The Big Question: Has Obama made us safer?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer some insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Today's question:

Has the Obama administration made the United States safer? Explain.


Terence Kane, Pundits Blog contributor, said:

I am skeptical about offering any definitive answer to a question with this many variables. Imagine if the Obama administration were somehow able to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab managed to blow up flight 253 on its way to Detroit. Evaluating whether the Obama administration made the United States safer will take many years and an endless number of counter-factuals to develop an informed decision.

The principal terrorist threat remains Al Qaeda, though they have been unable to carry out any attacks inside the United States since 9/11. Most analysts believe that the central front on the war with Al Qaeda is located in Pakistan. Obama believes his decision to beef up security forces in Afghanistan will pay dividends there. Additionally, according to the New America Foundation, the Obama administration has launched more predator attacks in Pakistan than were launched during the entire Bush administration.

Al Qaeda has limited operational ability (though unlimited desire) to directly endanger American citizens on American soil. The greatest challenge Al Qaeda posses comes from their ability to destabilize states in the Muslim world. The Obama administration needs Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq to become stable, somewhat functioning nations. Hope everyone is willing to wait 10 or 20 years for the answer.

Ryan J. Davis, political commentator, said:

To answer this question, you'd have to buy into the idea that the United States wasn't safe to begin with. Nate Silver looked at the airline stats over the last decade and found only a 1 in 10.5 million chance of dying in an act of air terror.  On the other hand, it's a 1 in 500,000 chance of being struck by lightening.  I'd say both events are rare, but hijackings fall in the extremely, rare category.  Most pundits and people approach these issues with a startling lack of perspective.

I'd say America is safer when more of its citizens have health care, access to quality education and a decent standard of living.  Obama is working towards those goals.


Michael T. McPhearson, Executive Director of Veterans For Peace, said:

At this time we in the U.S. are no less or more safe under the Obama Administration than we were when President Bush left office. However, if the Obama Administration continues the same approach to countering terrorism as the Bush Administration and the same foreign polices that have been in place for generations, our country will soon be less safe. The president raised hopes around the globe; specifically in the Muslim world that U.S. foreign policy would be even handed on the question of Israel/Palestine, that the Moslem community would not be broadly painted as terrorist and that perhaps the U.S. would stop trying to force the global community to follow U.S. demands and policies.

Unfortunately, this is not turning out to be the case. The U.S. continues to go down a road of total self interest demanding others pursue the same aims. We continue to rely on force as a primary means to create change. We act as if our way is the best way. The world should learn from us and we have nothing to learn from the world. There is change in the rhetoric of the Obama Administration, but little change in actions. As a result, people who were willing to give the Administration a chance are becoming disillusioned and see no reason to think the U.S. will respect them, listen or change. So why try to make non-violent change when the U.S. continues to use overwhelming violence a means to force our will?

In the course of using this violence to “defend” ourselves we kill innocents. This leads to the obvious question, why is it OK to kill innocent Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis and whomever else to protect Americans, but it is not OK for Americans to die? These contradictions create new enemies many of whom may have been on the fence, but now or soon will decide to take action against us.

Most troubling is the fact that the U.S. continues to fight a belief and an idea that has no geographical borders and no political center as if it has boundaries and definitive political connections. Ideas cannot be defeated with physical force. They can only be defeated with countervailing ideas. The strategy of using force as the primary means to end terrorism strengthens the image al Qaeda propagandizes about the U.S. The death and destruction caused by reliance on violence increases al Qaeda’s legitimacy as a form of resistance to U.S. empire building. This at a minimum boosts their ranks and at worst spreads the idea and message of al Qaeda. This in the long run will make us less safe as violent resistance to the U.S. will spread and the idea of a resurgent Muslim empire will grow.

The U.S. cannot invade every country from which an attack is launched. A new strategy that is much less reliant on violence and built on mutual respect and participation with economic policies that lift all people across the globe will make a difference in stopping terrorism. Communities who believe they are being treated fairly and with respect will not tolerate terrorist. They will help apprehend them. Communities who sympathize with resistance to U.S. occupations and empire will do nothing or actively help the resisters. The ball is in our court. Time is running out.

 

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch said:

The Obama administration’s anti-terrorism policies have made the United States less safe.
 
Obama’s decision to end the use of the enhanced interrogation techniques prevents us from gaining intelligence that can save lives and prevent terrorist attacks (like the recent attempt to blow up the Detroit-bound airliner).
 
Obama’s decision to prosecute 9/11 terrorists in civilian court is a public relations victory for Al Qaeda that will lead, among other deadly dangers, to the release of intelligence data that will help terrorists.
 
Obama’s decision to prosecute the recent airline bomber Abdulmutallab in the civilian system prevents our defense and intelligence agencies from gaining access to timely information that might prevent future terrorist attacks.  And it will encourage more terrorism by suggesting leniency can be had by terrorists in plea bargain negotiations with civilian prosecuters.
 
Obama’s decision to close Gitmo will result in terrorists being brought to the United States, with all the attendant risks to the homeland – which include the outright release of terrorists in the United States.
 
Obama’s decision to release terrorists from Gitmo and elsewhere will lead to more terrorism from recidivist terrorists.
 
Obama’s decision to criminally investigate intelligence and other officials over the use of enhanced interrogation techniques guarantees CIA and other intelligence agencies will take a risk-adverse approach to counter-terrorism. This will lead to missed intelligence leads and more terrorism.  It is fair to speculate if this already happened in the case of the Christmas attack.
 
Tom Fitton is president of Judicial Watch, a constitutionally conservative, nonpartisan educational foundation that promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law.


A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, said

America is not any safer under the Obama administration if a would-be-bomber can board a plane bound for the United States with explosives strapped to his body but without luggage and having paid in cash, and an intact U.S. visa despite his father having warned authorities on several occasion his son had been radicalized and was a potential danger. Hundreds of Americans owe on the Northwest Airlines flight which landed safely in Detroit on Christmas Day to a terrorists bad luck and the bravery of a few passengers. Those travelers, and the families and friends who loved them, weren't spared by  the U.S. government.
 
After more than ten days since the foiled attack we are now given a more complete accounting of what transpired in Yemen in the weeks preceding it. Intelligence sources warned four suicide bombers were headed for embassies in San'a, Yemen, which lead to the closings of both the British and US embassies there this weekend. According to The New York Times, strikes launched on December 17th killed three of the al Qaeda bombers and the capture of the fourth lead to another strike on December 24th. 
 
The Obama administration has not been soft on terror to the extent that Republican critics contend, and the president's policies may ultimately succeed in making us safer than we were in the past. But as of today no one is safer. There will be another Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, but the next time we aren't likely to be warned in advance by his father. 


Hal Lewis, professor of Physics at UC Santa Barbara, said:

I am reminded of the (in)famous comment of a Clinton staffer, who said to Gen. McCaffrey  when he said hello at the White House, "we don't speak to the military." Clinton showed some capacity to learn, but this administration does not. The answer is a resounding no.


Brian Katulis, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said:

The truth of the matter is that no one has an empirical answer to this question of whether the United States is safer. More than eight years after the 9/11 attacks, the United States government lacks a system for evaluating the threats our country faces around the world and then dedicating resources to meet those threats. Our intelligence agencies produce threat assessments, the State Department writes an annual terrorism report detailing the previous year’s terrorist incidents, and the Pentagon spends hundreds of billions of dollars around the world in efforts aimed at advancing stability. But after spending more than $1 trillion over the past eight years, the United States government cannot provide an objective measure to its citizens on this question of whether they are safer as a result of the efforts.


John Feehery, Pundits Blog contributor, said:

Most of America is safe. Let's start with that. We often overlook the fact when we are talking about threats to the American homeland. And the biggest threat to most Americans people is not terrorism.  It is crime. And most crime in down in the last year, although property crime is starting to inch up again. America is safe from most external threats because we have the best-trained, best equipped, most sophisticated, and best-funded military in the world. And despite some mishaps, we also have the best-funded and  (aside from the Mossad), the best-trained intelligence services in the world.

The President has taken some troubling steps that could make some Americans less safe.  He is hurriedly trying to close down Guantanamo Bay, and actually considering bringing those prisoners to his home state of Illinois. Some of the prisoners who have been released are Yemeni. For obvious reasons, we should have held on to them. The President's people want to bring other prisoners to New York to have them stand trial. It is inconceivable that Nazi prisoners would have been brought to London or New York for trial as the Second World War raged on. But that is what we are doing with these terrorist/soldiers. 

The President took far too long to make a decision on Afghanistan, sending the rest of the world troubling signals about his commitment to the war against terrorists. He eventually made the right decision, but it took him far too long. 

The President has kept much of the war-fighting structure erected by the Bush Administration, with the notable exceptions mentioned above. His efforts to reach out to the radical Islamic community hasn't born any real fruit thus far, and it is unclear if they ever will. On balance, it is hard to make the case that he has made the U.S. any safer. While I am not one of those to claim that the sky is falling, I do think some of his decisions may have made America less safe in certain ways.  


Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, said:

The Obama administration is serious about making us safer, and I hear from people who fight terrorists that they're fixing much of the internal damage from prior years.

We just heard from the Pentagon that a major decision was made in the fall of 2003 to divert attention from fighting terrorism. The current administration is trying to fix that situation.

The big change is that the intelligence community has been told to deliver accurate assessments, rather than what the administration wants to hear.


Justin Raimondo, editorial director of Antiwar.com, said:

By re-launching the Afghan war, and extending it into neighboring Pakistan, the Obama administration has placed the U.S. public in mortal danger. This shoud be clear to anyone who has witnessed the history of the past eight years: Our foreign policy of global intervention, and particularly our unrelenting aggression in the Middle East, is creating more enemies than we can successfully defend against.

The cost of these wars endangers us in a way that is not immediately obvious, but one that will have fateful consequences nonetheless. In short, we are spending ourselves into bankruptcy with our policy of imperialism, and in this sense the Obama administration is endangering the future of the entire nation — including those citizens not yet born. We are in debt as far as the eye can see, and our empire-building policy is a major factor in our ongoing economic decline. As Ron Paul has pointed out, we could rebuild our decaying infrastructure and fund healthcare for everyone if we simply stopped subsidizing our faithless "allies" and spending more on "defense" than the rest of the world combined.

While U.S. troops guard the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, our own borders are notoriously porous and vulnerable to penetration by terrorists intent on killing U.S. citizens. Our ports are virtually undefended — but we're too busy defending the "Green Zone" thousands of miles away to worry about threats to our security closer to home.


Glenn Reynolds, from Instapundit, said:

This is one of those things that's hard to answer. Polling suggests that more Americans think we're less safe now than think we're safer, and the numbers are worse than they've been in several years. But public mood, while important, isn't a very accurate guide to safety. It's clear that the most visible aspect of anti-terrorism — aviation security — isn't looking very good, and the TSA's clumsy assault on critical bloggers, withdrawn after massive criticism, doesn't help. As for things like attacks in Yemen and behind-the-scenes diplomacy, well, that's just impossible to judge except over time, by results.


Bernie Quigley, Pundits Blog contributor, said:

Not yet, but he must soon. Two events in the last few weeks have changed the globalist paradigm entirely. They might be seen to have brought the end of globalization as we understood it in the Clinton era. Copenhagen should have shown the Obama admin that the Bono hands-across-the-waters approach only works in Cloud Cuckoo Land and that we urgently need a real, professional State Department aparatus and admin, not one made up of “friends and friends (and relatives) of friends.” The Chinese orchestrated Copenhagen to formulate a new leadership matrix, which does not include America. The 12/25 terrorist attempt in Detroit has brought a reawakening. Americans have become acculturated to danger since 9/11. We will no longer stand for this; we are ready to defend ourselves. Obama must shift priorities right now. He does not yet own this presidency and if he doesn’t take charge of it in the next two weeks the next three years will be a disaster for him, for us, for everyone. Obama was right at the beginning of the invasion of Iraq. This time Cheney is right.


John F. McManus, president of The John Birch Society, said:

America's foreign policy that includes the continuation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even a scheduled escalation of the Afghan conflict during 2010, has hardly made our nation safer. It has also made the well-being of our forces stationed in these countries and elsewhere less safe. Many of the people in these two countries, as well as their co-religionists in several others, consider the U.S. action a form of colonialism. They resent America's invasion and virtual occupation, just as Americans would resent similar moves by foreigners who might undertake similar operations here.  I expect a rising crescendo of cries within the U.S. to bring the troops home, not only from Iraq and Afghanistan, but from many other countries where their presence is not appreciated. This would help to ensure safety in our nation, although no country is ever totally safe. If U.S. policy isn't changed, I fear there will be more attempts to attack us, both here and abroad.