Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 16, 2010

IN DEFENSE OF SHAMELESS EXPLOITATION.... The capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's top military commander, is no small matter. It's a "major victory." Given that Baradar is the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the war began, and his role in leading the Taliban's military operations, this is a success that may very well pay considerable dividends for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

As far as the politics is concerned, it's worth noting that U.S. leaders were well aware of Baradar's capture late last week, but deliberately kept the news under wraps in order to help bolster a sensitive and ongoing intelligence-gathering effort. This prompted Juan Cole to note:

[T]hat Joe Biden and others kept the arrest secret, in order to allow further operations against Taliban leaders in Karachi, shows a discipline that Bush and Cheney never had. They were always happy to prematurely release details of ongoing investigations to get a political bump, even if it meant allowing terrorists to escape.

Right. Dick Cheney was blasting the Obama administration on national security over the weekend, and it might have been tempting for Biden and others to use the Baradar capture as evidence that Cheney doesn't know what he's talking about. But the White House Grown-Ups knew the ongoing efforts were more important than making Dick the Clown look foolish. As Andrew Sullivan noted, the president and his team "are serious about national security and do not put domestic political games before it."

And that's obviously a good thing, which inspires confidence in the administration. That said, Steve M. raises an interesting observation.

[G]uys? You should probably take at least a small victory lap. There has to be something you can do that's more than stoic silence but still well short of the "Mission Accomplished" flyboy stunt. At least send Biden to the morning shows to talk about the capture ... subtly, but with pride.

That seems pretty persuasive to me. During the Bush/Cheney era, no counter-terrorism development was too small to trumpet. The arrest of some low-level thug who once said something nice about al Qaeda was reason enough for press conferences and media interviews with high-ranking administration officials. If U.S. officials had helped capture Baradar in the Bush/Cheney era, we'd probably see just about every official you can think of -- POTUS, VPOTUS, AG, Defense Secretary, HHS Secretary, NSA, etc. -- hitting the airwaves to pat themselves on the back. The goal would be to get a bump in the polls.

Obama and his team are obviously less interested in exploiting counter-terrorism victories for political gain, and prefer to treat Americans like adults, rather than manipulating their fears. As a result, capturing high-profile terrorists (Baradar), killing high-profile terrorists (Hakimullah Mehsud, Baitullah Mehsud, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan), and arresting would-be terrorists (Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi) -- all victories that bolster our national security interests -- are treated as low-key successes. All in a day's work.

That's admirable, to be sure. But a little chest-thumping is hardly out of the question here. If the White House doesn't draw more attention to their victories, the public may not hear about them.

I can appreciate the president's mature, sensible restraint as much as the next guy, but the White House is also facing an aggressive misinformation campaign, launched by those who still want to convince Americans that Obama isn't reliable on national security, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Some understated-but-public appreciation for the men and women in the military and intelligence agencies who make these successes possible seems more than fair.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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Comments

The Obama administrations should also point out how radical the Republican party has become. This latest go-round on GOP criticism of the treatment of the underpants bomber includes just about everyone, even so-called centrists like Susan Collins.

Quite literally, Dick Cheney is still calling the shots on foreign policy, and the entire Republican party is obeying. Brent Scowcroft and his people were the last voices of moderation or even rationality, and they have been chased out of the Republican party power structure by the lunatic neo-cons.


Posted by: worcestergirl on February 16, 2010 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, Steve, I don't think we need to go out of our way to get the word out. The dishonest faux news clowns won't mention it, but others will. The people who count read page 8A. Any way the neo-cons are already trying to spin the news. It is hard news to spin, but in the very spinning they look foolish.

Quiet competence is needed and that is what Obama is delivering. Leave the victory laps and air craft carriers to chickenhawks who don't really accomplish a lot.

Posted by: Ron Byers on February 16, 2010 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

In retrospect, I can see Joe Biden laughing in his fist.

Posted by: Ten Bears on February 16, 2010 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

It only counts if we waterboard him, everyone knows that.

Posted by: Mike from Detroit on February 16, 2010 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

I certainly don't think it is shameless exploitation to laud the capture of a criminal like Baradar -- killer of innocents,sociopath and terrorist.

I do think it is shameless to trumpet this god damn war in Af-Pak as tho we're doing some good in this 'enterprise' with our occupation of the country, our puppet gov't running it, and our controversial exploits in Pakistan.

What is shameless is the narrative that the Dims are heroic and the Repugnants hypocrites.

Obama's Af-Pak is a miasma, and God damn Dick Cheney's shit-filled soul to hell.

Posted by: neill on February 16, 2010 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

My money has it that Cheney wanted Biden to prematurely announce this as a desperate defense against his assault. The GOP would then turn this around to show how team Obama was more interested in politics. I'm sure Cheney has enough eyes in our intel agencies that he was well informed.
Maybe Cheney's just gotten lazy from 8 yrars of gaming the idiots of the last administration. Nice try though.

Posted by: JoeW on February 16, 2010 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Ten Bears said...

In retrospect, I can see Joe Biden laughing in his fist.

I suspect he wrote on his left palm "For once... Keep Mouth Shut".

Posted by: Eeyore on February 16, 2010 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

My money has it that Cheney wanted Biden to prematurely announce this as a desperate defense against his assault.

Yeah, well my money is that Cheney has far less of a clue of what he's talking about now than he did while in the Whitehouse; and he was quite clueless then. He never trusted the intel agencies and his only use of them was to cramdown his intel, just so they could stovepipe it back up again and confirm what he wanted to find in the first place. But they didn't like the guy and resisted his tactics, which is why he had to pressure them into reporting his intel.

And the idea that Cheney is pulling some sort of triple-reverse jujitsu is a joke. First off, this only works against him, as he looks like a bozo for attacking an area that he'd be found wrong on in a few days. So the idea that he was HOPING to be openly corrected on this immediately is even less likely.

And secondly, the man is an incompetent fool and always has been. He's got a reverse Midas touch and breaks everything he touches. He's a top-notch bullshit artist and nothing more. The sooner we dispense with this myth of Cheney's omnipotence, the better. He was as much a fool as Rove proved to be.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on February 16, 2010 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

"Obama and his team... prefer to treat Americans like adults"
—Steve Benen 1:30 PM

Now, see, that's where they went wrong...
And it does explain an awful lot of the past year, doesn't it?

Posted by: smartalek on February 16, 2010 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Just this minute, I heard a conversation on WTOP 24-hours news radio in DC between a news anchor and JJ Greene, the Federal News Radio correspondent who deals with national security issues. Greene said catching Baradar is a very big deal. At least the listeners of WTOP will get the message, as it will be repeated seven or eight more times today.

Posted by: pol on February 16, 2010 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Another daily dose of comedy from Benen. On top of it he even had the audacity to cite Juan Cole as a source.

Maybe I can help you progressives back to reality. Had there been a GOP president in office, the NY Times would not have hesitated to publish this. It has absolutely nothing to do with a "lack of discipline" on the part of Bush or Cheney. Surely there are at least a few progressives out there with the honesty and intelligence to admit that?

BTW isn't Washington Monthly supposed to be an independent organization? I've yet to see anything from Benen or any of the other writers here that comes close to an independent or conservative point of view. Its 100% progressive all the way. Safe for me to assume the mission statement is typical progressive misinformation?

Posted by: Tom on February 16, 2010 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

"The people who count read page 8A"
Posted by: Ron Byers on February 16, 2010 at 1:50 PM

I must, most humbly and respectfully, ask WTF?
"The people who count" are the voters -- most of whom don't even read page 1 anymore.
Assuming that the mass media would actually perform journalism is a substantial part of why Kerry lost in '04.
If the Dem's don't get their acts together and start speaking with one strong, unified, co-ordinated, repetitive, and effective voice, all the favorable facts in the world will mean nothing -- and the Publicans will be back in power, doing the same things that brought our country, and the world, to the brink of total catastrophe.

Posted by: smartalek on February 16, 2010 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

yeah, I noticed the capture is not even a major headline on Drudge, where it certainly would be if this was the Bush administration- so pathetic.

Posted by: nick on February 16, 2010 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

During the Bush presidency when a terrorist was captured liberals would insist that he was a nobody and/or the terror plot just a flight of fancy, and when a terrorist was killed they would carp about lost intelligence that could have been extracted or wring their hands about collateral damage. Now that a Democrat is in the White House it is the GOP's turn to be whining and naysaying and the Democrats' turn for triumphalist gushing over their great leader. You'll switch sides in the rhetorical game soon enough.

Posted by: Haeckel on February 16, 2010 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

"During the Bush presidency when a terrorist was captured liberals would insist that he was a nobody and/or the terror plot just a flight of fancy,"

Post links to prove it, or it didn't happen. And make sure those links demonstrate not only that liberals really said that, but also that they were wrong. After all, Guantanamo is still filled with the "terrorists" that the Bush administration "captured".

Posted by: Shade Tail on February 16, 2010 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

smartalek, I had the same thought when I wrote my 8a comment but seriously, who in the world is paying attention to how Obama is actually handling the war on terror(tm)? Not the media. They will report the latest developments on page 8a regardless of how much administration officials crow.

If you haven't looked national security is currently Obama's strong suit with the general public. Despite the failure of the MSM to transmit the truth, somehow Obama's quiet competence is sinking in with the public in general. The media won't admit it but Cheney's attacks are really defensive. The neo-cons are just now realizing that they have lost the public. To a "man" the chickenhawks are praying for a serious attack on America. Sadly I am afraid that there are a lot of people in the mainstream media saying the same prayer.

Posted by: Ron Byers on February 16, 2010 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Obama gets uber-bad-guy in under 13 months; GOPers couldn't manage it in 96. Who's the panty-waisted thumbsucker now, Herr Cheney?

Posted by: S. Waybright on February 16, 2010 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

"Post links to prove it, or it didn't happen. "

I am still looking for the Juan Cole or Steve Benen links demonstrating that Bush and Cheney "were always happy to prematurely release details of ongoing investigations to get a political bump, even if it meant allowing terrorists to escape."

Or is that something "everyone" knows?

Posted by: Tom Maguire on February 16, 2010 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Haeckel, don't you know by now that lies spouted by disingenious people like you and all of the republicans and bigots at Cluster Fox can be fact checked? You have heard of this thing called checking facts haven't you?

Stop lying. There were no Dems (at least in the real world) who did as you are suggesting they did/said and you know it.

Posted by: Sammy on February 16, 2010 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

If the White House doesn't draw more attention to their victories, the public may not hear about them.

... but what is the criteria for success?
Baradar capture a major news story? Check.
Most Americans satisfied with admin's anti-terrorism efforts? Check.
Fox News devotes non-stop coverage to Dick Cheney personally phoning every American, admitting he's a coward? Never going to happen no matter what the White House says.

Posted by: apm on February 16, 2010 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe now the Sunday talk shows will realize that Dick Cheney and John McCain don't know what they're about and actually haven't got a clue as to what is REALLY going on.

Nah...

Posted by: Marko on February 16, 2010 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Once again, the Obama mistake is believing the American populace is composed of emotionally mature adults.

It's not.

Act accordingly.

Posted by: MNPundit on February 16, 2010 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

"I am still looking for the Juan Cole or Steve Benen links demonstrating that Bush and Cheney 'were always happy to prematurely release details of ongoing investigations to get a political bump, even if it meant allowing terrorists to escape.'" - Tom Maguire

I have two words for you, Tom: Mission Accomplished

Posted by: Marko on February 16, 2010 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

I seem to have struck a nerve with some of you Pavlovian partisans. Self-righteousness about the other side's hypocrisy while being blind to one's own feels good to indulge in but is painful to have pointed out.

At least the Chomsky/Zinn (RIP) left is consistent, unlike the Democratic partisan left. The Chomskyites will wail, hand-wring, and naysay about the killing and capturing of terrorists no matter which party is in the White House, rather than doing a 180 from bleeding heart skeptics to tough guy uber-patriots in the wake of an election.

But like I said, you'll reverse your rhetoric, perhaps sooner than you think. Or, if President Bayh is sworn in '13, you'll just feel confused and rudderless.

Posted by: Haeckel on February 16, 2010 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

And don't you people read liberal political animated cartoonist Mark Fiore? Several years ago, right after a drone blew up a vehicle full of terrorists in Yemen he had a cartoon bemoaning the opportunity cost to terrorist intel - prefiguring Thiessen's argument today.

And you don't recall the mockery of attacks on yet another AQ No. 3 and Taliban operatives most never heard of, the dismissal of thwarted terror plots as harmlessly Walter Mitty-esque, leftie bloggers blubbering over the unfortunate wife and minor children of yet another charred terrorist? Did you never read left of center blogs from '02 to 08? Who is really being disingenuous here?

Posted by: Haeckel on February 16, 2010 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

The capture that was kept even quieter than Baradar was al-Eidan —when Olbermann talked about it last night, I thought he was just misdescribing Baradar, but no, there really were two captures. Al-Eidan still isn't on the news wires; you can read about him on Newsweek's site.


Posted by: Suzii on February 16, 2010 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think the obama administration's burying of this success would be admirable. it would be unbelievably fucking stupid, but par for this administration.

of course obama should get as much possible mileage out of this w/o sacrificing national security priorities. more importantly, as party leader, he has an obligation to.

if he doesn't, exactly how will he make the public case that the Dems' anti-terrorism policies are more effective than the GOP's channeling of torquemada?

see, I suspect one reason the Democrats lose the battle for the hearts and minds of voters, and subsequently lose elections, is they never fight for the hearts and minds of voters. Dems seem to think they need engage voters---need persuade voters---only during a campaign. leaving the GOP free to mold and solidify public opinion during the interim.

making sure the public understands that this success flows directly from administration policies would be a step in the right direction.

Posted by: thurston on February 16, 2010 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Hoping that this arrest leads to significant others, so that we may finally get this terrorism monkey off our backs.

Posted by: bob h on February 16, 2010 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

Haeckel: that is because, as Benen said in the original post, that the Bush administration routinely trumpeted even the most minor successes in the "war on terror". Many of these were laughable: a plot to bring down the Manhattan bridge by a man with a welding torch, a group of disgruntled young men in Florida who hadn't even identified a target but who got money from a government informant to go play paintball, and as you mentioned, an unending stream of people that nobody had ever heard of who were all described as the #2 or #3 man in Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

That is not to say that there weren't some real successes during the Bush years, just that it is impossible to pick those successes out from the dozens of non-events that they bragged about endlessly. And of course, a couple of incidents in which American and/or Pakistani forces had captured important Taliban figures in circumstances where the other bad guys might not be aware of it, only to have the administration tell the whole world.

As for your libelous attack on the NY Times, perhaps you could point to an incident in which they published sensitive information that did not come from administration officials? And do not include cases like Abu Graib where the Bush crime syndicate cynically used national security claims to cover up information embarassing to them.

Posted by: tanstaafl on February 16, 2010 at 7:17 PM | PERMALINK

"That is not to say that there weren't some real successes during the Bush years"

That's not so hard to say, is it? Since you can acknowledge that, perhaps you can move to the next step and consider how your partisan filters might be affecting your perception of Bush vs Obama on anti-terrorism.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: "beyond torture, there's little substantive difference between late Bush era national security policies and Obama national security policies--with the exception that Obama has been more aggressive with the use of drones and has escalated the war in Afghanistan."

"As for your libelous attack on the NY Times"

I didn't mention the New York Times.

Posted by: Haeckel on February 16, 2010 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

At this weekends TeeVee roundtable, would be nice to have Dick and a live video feed of Mullah Abdul Ghani BowWow to see what they chat about.

Posted by: Kevin on February 16, 2010 at 11:37 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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