheim to Carrol. While all the late, and belated, actions of Obama emanate from an unabated fear which forces him to “press the high-fear-button,” closing his embassy in Yemen out of fear of a terrorist attack, deploying U.S. Special Forces in the country fearing that the latter would become a training terrorist base that would threaten the Western world, according to the latest statement of his Secretary of State, and the new rules prompted by the fear of the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack that would involve 14 nations undergoing extra screening in airports, Katcher claims, that Obama refuses to “use fear for his personal political advantage,” as if by protecting, like Bush, America from the REAL fear of a terrorist attack, would not also be for Obama’s personal political advantage.

    Reply

  21. Dan Kervick says:

    Ben Katcher,
    You might have some kind of point to make here about differences between the Bush anti-terrorism policy and the Obama anti-terrorism policy. But it literally makes no sense to describe the changes as “de-securitizing” counter-terrorism. That’s as illogical as saying that that Obama has “de-medicalized” counter-influenza policy. Just as the effort to limit and prevent the spread of influenza is inherently a medical problem, so the effort to limit and prevent terrorism is inherently a security issue. That’s all there is to it.
    The most remarkable and salient fact so far about Obama’s foreign policy and strategic orientation is how deeply continuous it all is with the Bush policy and strategy. I don’t think there were many people, whether they were supporters of Obama or opponents of Obama, who would have predicted in 2007 or 2008 this extremely high degree of continuity with the predecessor administration. Obama has ratcheted down Iraq, because he thinks that war was a mistaken use of military resources, and has ratcheted up operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But that’s just a headquarters-ordered redeployment in a broader global military and security campaign that is conceived and organized on the same fundamental principles established by Bush, apparently with the same strategic objectives.
    You are simply wrong when you say Obama has not tried to push the fear button. The guy gave a signal foreign policy speech at West Point in which every other word was “Al Qaeda”. Pay attention and stop fawning.
    My sense is that Obama is now quite obsessed with terrorism and “violent extremism,” and is willing to do whatever it takes to prevent any incidents. His reaction to the attempted bombing by an agent of Al-jihad Al-underpants suggests a fussy and perfectionistic mind, disturbed that there might be some piece of information somewhere in the universe that does not automatically hook up with every other piece of potentially relevant information. Expect Obama’s administration to continue the drive to erect some impermeable, invasive and all-knowing information Skynet aimed at absolute security and omnipresent watchfulness.
    I’m guessing that Obama is possessed by the fear that, as a Democrat, he will get zero slack from the media and public if some jihadist so much as lights up a sparkler in a 4th of July parade. Republicans get extra starter capital in their anti-terrorism accounts just for kicking dogs with their cowboy boots and shooting their friends in the face. If a plane crashes into a building here or there, they get the benefit of the doubt.
    Obama has relabeled a few things: He prefers phrases like “struggle against violent extremists” to “war on terror.” The new phrase conveys more clearly that the effort is directed against certain kinds of people, rather than simply certain kinds of tactics. (The effort is actually directed against militant jihadists, but to say so would be politically incorrect, so Obama is using the more generic “violent extremists”. Shhhh.) And in place of a term like “central front”, Obama prefers “epicenter”. That helps the listener think of terrorism as something that radiates out from one or more sources, rather than being arrayed along a border-like “front”.
    It is arguable that these new labels are more useful conceptual aids for the public than the older terms. Obama clearly has a different approach to training public responses and maintaining public morale and engagement in the Long Permanent War. No crude color alerts for him. But I don’t think they represent any fundamental change in orientation. It would be nice to imagine that the change from “front” to “epicenter” reflects a different attitude about the usefulness of conventional military force as a weapon against terrorists/extremists. But given the escalation in Afghanistan, this doesn’t appear to be the case. Obama seems just as wedded as most presidents, so far, to the tried-and-true American belief that there is no problem that can’t be solved by throwing more soldiers and heavy weaponry at it.
    A lot of the foreign policy folks from the Beltway liberal thinkigentsia, who now hold positions in the Obama administration, were among those who told us that Bush’s fundamental problem was just inept public diplomacy. They thought the Bush policies were never that far off in substance, but that Karen Hughes and friends didn’t know how to sell them abroad. So a good part of their focus on coming into power has been to stick new labels on everything, while keeping the underlying policies intact. But like their predecessors, these clever FP brats in the Porcine Maquillage Patrol think the people of the Middle East are genetically inferior and sub-human dolts, who can be herded in the right directions through the more skillful application of flashing lights, pleasant music and ambient scents. They are also big fans of “behavioral economics”, which teaches that people are too irrational to be dealt with straightforwardly, and must be tricked, lured and seduced into behaving the way the Best and Brightest wish them to behave. What is shaping up is an administration based on think, layered applications of multicolored bullshit. One can judge for oneself whether or not this jive is preferable to the sullen silences and outright lies of the Bush administration.
    I’m amused by pieces like this one that seek to descry the ineffable je ne sais quoi that marks the great and oh-so-evident superiority of the fledgling Obama administration to the reviled Bush administration. But it’s a little bit disturbing how easy it has turned out to be to manipulate educated professionals with a few new phrases and concert hall atmospherics. A nice speech; an affable interview; a few new terms. Voila! We’re “engaged”! The world has changed!
    To me, it looks like the same old wrestling flick script, retouched to give it some of that “Barton Fink feeling”.

    Reply

  22. JohnH says:

    So, Nadine, based on your last comment, I assume
    that you would favor bringing the terrorists who
    bombed the USS Liberty to justice? And I assume you
    would favor a consistent set of policies that apply
    equally to Israeli and other terrorists?
    [Next, Nadine will bleat some BS about how the
    bombing of the USS Liberty was an “accident,” even
    though it was well marked as a US war ship.]

    Reply

  23. DonS says:

    Nadine, I do not think that our agreement on some of the analytical interpretation of Obama’s behavior presages any greater agreement on the bigger picture.
    Namely, your stand point is the lens of Israel, a small country that views it’s options in radically truncated ways; and whose day to day decision making could reflect abrupt, real, change. Or so it seems. And that is your lodestone.
    The US is more like a supertanker which cannot change course on a dime but, none the less, each high level governmental decision commits the ship of state to the same course or, potentially, reinforces a change of course.
    Your suggestion that Obama must acknowledge an Islamic problem is a case in point. What is the difference between calling something “isolated extremists” and “Islamic terrorists”? I suggest it is the difference between the context for a floundering world power, the US, and a junkyard dog, Israel, perspective. Bush showed no concern for world opinion. Obama implies that he does.

    Reply

  24. nadine says:

    “We have had too much evidence of political leaders practicing their art based on the notion that ‘perception makes reality’. In Obama’s case, regardless of his rhetorical optics — growing less convincing every day — of a new approach to the world (which the article lays out quite well) we are, both domestically and internationally, entering territory that reveals him as a practitioner of most of Bush’s tactics, even while Obama has sought to distinguish himself from Bush. Now he can declaim “but I had to do it!” And the realists might in some ways agree; even while the rightists continue to call him a coward, weak, despite the fact that his actions have been anything but (note to BHO: let go of the RW pandering; waste of energy).” (DonS)
    Ah, but Obama has got to cover his butt in case the next panty-bomber manages to detonate and take down an airliner. Otherwise, a terror attack will be for Obama what Katrina was for GW Bush – a massive display of incompetence. Heck, even the failed Christmas day attack is getting real attention as a massive display of incompetence.
    But it’s not going to work without developing some kind of coherent ‘Obama doctrine’ about fighting Islamic terrorism. A good first step would be to acknowledge the enemy and not call terrorists “isolated extremists” (esp. when they are taking instruction from Al Qaeda imams). Flailing about hitting terrorists with Predators if they stay in Yemen but giving them the rights of American civilians if they manage to get into America to commit their mass casualty attacks will only get Obama attacked by both right and left. Strange to say, it looks like you & I are arriving at a agreement on this point.

    Reply

  25. DonS says:

    The whole CIA/Jordanian suicide bomber business is so monstrously huge, and potentially unraveling . . . of something. James’ note at 4:12 seems to indicate the military thinks so too.
    So, my guess, this calls for, uh, a cover up; a blame game (Jordan, and Panetta seem like immediate candidates); a diversionary boogy man (as if we didn’t have enough) — bombing Iran, seems a bit excessive, a stepped up Somalia offensive not quite enough; an Obama speech. My fear is it presents exactly the vacuum of an apparently weakened US competence — with a “terrorist” tag line, for Israel to take a free turn on some adventure from their stockpile of adventures.
    All this makes the premise of the post, “de-securitization”, all the more improbable. Anyone here see Obama dusting off the detente speech anytime soon?

    Reply

  26. Paul Norheim says:

    Barack Obama mentioned Yemen AND Somalia in his last WH statements five minutes
    ago. I would be surprised if he doesn`t come up with an explicit “YemSom” strategy
    in 2010. Petraeus is probably working on it already.

    Reply

  27. samuelburke says:

    does COIN stand for revolution?
    how does one get to do “counter- insurgency doctrine” when one
    is the invader? sort of like turning into the cops right after you rob
    the house.
    these guys are flying into the stiff wind of reality…for real, not the
    fake reality they force through coin.
    are the effects of “coin” on the soul of the nation measurable?

    Reply

  28. JamesL says:

    Six trucks of explosives disappear in Yemen:
    Telegraph UK: “In an apparently botched surveillance operation, militants driving six trucks filled with weapons and ordnance succeeded in giving security forces the slip as they entered the city, according to local media.”
    Militants were they? Have ID’s on them all? Sure? Is this common in Yemen, like ice fishing in Minnesota, or does it come with intensified US scrutiny and concern? Who were those masked men?

    Reply

  29. JamesL says:

    Ouch!
    “WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military’s intelligence chief in Afghanistan sharply criticized the work of U.S. spy agencies there on Monday, calling them ignorant and out of touch with the Afghan people.”
    Reuters via Ed Wallace’as Inside Automotive

    Reply

  30. JamesL says:

    Carroll: “…REAL change might create some chaos that could bring down or change the system “process” and whose outcome would be unpredictable”
    ‘Predictable’ is not what I would call the current process:
    “ZARQA, Jordan – The suspected Jordanian double agent who killed eight people on a CIA base in Afghanistan was recruited by his country’s intelligence agency after it threw him in jail to coerce him into helping them track down al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader, counterterrorism officials in the Middle East said Tuesday.”
    Oops. Another intelligence goof…any friend of our friend is a….a….
    AP via Yahoo 12 min ago

    Reply

  31. Carroll says:

    The majority of the public was already tired of the fear mongering before Obama was elected.
    So I would say this is small potatoes praise.
    I still say that because Obama is bogged down in his “carefulness” political philosophy he will show up a day late and a dollar short on that change thing, both domestically and FP wise.
    There will be no REAL change because REAL change might create some chaos that could bring down or change the system “process” and whose outcome would be unpredictable. So no politican is willing to risk it and take the blame if it fails.
    What the US actually needs is a rebel leader, minus any whacko ideology and party loyalty who just wants 4 years to house clean.

    Reply

  32. DonS says:

    I guess I should have noted that I am not convinced by Katcher’s words, on de-securitization”, on the “fear button”, that Obama has shown much decoupling from the GWOT business. Obama’s ongoing adoption and furthering of Bush security state apparatus and policies is all too clear. The knee jerk ‘new regs’ reaction to the Christmas bomber incident — and the way that Obama gave a high profile ‘security’ rollout via new regs — is a very recent example. Isn’t it?

    Reply

  33. DonS says:

    The Baker article leaves the disturbing impression that Obama is supposedly trying to accomplish two disparate things: 1) convince the rest of the world that he is changing Bush’s aggressive stance by fundamentally changing optics and language 2) Continue some of the most important actions and policies, domestically and internationally, that amount to an adoption of the GWOT playbook.
    In it’s best light, Obama comes out seeming schizophrenic as to the appropriate road to take. Subsidiary to this is the notion that he and his administration can dispense schizophrenic policy and actions and not have others notice; and this assumption depends largely on belief in the manipulation of optics — a gentle word, I would argue, in this context, for propaganda.
    In a less optimistic light, Obama sounds more like someone who still retains some of the rhetorical flourish of civil rights, privacy, humaneness but who, when push comes to shove, abandons that ‘half’ for the more ‘muscular’, warlike version. And, tellingly, the institutional influence for making that choice seems to come from continuity of Bush ideas, practices, and people, and impliedly as satisfying the hard liners on the right politically. The conclusion seems 1) either Obama lacks presidential leadership skills as distinct from being a political weathervane or 2) he does not believe in the assertion of fundamental rights and liberties as on a par with warlike behavior as an ongoing strategy, regardless of his words.
    We have had too much evidence of political leaders practicing their art based on the notion that ‘perception makes reality’. In Obama’s case, regardless of his rhetorical optics — growing less convincing every day — of a new approach to the world (which the article lays out quite well) we are, both domestically and internationally, entering territory that reveals him as a practitioner of most of Bush’s tactics, even while Obama has sought to distinguish himself from Bush. Now he can declaim “but I had to do it!” And the realists might in some ways agree; even while the rightists continue to call him a coward, weak, despite the fact that his actions have been anything but (note to BHO: let go of the RW pandering; waste of energy).
    A final word: you either believe in the efficacy of democratic ideals and choose a course of action based on them (undoing the Bush legacy), not just when it seems “safe”, in popular political terms, but as the overarching strategy at all times. Obama clearly hasn’t found his center of gravity in this belief. And less ability everyday to claim it, regardless how he seeks to manage perception.

    Reply

  34. David says:

    Ben Katcher has a point, POA, although I’d prefer to see us much farther down this road. But when I try to imagine being POTUS in the context of the popular American mindset, I wind up wondering how a president whose goal is change can get much of anything done. That mindset, and the ease with which the Republican national machine is still able to repeatedly exploit it, is an even bigger problem for the president and progressive members of congress than the power of money. An enlightened vote, if it is part of 50% + 1, is still the most powerful force in American politics, other than in the presidential race, where the electoral college can undermine the will of 50% +1, and the US Senate, where 40% + 1 is the magic number to derail progressive change.
    That is why so much money is spent by special interests trying to make sure that people are misinformed and insight crippled.
    The Obama presidential campaign found a way to outmanuever the standard money game (cf. Plouffe’s book), but that might not carry beyond the campaign. DC is a power money mountain that leaves even veteran senators expressing their disgust/despair. And since congress is generally held in very low esteem by a general public which either will not or cannot dig beneath front-page, above-the-fold impressions, informed and genuinely insightful majority votes in elections seem to me quite elusive. And I have no idea how we can break through that, given the absence of an actual, Bill-of-Rights-worthy fourth estate.
    I suspect I read many of the sources you read. I have been aware of the issues and problems you raise for about 40 years now. I even remember the King of Jordan, I think it was, quipping that with the United States as a friend, who needs enemies?
    The most valuable early sources were the Pentagon Papers and publications from Greenpeace, and from there a plethora of alternative media sources. But mostly those understandings do not make it to the popular mind in any meaningful way, and nothing besides a shift in consciousness on the part of society ever produces legitimate solutions to our real problems.
    On the other hand, had Al Gore’s victory in 2000 not been denied by SCOTUS, in spite of all the things for which one can legitimately castigate the Democratic Party and even Al Gore, the United States 1) would not have invaded Iraq, and 2) would be much farther along in the greening of
    America and meaningful efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. The obstacles would have been daunting regarding CO2, but we still would be far better off than where we are because of 8 years of Bush/Cheney/Exxon/Halliburton. Gore has demonstrated that he indeed will stick his neck out when everyone else is cowering, and that he has the intellectual capacity and the knowledge base to actually understand things.
    I respect the extent to which you do your homework and the intellectual honesty you bring to the discussion. I think I must look for possibilities where you see impossibilities. I do not know that I am right and you are wrong. I do know that Nadine is about as wrong as anyone can possibly be.

    Reply

  35. samuelburke says:

    Americas leaders, whether military commanders or those within
    the corporate governmental structure ought to really honor the
    constitution of the united states above all else…and stop trying
    to make it say what it never intended to say. The spirit of that
    document is the key to americans living free of doctrines
    whether nationalist or religious.
    a testament to the sovereign nature of man.
    steve, sometimes i dont know whether i commend your sense of
    neutrality or condemn your lack of passion for a substantive
    issue.
    i guess whats substantive for one does not necessarily make it
    substantive for the other.

    Reply

  36. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Obama has deliberately refrained from attempting to hijack the domestic debate by stoking fear….”
    You musta missed his last speech. For a foreign policy wonk, sometimes you seem strangely detached from reality.

    Reply

  37. Paul Norheim says:

    A couple of corrections:
    The main difference is that Obama is smarter than Bush. When the whole nation
    is scared to death by the young Nigerian underwear bomber, there is no need
    for the POTUS to “press the ‘high-fear’ button”. The domestic hysteria
    legitimates attacks on the Arabian peninsula and new travel regulations for
    Muslims and Cuban Americans. Obama`s task is to be calm, cool and
    “responsible” while he escalates the Perpetual War on Terror. This he does
    with some style, and you have to admire the way they`ve changed “the optics”.

    Reply

  38. Paul Norheim says:

    Obama is smarter than Bush. When everybody else is scared to death by the Nigerian
    underwear bomber, there is no need for the POTUS to express fear. The national hysteria
    legitimates attacks on the Arabian peninsula and new travel regulations for Muslims and
    Cuban Americans. Obama`s task is to be calm, cool and “responsible” while he escalates
    the Perpetual War on Terror. This he does with some style, and you have to admire the
    way the`ve changed “the optics”.

    Reply

  39. Mr.Murder says:

    The use of fear as a motivator eventually undermines the strategic objective of any goal.
    There is a place for fear, it is a natural instinct for personal self preservation. In a social context it shouldn’t become a talking point for policy positions. Its use in politics should be relegated to a time of the hunter-gatherers.

    Reply

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *