Does Obama 'Get' the Terror War?

Bill Murchison

1/5/2010 12:01:00 AM - Bill Murchison

The craving to crawl all over the Obama administration for missteps on the terrorism front is partly backlash against the Democratic craving to crawl all over the Bush administration for every misfortune since the plagues of Egypt.

"Partly," all the same, is partial. There's more. The Obama administration -- starting at the top and working down -- doesn't "get" the terror war the same way, I venture to say, as the majority of Americans do. That's even if you dissent from former Vice President Cheney's declaration last week that President Obama merely "pretends" we are at war.

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Why is the government decanting Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab into the civilian justice system after he tried to destroy an airliner filled with innocent passengers? Why are we affording this enemy agent the legal protections that obtain in a land he wants to destroy? The administration is going to answer for this one, with volume turned up.

Counterrorism chief John Brennan said on Fox News the other day that Umar was given a lawyer instead of a military interrogator because the government hopes for a plea agreement: a thwarted bomber working out with lawyers a deal that benefits both sides. "[H]e knows," said Brennan, "that there are certain things that are on the table, and if he wants to, in fact, engage with us in a productive manner, there are ways that he can do that."

Let us savor this statement. The man who lighted a Christmas fire with his underwear, hoping to cause an explosion that would bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 and everyone traveling on it, himself included -- our government's lawyers are going to wheel and deal with this susceptible gentleman? Assure him of a "productive" outcome if he cooperates? Dangle rewards and incentives for succumbing to arguments that he turn state's evidence?

It's all going to happen -- can't we see it now? -- on the day scientists discover the moon is one chunk of blue cheese.

Have we forgotten already? The. Man. Tried. To. Blow. Himself. Up.

He was ready to die for the glorious cause of taking Americans and others with him. He's now going to cooperate -- how? By declining to spit in a magistrate's face? By volunteering to teach the Quran in American maximum security prisons? Isn't there something just kind of rich about this prospect -- so rich it turns the stomach? Rather than hand over Umar to military interrogators, we seek a plea bargain. You could get the impression easily enough that he was cousin to the Soprano family.

What's this all about? Not the dramatic expansion of knowledge about how Umar got aboard Flight 253, who funded him, how many like him are still out there, what their plans are, etc.? What this is all about is the immunization of the president and his loyal retainers, with their delicate standards of inquisitorial propriety, from the accusation that -- gasp! -- they were engaging in Bush-like tactics.

The verboten word "waterboarding" comes suggestively to mind. Sorry, can't have that! The Obama base would erupt angrily, and foreign leaders would conclude that the same old Americans were calling the same old shots the same old way: no reset buttons, no softened, soothing voices.

Underlying the question of how much information we extract one way or another from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is the question of just how gravely the president and his retainers take the terrorism war. To the extent they see it as a real war (hence Dick Cheney's persistent criticisms)!

Clearly the Obamans don't like fighting whatever they see themselves as fighting. I offer an educated guess: Most Americans -- including a large portion of those who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 -- don't like fighting such a war, either. Nevertheless, they understand that when someone wants to kill you, the indicated response is to fight back with everything you have.

We have to hope the president will finally join the citizens in that basic and common-sensible understanding. On the existing evidence, he has a ways to travel.