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Bush Felt It In His Gut; Obama Thinks About It In His Head

John on January 5, 2010 at 8:47 am

AJ Strata highlights some key graphs in a NY Times piece from yesterday:

The attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines passenger jet on Christmas Day heightened a debate that has percolated over the last 12 months. Obama’s approach has been either a dangerous reversal of the Bush years or a consolidation of the Bush years, depending on who is talking. In fact, the new president, during his first year, has adopted the bulk of the counterterrorism strategy he found on his desk when he arrived in the Oval Office, a strategy already moderated from the earliest days after Sept. 11, 2001. He did, however, shave back some of the harsher edges of the remaining Bush policies and in the process of his recalibrations drew simultaneous fire from former Vice President Dick Cheney and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Obama, then, found himself in a place where he seems most comfortable, splitting the difference on a tough issue and presenting it as the course of reasoned judgment rather than of dogmatic ideology. Where Bush saw black and white, Obama sees gray. Where Bush favored swagger, Obama is searching for a more supple blend of force and intellect. Where Bush saw Islamic extremism as an existential threat equivalent to Nazism or Communism, Obama contends that that view warps the situation out of proportion and plays into terrorists’ hands by elevating their stature and allowing them — even without attacking again — to alter the nature of American society.

These may very well become the “famous last words” you often hear about. Was the Christmas Day bomber an existential threat to the 300 people on the plane with him? Yes he was. Did Obama’s contentions about reality help the situation? No they did not.

“There was a tendency on the part of some to view the world through that prism — you know, are you with us or against us, black and white, this global war on terror,” John Brennan told me a couple of months ago in his windowless, low-ceilinged, soundproof office in the West Wing, where mobile phones are banned. “It was almost all-consuming. It was the driving force for our foreign policies, that we were now engaged in this march on the global war on terror.” That attitude, Brennan went on to say, proved counterproductive. “This president recognizes that there’s still a very serious terrorist threat that we face from organizations like Al Qaeda,” he said. “But at the same time, what we have to do is make sure that we’re not pouring fuel on the flames by the things that we do.”

Again, these words would sound very different if the detonator hadn’t failed. They would sound like a description of the moment America took its eye off the ball.

Bush felt it in his gut. Obama thinks about it in his head.

I’d say that about sums it up. We’re seeing the first fruits of this change now.

But there’s also this worrisome bit later on:

“A lot of the knuckleheads I’ve been listening to out there on the network shows don’t know what they’re talking about,” he told me after the Christmas Day attempt. Some Republicans, including Cheney, were blatantly mischaracterizing the record, he fumed. “When they say the administration’s not at war with Al Qaeda, that is just complete hogwash.” It was the angriest I had heard him during months of conversations. “What they’re doing is just playing into Al Qaeda’s strategic effort, which is to get us to battle among ourselves instead of focusing on them,” he said.

Is this the first time John Brennan has noticed the “battle among ourselves?” Where has he been? One could plausibly argue that Barack Obama was largely elected on the back of the fractious sentiment that had built up under President Bush. Did that play into al Qaeda’s hands too?

Is he literally saying that disagreeing with the President is helping Al Qaeda? For all the effort to position him in this piece, that sounds a lot like Dick Cheney to me.

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Category: Islamic Jihad |

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