Friday, January 23, 2009

2,688 Days

By Marc A. Thiessen
Thursday, January 22, 2009; A17

When President Bush left office on Tuesday, America marked 2,688 days without a terrorist attack on its soil. There are 1,459 days until the next inauguration. Whether Barack Obama is standing on the Capitol steps to be sworn in a second time depends on whether he succeeds in replicating Bush's achievement.

As the new president receives his intelligence briefings, certain facts must now be apparent: Al-Qaeda is actively working to attack our country again. And the policies and institutions that George W. Bush put in place to stop this are succeeding. During the campaign, Obama pledged to dismantle many of these policies. He follows through on those pledges at America's peril -- and his own. If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible -- and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation.

Consider, for example, the CIA program that Bush created to detain and question senior leaders captured in the war on terror. Many of these terrorists, including Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, refused to talk -- until Bush authorized the CIA to use enhanced interrogation techniques. Information gained using those techniques is responsible for stopping a number of planned attacks -- including plots to blow up the American consulate in Karachi, Pakistan; to fly airplanes into the towers of Canary Wharf in London; and to fly a hijacked airplane into the Library Tower in Los Angeles.

During the campaign, Obama described the techniques used to prevent these attacks as "torture." He promised that if elected, he would "have the Army Field Manual govern interrogation techniques for all United States Government personnel and contractors." If he follows through, he will effectively kill a program that stopped al-Qaeda from launching another Sept. 11-style attack. It was easy for Obama the candidate to criticize the CIA program. But as president, what will he do when the next senior al-Qaeda leader -- with actionable intelligence on plots to strike our homeland -- is captured and refuses to talk? Will the president allow the CIA to question this terrorist using enhanced interrogation techniques? If Obama refuses and our country is attacked, he will bear responsibility.

Consider also the National Security Agency's program to monitor foreign terrorist communications. In the Senate, Obama voted against confirming then-NSA Director Michael Hayden to lead the CIA because, in Obama's words, Hayden was "the architect and chief defender of a program of wiretapping and collection of phone records outside of FISA oversight." In 2007, Obama voted against the Protect America Act, which temporarily authorized the NSA program. Last year, he promised to filibuster a long-term authorization but at the last minute switched his vote. He explained that he still wanted to make changes to the law, including stripping out immunity for telecommunications companies for their cooperation with the NSA -- which would effectively kill the program. And he promised that "once I'm sworn in as President . . . my Attorney General [will] conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and . . . make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties."

Now that he has been sworn in, will Obama allow the program to continue through 2012 as Congress authorized -- breaking his pledge to his liberal base? Or will he move forward with his promised review and impose new constraints on the NSA's ability to learn what terrorists are planning? If he does, what if we fail to connect the dots before the next attack?

Obama faces a similar quandary regarding Iraq. Bush left him with a stabilized Iraq, where al-Qaeda is in retreat and American forces are coming home by the end of 2011 under a policy of "return on success." Candidate Obama promised to dramatically accelerate this withdrawal and to remove American troops within 16 months. Just last week, senior Obama adviser David Axelrod declared on ABC's "This Week" that Obama intends to keep that promise. The problem is that Gen. David Petraeus and the Joint Chiefs are not likely to recommend such a rapid and irresponsible withdrawal. That leaves Obama with two choices: He can scale back his plans and continue the slower drawdown already set in motion by President Bush. Or he can overrule his military commanders -- and pursue a rapid drawdown over their objections. If he does this, he will own the potentially devastating results. In 2007, President Bush revealed intelligence that Osama bin Laden had told al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq to form a cell to conduct attacks inside the United States -- then the surge drove them from their havens and set back those plans. If Obama allows al-Qaeda to regain its Iraqi havens, and the terrorists use them to strike our country, he will not be able to blame Bush.

President Obama has inherited a set of tools that successfully protected the country for 2,688 days -- and he cannot dismantle those tools without risking catastrophic consequences. On Tuesday, George W. Bush told a cheering crowd in Midland, Tex., that his administration had left office without another terrorist attack. When Barack Obama returns to Chicago at the end of his time in office, will he be able to say the same?

The writer, who served in senior positions at the White House and the Pentagon from 2001 to 2009, was most recently chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush.


The Professor said...

This guy speaks my mind. If terrorists know that we won't use harsh interrogation techniques, why should they talk? They know that the media and civil liberty nuts will defend them. They don't have civil liberties as far as I'm concerned, their liberties become void when they plan to mass murder Americans.

gatorade said...

How are supposed to get any useful information by playing nice? What makes people believe that radical Islamist are just going to hand over important information. I think Bush deserves more credit then he is currently recieving.

John Connor said...

Over the last 8 years, President Bush may have made some bad judgement calls. But he did keep us safe, and isn't that one of, if not the most important jobs.

V said...

This is the most right slanted garbage I've heard since I blocked Rush Limbaugh on my DVR. President Bush did manage to "keep us safe" he also completely ignored the concept of civil liberties not only for the POWs being tortured at Guantanamo, but for our entire nation, the Patriot Act is a direct violation of civil liberties for the American people. The issue of torture at Guantanamo bay is the ultimate illustration of the right winged hypocrisy, while we claim to stand for morality and justice we refuse to play by our own rules, this costs America its legitimacy to not only our enemies but to our ally nations.
In conclusion I leave you with a quote from my beloved Ben Franklin "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

yours truly V

Jesus Fish said...

um...okay? I'm half wondering if this is not a Stephen Colbert piece, but apparently Mr. Thiessen is serious.

A stable Iraq? Seriously? that's almost an impressive avoidance of reality.

Also, while a "retreating" Al-quaida is surely a comforting thought, it's not a particularly accurate description. The success of Al-Quaida, and every other terrorist organization, does not depend on America staying in or leaving Iraq.
It's global. That's why people attack and get arrested in germany, south america, india, russia, etc. I'm sure Mr. Thiessen sleeps better at night under the notion that US presence in the Middle East is scaring the bad guys from terrorizing us, but that's just not reality. sorry.

It is indeed true that there have been no succesful attacks on the US since 9/11. I don't know exactly how much of this should be attributed to Bush (right wing: Bush is attacked--he's not totally in charge! Remember congress! Bush is praised--it was all Bush.), but the fact does remain. It's a fact every American should be thanking God for every day.

Obama, as with Bush, is not going to call all the shots. he does not make all the decisions, and he is advised and checked at every turn. He can't do everything he wants to do, and he won't. That's the way it works.

America is not going to burn in a terroristic, socialist lake of fire because Obama has been elected. I wish and pray for him to succeed in keeping us safe, as should we all...

And you know, if I had written Bush's speeches and they had come out as they mostly did (butchered)...I don't know if I would write such nice things about him (just kidding. light note to end on) :D

Inigo Montoya said...

Hmmm? "Enhanced interrogation techniques", that seems like a soft way of saying TORTURE. So I guess now when other countries torture U.S. citizens, we shouldn't make a fuss about it. If the United States does something, what makes it wrong when other countries do the same thing? If we allow our government to torture terrorists, where exactly do we draw the line of where "terrorist" ends and criminal begins? Once we say it is okay to torture human beings, many of our other freedoms are going to be taken away, by this government who is trying to "protect" us. You cannot just say, this person has civil liberties, but this person over here does not.

Rambunctious Mongoose said...

Once again, I agree with the Professor. They were the ones that killed thousands of innocent American lives. They planned the awful attacks against our country. If they do such a thing like that, I don't think they deserve any civil liberties. They ended the lives of thousands of people. They still get to live, while thousands suffer. They don't deserve liberties after doing something like that.