Friday, January 23, 2009

More On Obama's First Big Mistakes

Over at Wizbang there is a post up that reflects much of what I was thinking when I wrote yesterday about President Obama's extremely foolish decision to cripple the CIA, by restricting it to military interrogation rules, and forcing the closure of secret detainment facilities. Kim Priestap writes

I guess we can take War on Terror off of the Wizbang category list as Barack Obama has determined that we should no longer aggressively pursue our enemies and has put an end to the War on Terror with his executive orders. He insists of course that counter terrorism efforts will continue, but they sound purely defensive. It sounds like he will respond after we are attacked instead of aggressively preventing an attack.
This is in reference to a Washington Post article that says straight out, "Bush's 'War' On Terror Comes to a Sudden End."  As Priestap says, "And to think I actually believed Obama wouldn't do anything rash regarding national security and our safety."

I was fooled also. One of the main reasons I opposed Obama for president, or any liberal Democrat for that matter, was that I believed he simply could not be trusted with national security. I thought his inexperience, his left-wing base of support, and many of his statements indicated that he had a naive view of foreign policy and national security affairs. After his election and some of his appointments, however, my opinion began to shift. It began to look more and more as if I'd been wrong about him, and that he would take a realistic, pragmatic approach and focus his misguided liberal idealism only on domestic policy. No such luck.

Almost everyone agrees that intelligence is critical in fighting terrorism. The U.S. is a large, open society with porous borders. We value our freedoms, and there is a limit on just how many internal security measures we are willing to tolerate. We can't defend everything. Individual terrorists and terrorist groups are difficult or nearly impossible to deter, especially if they are willing to commit suicide. The primary method of stopping terrorist attacks is to discover plots before they can be launched, and to disrupt terrorist networks in various ways. You don't do this by placing a bunch of simplistic restrictions on our main intelligence agency. You don't do it by listening to morons who think terrorists deserve Geneva Convention protections, or even the same rights as U.S. citizens. Most of those who hold those opinions are deluded fools who think the terrorist threat isn't really all that serious, or that unconventional conflicts can be fought according to precise rules and laws.

Intelligence gathering has always been a dirty business that operates outside normal rules and laws.  Intelligence agencies have to deal with counterparts abroad, and unsavory elements of all types. The very nature of what they are doing is often illegal. They cannot be constricted on the basis of what is and is not legal within the United States.  And again, they are not the same as the military and should not be tied to the same restrictions. The very notion that the CIA should have to use the exact same interrogation rules as the military makes no logical sense whatsoever. I'm not looking forward to the Obama administration's next moves. It appears that he is going to be just as weak on national security as many of us feared.


  1. Calling myself neither a liberal nor a conservative, I'd like to advance an opinion on what I think is a common misconception about certain aspects of the left wing security agenda.

    1) There is a theory of asymmetric war, which you identified under the label 'unconventional war', that suggests that the weaker party cannot fight the stronger on its own terms, because it will simply lose. When the weaker party resorts to 'asymmetric' tactics, you have a guerrilla war. The stronger party is left with three choices: withdraw, keep fighting on its own terms and quite likely lose, or try to make the conflict symmetric again by adopting the methods of the weaker party. Unfortunately, this last option frequently resorts in barbarism, because the stronger party brings both its mass and the weaker's ethically questionable methods to bear. And this conveniently segues into my next point...

    2) Closing Guantanamo and otherwise curtailing the resources of the CIA et al could be, rather than a manifestation of liberal weakness and lack of 'stomach', a calculated political gesture. The previous administration alienated many of the US' hard-earned allies and destroyed decades worth of goodwill that it had built up since WWI. Cooperation with foreign governments and intelligence agencies, who are frequently less incompetent than they are given credit for, could result in efficacious sharing of information. Should the US appear unduly barbarous in its methods, foreign governments may feel less inclined to cooperate. This too leads admirably to my next point...

    3) While no one is going to denigrate the grave scope of the WTC attack, the fixation of the US political right with 'terror' seems to border at times on obsession. Its frequent use as justification for a raft of measures has led to something of a boy-who-cried-wolf effect. That's not say that there is no wolf; there most certainly is. However, with hyper awareness of personal and national security there is the danger of engendering an irrational paranoia. You said yourself "we can't defend everything". Indeed, absolute security would cost a phenomenal amount both financially and in terms of personal liberties. With that in mind, it seems wise to draw a line beyond which the state will not cross, because the nearer it draws towards absolute security, the greater the likelihood of spurring some repeat of the Red Scare. And this brings me to my final point...

    4) It's a truism that victors sometimes emerge from a fight looking alarmingly like their enemies. This happens as a result of the need to adopt measures which frequently bear a striking similarity to those that are being fought. The internment of Japanese Americans in WWII came about as a result of needing to preserve political freedom in the face of totalitarianism. There are many more such examples. Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is a grotesque thing, and it would not behoove the United States to emerge from the fight without any of its principles in tact.

    Apologies for the exposition. I hope you find it interesting.

  2. You are completely wrong. Having served for over thirty years in the Army, to include multiple tours in the ME, Gitmo, questionable interrogation techniques have hurt not helped in our prosecution of the war on terror. Quit watching 24 it ain't the real world.

  3. FrodoSaves,

    I agree with much of what you wrote. I'm not making an overall ends justify the means argument. Everything isn't justified by national security or the threat of terrorism. My post is specific to the situation with the CIA.


    "You are completely wrong."

    I'm not too impressed with blanket assertions based on nothing.

    "having served for over thirty years in the Army, to include multiple tours in the ME, Gitmo"

    So what? I'm also unimpressed by arguments based on appeal to authority fallacies. How is your military service in any way relevant to the topic? This post is about the CIA. I'm against military use of borderline interrogation techniques.

    "questionable interrogation techniques have hurt not helped in our prosecution of the war on terror."

    You have no basis on which to make such a sweeping assertion. Do you have access to every bit of intelligence information we've obtained throughout the war on terror? I agree that the way interrogations have been handled by the Bush administration have produced many negative effects. But we also don't know what successes have been achieved, and probably won't until when & if all relevant documents are eventually declassified.

    "Quit watching 24 it ain't the real world."

    I've never seen it. And nothing I wrote has the slightest thing to do with some tv show. Try making an actual argument instead of attacking an unrelated strawman.