Jonah Goldberg

It is always dangerous to mistake your ideological preferences for shrewd political strategy, but that is precisely what President Obama and his advisors have done with the war on terror.

On the right, the prevailing critique of the president's approach to the war on terror is that it is both deeply ideological and unserious. Obama remains fixated on the idea of closing Guantanamo, even if it means keeping irredeemable terrorists in U.S. prisons indefinitely. The administration initially banned the use of the term "war on terror," preferring the ridiculous bureaucratese "overseas contingency operations." Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano favors "man-caused disasters" to describe 9/11-style terrorism. Attorney General Eric Holder has decided to send self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four others to a civilian trial in New York City, allegedly without consulting anyone save his wife and brother.

Immediately after the Fort Hood shootings and again after the foiled Christmas Day attack by suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the president's initial response was to look at the incidents through the now-familiar ideological prism. These were "isolated" attacks from individual "extremists."

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Admirably, Obama was quick to correct the record about Abdulmutallab, contradicting Napolitano's initial contention that "the system worked." Rather, Obama admitted there was "systemic failure." Since then, the media have reported that Abdulmutallab's arrest and interrogation were as flawed as the system that let him on the plane. FBI agents interviewed the jihadist for 50 minutes, according to the Associated Press, before he was read his Miranda rights and lawyered up, and no one even bothered to consult with Obama's national security team.

Meanwhile, pro-Obama pundits have been rolling out a revealing argument: Terrorism happens; get over it. For instance, Time's Peter Beinart and Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria argue that the American response to the Christmas Day bomber was "hysteria" or "panic." Both say that the threat from al-Qaida is overblown and distracts us from smart policies and more important priorities.

Whatever the merits of these arguments and Obama's responses, one thing is becoming clear: They amount to awful politics. One of Scott Brown's biggest applause lines leading up to the Massachusetts special election last week to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat was that "in dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them."

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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