Homeland Security

The Big Question: Who should replace PhRMA's head?

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

Today's question:

Former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) is stepping down as head of PhRMA. Should the powerful trade group replace him with a Democrat or a Republican?

(Read today's answers after the jump.)


The Big Question: Is Brennan right about GOP terror critics?

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

Today's question:

"Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al Qaeda," according to Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan.

Is Brennan's comment right? Is it appropriate?

Background reading here.

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

Does anyone think that "politically motivated criticism" is something new?  Or that "unfounded fear-mongering" has just been invented?
Deputy National Security Advisor Brennan may think that such criticism and fear-mongering serve the goals of al Qaeda.  History shows that they serve the goals of the administration in power.  It has long been a despicable policy to scare the public into supporting questionable actions.  For example, constant references to Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction" gave George Bush a green light to invade Iraq.  Yet there were no such weapons. 
As for current statements possibly serving the goals of al Qaeda, should we not wonder if al Qaeda still exists?  U.S. forces in Afghanistan aren't fighting al Qaeda; they're fighting the Taliban.  Constant references to al Qaeda, blared whenever anything related to terrorism occurs, serve the interests of the Obama administration as it continues the seemingly endless, but undeclared, war in Afghanistan.

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

In hearing this accusation coming from the White House, one us immediately struck by a sense of deja-vu: haven't we heard this sort of thing somewhere before?

Oh yes, now I recall: it was the Bush White House, and its neoconservative amen corner, who first suggested that any criticism of the President's policies would place one on the side of the terrorists. This is a classic case of becoming what one starts out by despising. It recalls the ending of George Orwell's "Animal Farm":

"No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Craig Newmark
, founder of Craigslist, said:

Brennan is entirely correct; a deliberate al Qaeda strategy is to convince us to hurt ourselves. One way they do that is to get career politicians to enact measures which sound agressive, but that waste the resources of the intelligence community.

David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, said:

There is nothing wrong with having a robust public debate over how terrorist suspects captured here and abroad should be detained, interrogated, and prosecuted. The discourse since the airline attack in December, however, has been typical of so much of our political dialogue in that it has inflamed rather than informed public opinion. Critics of the Administration rail against the use of the criminal justice system in the Abdulmutallab case, but totally ignore the global public relations disaster caused by our prior policies of illegal interrogations combined with indefinite detention without trial. The Administration, on the other hand, has been defensive in attempting to explain why a more extended interrogation of Abdulmutallab was not warranted prior to the issuance of Miranda warnings. Ironically, it should be possible to forge a bipartisan consensus that such suspects (non-citizens who have committed criminal offenses in the United States) should be held and interrogated for an extended period for intelligence purposes prior to being placed in the criminal justice system for prosecution. As to whether hyperventilating about the terrorist threat is serving al Qaeda’s interests – consider this: one teenager with a crude, defective explosive device hidden in his underwear, who lit himself on fire but did not damage the airliner, has caused the United States (not to mention our European allies) to spend billions of dollars on additional airport security and diverted both the President and the Congress from the pressing economic challenges our nation faces. Terrorism is a serious threat that needs persistent vigilance, but we should not blow it out of proportion and inflict massive wounds on ourselves.


The Big Question: Will Gitmo detainee trials resonate with voters?

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

Today's question:

Will the issue of prosecuting Guantanamo Bay detainees in civilian courts be a big campaign issue in 2010?

(Read today's responses after the jump.)


The Big Question: The bomber speaks. Are Obama's policies right?

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

Today's question:

The attempted Christmas Day bomber is talking to authorities.
What does this say about President Barack Obama’s interrogation and detention policies? What does it mean for the opposition?

( Read answers after the jump.)


Keep America safe (Rep. Phil Gingrey)

A year ago, the President made a promise on his first day in office – to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Like many of the President’s promises, this is another one he has failed to keep – though, in this case, I am thankful for the lack of follow through.

There is no question in my mind that there are terrorists around the world that wish to do America and her citizens harm.  We have seen this both here at home and abroad, most recently with the attempted attacks on Christmas Day over Detroit.  However, the President and his Administration seem to be lacking a fundamental understanding of the gravity of these threats – hence, their proclamation to close GITMO with no concrete plan in place or their decision to bring 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to New York City for trial.


Don't keep this campaign promise, Mr. President (Rep. John Boehner)

Today marks the one-year anniversary of President Obama's executive order to close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within his first year in office. We are fortunate that the President did not meet that goal, but he has repeatedly stated that his Administration remains committed to importing the remaining terrorists held at Gitmo to the United States for trial or detention - including to the suburbs of Chicago, downtown New York City, and potentially even the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

Over the last few months, the Administration has signaled that it will not only bring 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators to New York City for trial in civilian federal court - rather than continuing their military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay - but it is also proposing to house Guantanamo terrorists at a prison in Illinois. The American people are adamantly opposed to this plan, and rightly so. Are Democrats listening?

Instead of addressing the concerns of the American people, the Administration has engaged in ad-hoc attacks that belittle the seriousness of the threat we face. When I said that the President's decision to set up a "Gitmo North" at the Thomson Correctional Center outside Chicago was emblematic of a "pre 9/11 mentality," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs came unhinged, calling my comments "crazy" - even though an overwhelming majority of the American people disagree with the President's decision to bring these terrorists to U.S. soil.


Where are the Other Abdulmutallabs?

As Washington struggles to understand the intelligence and airport security failures behind the Christmas Day terrorist attack that almost destroyed a civilian airliner over Detroit, there is an issue that no one is talking about: the failure of the Obama administration to respond aggressively after the November 5, 2009 Fort Hood shooting.

The striking link between the two attacks is that Army Major Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood shooter, and Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab both had contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Islamic cleric.   It appears that both of them reached out to Awlaki or his associates. Awlaki has talked publicly about his communications with Hasan.  Abdulmutallab was in direct contact with jihadis and may have been in contact with Awlaki personally.

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have long been aware of Awalaki’s efforts to radicalize Muslims worldwide.  Awlaki, a Yemeni-American citizen who has lived in Yemen since 2004, has ties to al-Qaeda and is an “e-imam” who uses the Internet, Facebook, CDs and videos to spread his call for Muslims to commit violent jihad against the United States.  Two of the 9/11 hijackers attended his mosque in Virginia.  Awlaki also influenced the men who planned to attack Fort Dix in 2007 and the Toronto-18 group that was arrested in 2006 for planning to attack the Canadian parliament and assassinate Canada’s prime minister.


The Big Question: What is your reaction to the Obama intel review?

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:

What is your reaction to President Barack Obama's remarks on the intelligence review following the Christmas Day terror attempt?

(Find video of the speech at the bottom of this page.)

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

I am not surprised or reassured by the President’s comments. They are what I expected. I do applaud the hard work of our country’s national security personnel who in spite of our nation’s foreign policy have been able thwart a number of terrorist plots. I was in New York on September 11, 2001, so I am familiar with the fear and horror of that day. There were many days when I passed under the World Trade Center to go to work, so I or someone I care about could have been killed. I know terrorism is a real threat.

However, no number of homeland counter terrorism measures can stop the creation of operatives ready to carry out acts of terror. That can only be done by asking ourselves as a nation some hard questions and having the guts to answer them honestly. If we take a close and honest look at our foreign policy we will see that some of our past actions have driven many to distrust us and allowed those who believe violence is a means to create change and or assume power to gain a following and create al Qaeda. Today the occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan push more and more people into the arms of al Qaeda. This is our greatest national security failure. These wars that kill, maim and demoralize innocent people plant seeds of hate for America and al Qaeda is willing and ready to act as a means to carry out strike us. A prime example is the 10 civilians reported killed last Saturday during a raid. The details are not clear, but it appears that 8 of those killed are children.  Some reports claim the children were pulled from their beds and executed.

We all know that a large part of politics is perception. So whether or not the specifics of Saturdays event are true or not, many Afghans are angry and protesting the killing. The Unite Kingdom internet news outlet, Times Online reports, “In Jalalabad, protesters set alight a US flag and an effigy of President Obama after chanting ‘Death to Obama’ and ‘Death to foreign forces’. In Kabul, protesters held up banners showing photographs of dead children alongside placards demanding ‘Foreign troops leave Afghanistan’ and ‘Stop killing us’.

It is clear that Saturday's killings have done more to undermine U.S. national security than any steps the President or his advisors can take to strengthen it. To be safe and secure, we must stop terrorist plots and killing innocent people who have no quarrels with the US. Our wars of occupation are creating more enemies across the globe than we have the ability to track. Eventually someone will get through and then what. I hope we do not find out. Let’s change before it happens.


Ron Walters, professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, said:

I think that the President's assumption of responsibility was the only course for him and his follow-up with reasonable correctives should give the American people confidence that this matter is being handled effectively. But in a little noticed aspect of the speech, ee also repositioned the country not to fight a "war on terror" as a general proposition that has connotations of fighting against certain peoples in the Middle East, but against specific political target -- Al Qaeda.  This is an important difference, one that allows him to continue to attempt to construct a positive relationship with Islamic peoples and their countries and isolate those who pose a danger to the United States.


Christopher Preble, director of Foreign Policy Studies at The Cato Institute, said:

The president hit the right notes in his speech. The failed attack shined a light on particular vulnerabilities, and the president was right to outline some concrete measures intended to prevent a repeat of that incident. Equally important, he stressed the importance of resilience, and of not allowing terrorists to terrorize. Effective counterterrorism depends on precisely this type of timely and direct communications to terrorism’s intended victims.

The final piece of the puzzle, one barely alluded to in yesterday’s speech, is greater scrutiny of our various counterterrorism efforts. The Christmas Day plot was foiled by the would-be attacker's own incompetence, and the alert actions of several passengers -- the same factors that halted shoe bomber Richard Reid in December 2001, and al Qaeda's plan to crash United Flight 93 into a Washington, DC, landmark on 9/11. In other words, much of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on counterterrorism since 9/11 appear to have been largely irrelevant in stopping this particular attack. The White House and Congress must investigate and explain what systems work and what systems don't.

To be sure, some of this spending has enabled the country to score important successes against al Qaeda over the past eight years, successes that the near miss on Christmas Day should not erase. A strategic approach to fighting terrorism involves more than simply stopping particular terrorist attacks. It includes disrupting a terrorist group's ability to organize future attacks, and to recruit and train new members. And it must be based on an assessment of costs and benefits. The incident provides an opportunity to revisit all that we are doing, not simply an excuse to do more of the same.


Peter Navarro, professor of Economics and Public Policy at U.C. Irvine, said:

The biggest intelligence failure is that of the president to see that the “rule of law” won’t beat Al Queda.  We need to play more by their rules like the Israelis do with their terrorists.


Bernie Quigley, Pundits Blog contributor, said:

In his remarks, President Obama paraphrased Harry’s Truman’s famous phrase, “The buck stops here.” This is less than reassuring to many of us, although partisans probably like it. He is “less interested in passing out blame ...” and he himself is taking full responsibility, he says. This shows a less-than-resolute approach. And the “I take full responsibility,” posture is hackneyed. This once suggested an aura of nobility and character, but was last used in that way in 1996 when Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hasimoto said, “I take full responsibility. I resign.” We have generally left off that last part since the Clinton administration, which used this all the time to shift blame. What this expression means now is that Obama will take responsibility (but will not resign) and so the incompetent party patronage which was in fact responsible — Janet Napolitano, and the others — will be getting off the hook. The Obama anti-terror efforts dearly need a new face in the front office: Colin Powell’s, perhaps. Or Wesley Clark’s.

Alan Abramowitz, professor of Political Science at Emory University,

I thought that it was a very strong statement and I expect that the reaction of the American people will be overwhelmingly positive. The president made it clear that it is his responsibility to make sure that the problems made evident by the Christmas Day bombing attempt are corrected. I thought that his statement that "we are at war" was a very sharp rebuke to those who have tried to criticize his handling of this issue and the overall war on terror. But the proof of the pudding will be in the results. Another such failure, especially if it results in a loss of American lives, could be much more damaging to the president's reputation.


Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, said:

It's good to have a White House that seriously pursues terrorists, instead of fighting wars which divert resources from fighting terrorists.


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

Sounds like every other Monday-morning quarterback I've ever heard, including the fact that he has learned very little about the subject. Amateurs always complain that intelligence is not shared widely enough, because they have no experience that drives home to them that wide intelligence-sharing means sharing with the enemy. Some intelligence is so fragile that it should not be shared. We protected the signal intelligence that helped us survive World War II precisely by sharing it with very few people.

I was also reminded by Obama's speech that I have chaired many committees on a variety of subjects, and often began by telling the committee members that all recommendations are welcome, with one exception. A recommendation, after the fact, that the people working every day on the subject at hand be somehow smarter than they really are, is not welcome, and is useless. That was the theme of The Caine Mutiny,
and Herman Wouk had it dead right.


Justin Raimondo, editorial director of AntiWar.com, said

President Obama’s statement underscores the tragedy of our endless “war on terrorism,” both the impossibility of victory and the price we pay in pursuing such an insubstantial goal.

The first part, wherein he descried the failure to “connect the dots,” dramatizes the predicament we find ourselves in – and the reason for our ongoing failure. The problem is one of having to calculate such a large number of factors, both known and unknowable, that no mortal being, or collection of such beings, could possibly pull it off. There are too many dots to connect.

Americans, with their worship of all things technological, are convinced that advanced computer technology can do the dot-connecting for them, but the old geekish adage, “garbage in, garbage out,” applies here in spades. The assumptions and limited knowledge of the those who do in inputting inevitably introduce flaws into the system – in this case, the person who entered the Christmas bomber’s name into the terrorist-watch database didn’t spell his name correctly, and, indeed, I’ve seen at least two different spellings used by news organizations. Can anyone outside of a very narrow realm of specialized knowledge know for certain?

The highly centralized model of intelligence-gathering –and- analysis is worse than useless against the fluid, decentralized methodology of al-Qaeda, which relies on self-contained localized cells to carry out operations autonomously. Yet US government officials are unable to recognize their own limitations precisely because they are so thoroughly and deeply embedded in a system founded on the assumption that an all-knowing central authority can properly direct not only a worldwide counter-intelligence operation against a dispersed enemy, but also that his same central authority can intelligently direct the economic life of the nation, from deciding how much to “stimulate” it in one area, and rein it in with regulation in another. The centralizers must confront the knowledge problem, as pointed to by the “Austrian” economists (Ludwig von Mises, and his disciples such as the Nobel-winning Friedrich von Hayek) – but the big problem is that they don’t even know they have a problem in this regard.

The second part of the President’s statement – that we must not sacrifice our civil liberties in pursuit of security – I can agree with completely, while feeling obligated to point out that the tension between these two principles – security and liberty – is created and heightened by our clueless foreign policy. Echoing Truman, that old cold warrior, Obama acknowledged that “the buck stops here.” “I take responsibility,” he said – but responsibility for what? For the fact that a low-level data entry clerk somewhere in the bowels of the State Department failed to spell the Panty-bomber’s name correctly? Well, no – but for what, then, is he responsible?

I would say he’s responsible for one factor he failed to mention in his statement, and that is our foreign policy of global intervention: specifically, the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan and the continuing assault on Pakistan. Al-Qaeda has no trouble recruiting suicide bombers to hurl themselves at our defenses for the simple reason that we are seen as occupiers and would-be conquerors of Muslim lands. “Blowback” from our actions abroad fuels the worldwide Islamic insurgency led by al-Qaeda, and only by changing our foreign policy – not creating a kinder, gentler, more “multilateral” form of imperialism, but by reversing the ultra-interventionism that has characterized our foreign policy since the end of the cold war.


Learning foreign policy lessons from a country song (Rep. Lynn Westmoreland)

President Obama could learn a lesson or two from the lyrics of my favorite country music singer, Coweta County native Alan Jackson.

In Jackson’s “Here In the Real World,” he sings sadly about how life doesn’t always turn out how you’d hoped, like it does in the movies.

On the silver screen, the song lyrics state, “cowboys don’t cry and heroes don’t die. And good always wins again and again.”

When it comes to dealing with terrorism, such as the attempted airplane attack on Christmas Day, Obama seems to believe in the movie version of reality where the bad guys are always foiled in the end.