Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 22, 2009

INTELLIGENCE GATHERING AND LAW ENFORCEMENT.... Back in 2004, then-President Bush told an audience, "[John] Kerry said, and I quote, 'The war on terror is far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering law-enforcement operation.' I disagree.... After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. With those attacks, the terrorists and supporters declared war on the United States of America -- and war is what they got."

The point was hardly subtle -- Bush and Republicans battle terrorists with the most powerful military in the world; Democrats fight al Qaeda with cops and intelligence-agency bureaucrats.

The evidence of how wrong Bush was continues to be overwhelming. If we want to stop al Qaeda, intelligence gathering and law-enforcement operations are what works.

Pakistani police acting on a tip from U.S. intelligence agents arrested an al-Qaida suspect believed linked to the 2005 London transit bombings, two Pakistani security officials said Thursday.

Zabi ul Taifi, a Saudi national, was among seven al-Qaida suspects caught in a raid near the main northwest city of Peshawar, they told The Associated Press. They said the raid was witnessed by U.S. intelligence officials sitting in a nearby car. [...]

"We have reasons to believe that we got the right man who had played a role in the 2005 attacks in London," said one official, who said he received the information from security agents in Peshawar.

Hmm, U.S. intelligence cooperating with Pakistani police captured a dangerous terrorist suspect. Success, in other words, was dependent on international cooperation, law enforcement, and intelligence gathering. What a concept.

As Joe Klein noted, "One hopes that with less public melodrama, less Presidential bloodlust rhetoric, there will be more events like this arrest of a major Al Qaeda operative -- and even though they'll be reported in the back pages, the damage to the terrorist network will be extensive."

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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Comments

"...it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers..."

This is a perfect example of childish Republican idea-bashing. If a Democrat comes up with an idea that makes some sort of sense, you can count on Republicans to mock it like they were on a playground. "Intell and law enforcement" becomes "serving papers." "Diplomacy" becomes "appeasement." "Universal healthcare" becomes "socialism."

Finally...FINALLY...we have some adults in charge!

Posted by: chrenson on January 22, 2009 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

The point was hardly subtle -- Bush and Republicans battle terrorists with the most powerful military in the world; Democrats fight al Qaeda with cops and intelligence-agency bureaucrats.

Or, in other words, Bush and Republicans allow al-Qaeda to glorify themselves as warriors engaged in toe-to-toe combat with the mightiest military in the world, while Democrats treat al-Qaeda as no better than common criminals and cheap thugs.

1993 World Trade Center attacks -- under the Democratic approach, the perpetrators are caught, tried with due process in a lawful federal court, convicted, and sentenced, and they sit in prison to this day.

2001 World Trade Center attacks -- Over seven years later, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri remain free and unpunished, and those lower-level conspirators who were caught probably cannot ever be tried and convicted because they were tortured.

Um, which approach works best?

Posted by: Stefan on January 22, 2009 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think there will be any significant policy change here. Despite his stump bluster, Bush knew very well that the bulk of his administration's anti-terrorism efforts consisted in just this sort of combination of law enforcement, intelligence and covert operations that he pretended to disparage. Hopefully we will just get more public recognition of that fact.

Posted by: Dan Kervick on January 22, 2009 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Let's not go all new-paradigmy here. Apprehending a guy who we think had a role in blowing people up in London three years ago is fine, but the "three years ago" part is a problem.

We've had experience both with treating terrorism as a law-enforcement issue and treating it as a threat requiring military action. Experience with the first was had during the Clinton years, and ended with al Qaeda capable of terrorism no group not backed directly by a state had ever tried before. Experience with the second has kept al Qaeda as a global terrorism organization on its heels since 9/11, as its leaders kept getting killed.

Sen. Kerry's problem in 2004 was that he never got the public past the idea that the war in Iraq was fundamentally the central front in the war on terrorism. Whether you believe terrorism is a law enforcement/intelligence issue or not, that idea made little sense, but when then-President Bush made his response Iraq was mostly what he was talking about. The exchange between him and Kerry didn't address the merits of the differing approaches to terrorism -- and it's incidentally no bonus that snotty young bloggers' smug declarations about how law enforcement operations with the Pakistanis are "what works" against terrorism will shortly be followed by equally smug declarations from the same bloggers about how Pakistani sponsorship keeps terrorist groups going.

Posted by: Zathras on January 22, 2009 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Zabi ul Taifi, a Saudi national, was among seven al-Qaida suspects ...

I'm still waiting for us to invade Saudi Arabia. Actual home base of real terrorists who commit genuine acts of terror - plus the world's biggest ocean of oil!

It's a two-fer!

Posted by: Yellow Dog on January 22, 2009 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

And as for Joe Klein, who was the biggest blowhard ridiculing Kerry and the Democrats and cheerleading for Smirky/Darth for seven solid years, his last-second and probably temporary conversion to reality doesn't absolve him.

Posted by: Yellow Dog on January 22, 2009 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Therein lies the problem. Quiet, effective work will get "back pages" treatment from the media. The over the top warmongering of Bush was front page all the time. To a distracted public, only one of these approaches to reporting makes it look like anything is being done.

Posted by: gex on January 22, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

"but the "three years ago" part is a problem"

There's this guy that bombed an American city eight years ago, and even though we started two wars, he's still out there.

Personally, I'd rather use the law enforcement method...

Posted by: Chuck on January 22, 2009 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

"One hopes that with less public melodrama, less Presidential bloodlust rhetoric, there will be more events like this arrest of a major Al Qaeda operative -- and even though they'll be reported in the back pages, the damage to the terrorist network will be extensive."

Makes sense to me. But to many Americans, how we fight the war on terror is even more important than fighting the war on terror itself. The war on terror, after all, isn't about them, it's about us. For what's the point of spending our money and efforts rounding up terrorists if it doesn't serve the Great American Myth?

Posted by: dr sardonicus on January 22, 2009 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

The more we change our foreign policy the less we will have to concern ourselves with dealing with Islamic terrorists. The more we begin to develop alternative forms of generating energy and get off dependence on foreign sources of oil (Middle East) the less we will have to concern ourselves with Islamic terrorists. The more we rehabilitate our image to the rest of the world (including the Arab States) the less we will have to deal with Islamic terrorists. I know it sounds awfully simplistic but I know we will see positive results.

Posted by: Chris on January 22, 2009 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

When everything goes awry and people can't settle their differences privately or with government help (as in a civil court), there is the police and criminal court and if all else fails there is massive government effort -- war.

Bush jumped straight to war and didn't even get the right foe.

Anything more effective is going to be appreciated.

Posted by: MarkH on January 22, 2009 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

This is hardly a success. The ISI shelters these guys and catches one every once in awhile to show they're doing something. Our whole Pakistan policy is ass-backwards.

Posted by: Xofis on January 22, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Pakistani police acting on a tip from U.S. intelligence agents arrested an al-Qaida suspect believed linked to the 2005 London transit bombings

So even US Intelligence decided that police, and not the military, had the best shot at nailing this creep.

Posted by: Gregory on January 22, 2009 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

Apprehending a guy who we think had a role in blowing people up in London three years ago is fine, but the "three years ago" part is a problem.

So? Your boy Bush didn't do any better catching him over the past three years, or dropping a big bomb on him, and it's more than likely that his fucked-up priorities, incomepetence and general asshattery did much to delay his capture.

Jackass.

Posted by: Gregory on January 22, 2009 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

You miss the point.

Did any defense contractors make money on this so-called "victory"?

No.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on January 22, 2009 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

We've had experience both with treating terrorism as a law-enforcement issue and treating it as a threat requiring military action. Experience with the first was had during the Clinton years, and ended with al Qaeda capable of terrorism no group not backed directly by a state had ever tried before. Experience with the second has kept al Qaeda as a global terrorism organization on its heels since 9/11, as its leaders kept getting killed.

Very nice point Zathras. I nearly feel relieved to read this, at least to the degree that I have been raising my voice to push back against Steve and Hilzoy's near absolute censure of the military force approach. I do not think Islamic terrorism is soluble either through traditional military incursion--how many Palestinians does the Israeli army kill every time it rumbles?--or by processing it through civilian courts, and I am frankly weary of the whole insanity surrounding the Middle East and its destabilized kissing cousins like Pakistan--speaking of which, Pakistan seems to be in serious jeopardy of failing, and I do not know that Bush or Obama necessarily has a strategy in place about what to do with this particular nightmare scenario.

I can see why Marshall threatened to resign under Truman, but I suppose it is too late now. I also think Islamic resentment is more complex than simply hatred of the Jewish state, and I don't know what any American or European diplomat does with it, but leftist glee over the propriety of due process being restored isn't going to make the danger simply recede into the distance.

Posted by: Jozanny on January 22, 2009 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

TO: Jozanny & Zathras

On the surface your argument seems to make sense, but that would be the same as saying - back in the 70's - that using DDT on the fields was a great thing, because it killed pretty much everything.

That's the clincher: "It killed pretty much everything" Oh, those farmers where so glad that all those nasty bugs (currenty terrorists) where being killed, and Monsanto % Co (currently military contractors) where all to glad to supply the DDT (currently weapons and gear) Never mind it also poisoned the California Condor, many other predatory birds,(currently civilians: aka 'collateral damage'), leached into rivers, left dead streams in its wake (currently bombed out neighborhoods) and is still being found in the ground in certain areas (currently unexploded bombs and landmines that tend to show up years later)

Republicans would like to think that is the price of progress to obtain increased crop yields, and worth the 'minor' inconveniences. Or currently we're 'spreading democracy' and people will love us for it. They don't know what's good for them.

But really.... grow up. Just because progressives and liberals don't grunt and push their way into everything, and bully anybody who doesn't agree with them, doesn't mean they are 'sissies' or 'appeasers'. They're using their brains instead of just relying on muscle.

Don't get me wrong: Rednecks, chest-thumpers, and low information people have their purpose too. When they're is a war; they're great cannon fodder because they'll run anywhere they're told, regardless of whether it makes sense or not. Pretty good description of a lot of the people who still think that Bush did a good job.

Posted by: bruno on January 22, 2009 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm, U.S. intelligence cooperating with Pakistani police captured a dangerous terrorist suspect. Success, in other words, was dependent on international cooperation, law enforcement, and intelligence gathering.

Is this a success for Bush?

Bush didn't say these tactics were bad, he said that they were insufficient. While cooperating with Pakistani intelligence gathering, the U.S. has also been warring against al Qaeda and Taliban inside of Pakistan in defiance of occasional Pakistani objections. It's the combination of active warfare with police-like intelligence that has worked in this case.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on January 22, 2009 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

It's the combination of active warfare with police-like intelligence that has worked in this case.

Uh, no. All evidence points to the opposite conclusion. The missile attacks in Pakistan have turned more bystanders TO the cause of "terrorism" as revenge for innocent family and friends killed. The incoherent "warring" that shows a complete disregard for the life and limb of ordinary non-combatants failed in Iraq, failed in Gaza, and is failing in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Musharref acknowledged this to be true as has Karzai in Afghanistan, and both have pleaded with the U.S. to stop.

Conversely, individuals in foreign intelligence and military agencies have been more willing to cooperate in investigations if they are able to avoid looking like they are collaborating with a foreign aggressor that is blowing up innocent people in their country with impunity.

Posted by: trex on January 22, 2009 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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