Obama’s right, so he gets it from both left and right

Here’s something you don’t see every day — a right-wing, really out there, anti-Obama website featuring a video commentary by Rachel Maddow.

That’s because left and right agree — they don’t like to see the president act pragmatically and forcefully.

Ms. Maddow is onto something, too — from her ideological perspective. The thing is, Mr. Obama is just as determined to pursue the War on Terror as a war, rather than as a series of disconnected criminal prosecutions, as was George W. Bush. Oh, he wouldn’t have gone into Iraq. But that, as folks who opposed that incursion so often point out, was an optional move. There are other ways to pursue the war. And Mr. Obama embraces them.

The key, for Ms. Maddow, is that Mr. Obama is acting extralegally — because he’s treating those implicated in terrorism differently from the way we treat the accused within our criminal justice system. She is particularly indignant because the president has articulated a policy of “prolonged detention” of certain individuals to prevent them from committing crimes in the future — in other words, to prevent acts of terror before they happen, rather than reacting and cleaning up afterward. He’s acting, you know, pre-emptively. She equates this to “Minority Report.”

Yes, this is different from the way we treat the accused within our criminal justice system. No doubt about it. Although it is similar in one way: The most practical point of incarceration is to protect the community — to prevent someone inclined to violence, for instance, from doing it again. Yes, there is the retributive factor. But if you believe as I do that we really shouldn’t lock up people who don’t pose a threat — it’s wasteful, economically destructive, and it elevates revenge above practicality — it changes your perspective.

If Ms. Maddow read the piece I read yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, she’d likely be more alarmed, and for reasons that go beyond due process. I cited it in a comment yesterday, and perhaps it deserves a wider airing. Note these several passages from the piece, which is about how unprecedented cooperation between the CIA and the military produced the raid that killed Osama bin Laden…

First passage:

A Wall Street Journal reconstruction of the mission planning shows that this meeting helped define a profound new strategy in the U.S. war on terror, namely the use of secret, unilateral missions powered by a militarized spy operation. The strategy reflects newfound trust between two traditionally wary groups: America’s spies, and its troops.

The bin Laden strike was the strategy’s “proof of concept,” says one U.S. official.

This month’s military strike deep inside Pakistan is already being used by U.S. officials as a negotiating tool—akin to, don’t make us do that again—with countries including Pakistan thought to harbor other terrorists. Yemen and Somalia are also potential venues, officials said, if local-government cooperation were found to be lacking…

Second passage:

Officials and experts say the new U.S. approach will likely be used only sparingly. “This is the kind of thing that, in the past, people who watched movies thought was possible, but no one in the government thought was possible,” one official said.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama said in an interview with the BBC that he would be willing to authorize similar strikes in the future. “Our job is to secure the United States,” he said….

Third passage:

Kicking planning into higher gear, the president reviewed these options at a March 14 meeting of the National Security Council. Among his first decisions was to scotch the idea of gathering more intelligence to make sure they had found bin Laden. The potential gain was outweighed by the risk of being exposed.

Mr. Obama also rejected a joint Pakistani operation, officials say. There was no serious consideration of the prospect, said one administration official, given the desire for secrecy…

One more:

When the National Security Council met again eight days later. Mr. Obama gave a provisional go-ahead for the helicopter raid. But he worried the plan for managing the Pakistanis was too flimsy.

The U.S. had little faith that, if U.S. forces were captured by the Pakistanis, they would be easily returned home…

Mr. Obama directed Adm. McRaven to develop a stronger U.S. escape plan. The team would be equipped to fight its way out and would have two helicopters on stand-by in case of an emergency.

It all sounds pretty solid to me, but if you believe, as Ms. Maddow does, that everything that W. and Dick Cheney did in pursuing this war — including their tendency toward “unilateral” action (which is not mentioned in the above video but which really, really bugs a lot of people who share Ms. Maddow’s views) was anathema, then you’re going to be pretty disturbed.

Also, there is the intelligence aspect. Essential to the views of many who opposed the Iraq invasion is that “Bush lied,” when what he did was choose which intelligence to believe, and act upon it — something that commanders have had to do throughout history. It’s what Obama did when he decided that the risk of exposure was not worth gathering further intel before proceeding, even though the presence of bin Laden was not assured, and “Mr. Gates, the defense secretary, was skeptical of the intelligence case that bin Laden was at the compound.” (Only at the very last minute — April 28 — did Mr. Gates get on board and endorse the mission.)

No, one raid isn’t the same as invading Iraq — at least, not in terms of scale. But in terms of strategic effect, even such a small-scale incursion on the core territory of an ally is pretty dramatic, and profoundly risky.

Obama could have been wrong. But he was right to make the calls he did. And one is tempted to say that in some ways, the main difference between him and Mr. Bush is that he has been more successful — at least in this instance.

As for due process — Mr. Obama has realized that taking all those people and treating them as domestic criminals is a lot harder, and less practical, than he had believed. Such realization — and acting upon it effectively in spite of one’s campaign rhetoric — is the mark of a true leader. You know, a Decider. Which I realize ticks off a lot of people who voted for him enthusiastically in 08. But it makes me more likely to vote for him in ’12. And it makes it far less likely that the Republicans will be able to come up with anyone who can beat him.

Because it’s not just the economy, stupid. Commander in chief matters.

13 thoughts on “Obama’s right, so he gets it from both left and right

  1. Brad

    By the way, I didn’t know why that video is headlined “Obama Justifies FEMA imprisonment of civilians!” I don’t know how FEMA came into it. What Maddow and Obama were talking about was people taken prisoner in the War on Terror. Al Qaeda and Gitmo were specifically mentioned.

    Apparently, there’s some kind of conspiracy theory out there involving FEMA and concentration camps, with which I was previously unfamiliar…

  2. Brad

    Another note: While I may disagree with her strongly on a number of things, I have a lot of respect for Rachel Maddow.

    She interviewed me once four years ago, back when she was doing radio and before she was famous. Scratch that… it was before I had heard of her, which is not the same thing, since I’ve never heard of a lot of broadcast celebrities. She interviewed me in connection with her Air America gig, and I was initially somewhat reluctant to do it, because I don’t think any more of left-wing talk radio than I do of right-wing talk radio. But I said yes, as I always do, and was really impressed with her.

    It was sometime later that I saw her lampooned on SNL — before I’d ever seen her on television — that I realized, “I know her!”

    I’ve watched her for a few minutes when channel-surfing a couple of times, and am usually impressed by the intellectual force she brings to her arguments — even when I see them as fatally flawed. She’s worth listening to. Which I can’t say for many in the whole TV-commentator universe.

  3. bud

    No, one raid isn’t the same as invading Iraq — at least, not in terms of scale.

    STOP RIGHT THERE!! Of course it’s not the same. And to suggest there is even one tiny partical of comparison between the two events is bordering on the insane. Brad has this way of sticking a knife in and twisting and twisting until inevitably I’ll fire back. I wouldn’t want to disappoint Mr. Warthen so I’ll go ahead and fire away.

    Bush and his neocon cronies didn’t just make a judgement call about the Iraq intelligence they lied about it. It’s about as straight forward as it gets. How can someone look at the basic facts and reach any other conclusion? It’s downright loonie. But we love Brad anyway even though he’s completely out of his mind on this issue.

  4. Brad

    By the way, to go back to one of those quotes above from the WSJ story: “This month’s military strike deep inside Pakistan is already being used by U.S. officials as a negotiating tool—akin to, don’t make us do that again—with countries including Pakistan thought to harbor other terrorists. Yemen and Somalia are also potential venues, officials said, if local-government cooperation were found to be lacking…”

    That was one of the beneficial effects of the Iraq invasion as well — for a brief time. It only lasted as long as there was a widespread belief, or fear (depending on your point of view) that we might do something like that again. It’s what got Qaddafi to drop his nuclear-weapons program. He was all like, “Look, y’all! I’ve dropped it! I’m not doing this anymore!” He saw himself in Saddam.

    But before long, everybody figured out that, given our internal political turmoil over Iraq, we weren’t doing that again any time soon.

    Now with Obama, everybody’s going “Whoa! He doesn’t threaten, but boy does he act!”

    It’s like, if you’ll forgive the analogy about the politics of force, W. was Sonny Corleone, and Obama is Michael.

  5. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Look, the most “practical” way to prevent crimes is to lock up all males over 12 and under 25.Maybe we should draft them all–that’s even more practical–or put ’em in a chain gang.

    That doesn’t make it right.

  6. Brad

    That’s what Cool Hand Luke said.

    But you get my point, right — that a practical reason why we lock people up is that they have demonstrated to us that they are likely to be a danger. If it were JUST about what they’ve been convicted of, and not about deterring future actions, we’d probably come up with something cheaper than incarceration. If we were smart.

    And you’re gonna say, “but they were CONVICTED,” and I’m gonna say, that’s evading my point…

  7. bud

    The mission that took out Obama was basically a police action, not a part of a war. Police actions are fine as long as we’re doing something that’s a legitimate, and rare, act of defending the people of the United States. Pre-emptive wars with unproven benifits serve little purpose other than to massacre and humilate other human beings. Security is not enhanced and deterence is not achieved. Qudaffi had no chance of ever building a nuke so to suggest he gave up his program is irrelevant. The Iranians on the other hand were probably encouraged to develop nukes based on Ws misguided Iraq policy. Rather than detering we’re encouraging bad behavior.

  8. Ralph Hightower

    When I watched the video, there was one thing about Rachel Maddow that struck me! Watching her, I was comparing her to Jon Stewart. Her reporting style, her cadence, her switching to short clips of video. That’s the Daily Show with Jon Stewart!

  9. Brad

    “Police action,” eh? You mean, like the Korean War, huh?

    By the way, Obama disagrees with you about Iraq. You say “Security is not enhanced and deterence is not achieved.” I mean, I assume you’re talking about Iraq there.

    Here’s what Obama said, just last week: “In Iraq, we see the promise of a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian democracy. There, the Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence for a democratic process, even as they have taken full responsibility for their own security. Like all new democracies, they will face setbacks. But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress. As they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.” None of which would have happened, of course, with Saddam Hussein still in power.

  10. Brad

    While I was typing that, I got five new comments pending. Which was kind of fast. So I checked them out. Three were spam comments, of this variety: “I like the helpful information you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and check again here regularly. I’m quite sure I will learn lots of new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!”

    Who do they think is going to fall for that? Somebody who just started blogging yesterday?

    And why does such spam come in clusters like that?

  11. bud

    Obama is trying to find a way to save face and continue our exit out of Iraq. And it’s easier just to regurgitate the same ole tired cliches. I don’t really think he has his heart in those words. Hopefully in about 7 months we won’t have this to kick around any more.

  12. Brad

    So that’s who you think Obama is? A guy who just “regurgitates the same old tired cliches?” Because it’s “easier?”

    That’s not the Obama I know.

  13. bud

    I think Obama is a brilliant president who can multi-task with the best of them. But in the case of Iraq he has no real choice but to regurgitate. Is he going to admit this whole thing was a disaster? Of course not. He has to follow it through simply because it’s on his plate and he has to finish it. Sort of like that nasty brocolli mom made you eat as a kid. You know it’s good for you and you have to follow through to the end. But seriously Obama is smart enough to know all those high-minded platitudes from his predecessor are complete nonsense. But he’s required to say them. It comes with the job.


Leave a Reply

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