Saturday, November 14, 2009

What is Obama thinking? (What, is Obama thinking?)

I’ve seen this question several places in the last couple of days, in response to Eric Holder’s plans for Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s NYC tour; the President sending the Afghan plans back to the drawing board; and the unemployment summit scheduled for next month. (What do I have to do to get invited for a beer at the White House?)

I’ve got no inside information, just some thoughts:

Andrew McCarthy at NRO argues that the KSM trial is part of a Holder/Obama plan to appease the left and ruin the CIA, as a substitute for trying Bush and Cheney for war crimes. While he makes some good points, we should never ascribe to malice what we can chalk up to incompetence or stupidity.

Criminal trials for terrorism are consistent with eight years of Bill Clinton, and with John Kerry’s comment in his 2004 presidential campaign, (that he hoped we would get back to where terrorism was merely a nuisance.) The first WTC bombing? Put the blind sheikh on trial. The USS Cole? Bomb an aspirin factory in Sudan. The East Africa embassy bombings? Increase embassy security and warn Americans against travel to certain spots. Terror as crime has an easy solution- law enforcement, apprehension, trial , punishment. War is messy, and anyway how do we know whom to declare war on, and when or how we will win? Besides, moving KSM and his buddies to New York City is one more step in closing Gitmo. (The President will keep at least some of his campaign promises.)

Treating terror as a law enforcement issue has two big drawbacks. First, it didn’t have much success in reducing terror in the 1990’s (whereas declaring a war on terror after 9-11 seems to have been effective at preventing further attacks in the US.) Second, what are the chances we would have apprehended KSM had we not overthrown two rogue governments and put significant military assets in the area? Pakistan’s (limited) cooperation is not out of the goodness of their hearts.

Neocons are frequently accused of lacking nuance. I fail to see the nuance in treating terror as a criminal matter.

What of the Afghan (lack of) strategy? The past few months are a classic example of policy- making by leak. There’s a huge debate raging within the Adminstration. McChrystal wants more troops. Biden thinks we can just use UAVS, and invade Pakistan if necessary. A large contingent of Democrats wants us to withdraw quietly and quickly. The Karzai government makes a good target (let’s ignore the fact that any Afghan government will be crooked , except by Chicago standards, and that Karzai is a cleaner, more democratic politician than, oh, Putin or Mubarak or Ahmadinejad.)

I think Obama really does not know what to do. Imagine that Axelrod and Rahm arranged the trip to Dover as good PR- but that Obama saw the caskets, met the families, and was genuinely moved by the losses. Does anyone really know how that would affect his decision making?

There are domestic political considerations at work, to be sure, but much more is going on. The always entertaining but unreliable Debka had two big stories last week- that the Obama- Netanyahu face to face focused solely on Iran; and that there was a joint Israeli/American/ Jordanian/ Egyptian intelligence meeting in Amman. Whether Debka has solid sources or merely made both stories up, both have the ring of truth. Farther east, the stability of Pakistan looms as an issue with enormous potential impact on our Afghan policy.

An Israeli (or American or NATO) strike on Iran’s nukes, or another Iranian revolution, will send shock waves through and beyond the Mideast. If you know the rules of the game will change before the new year, delaying a decision on Afghanistan makes sense.

Then again, maybe I’m too much of an optimist.

No comments: