One of the great things that FrumForum does is allow critics to freely post on its site in response to the ideas and arguments put forth here. Some of the responses, unfortunately, are inane and childish and not designed to help elucidate the debate.
However, some responses are quite serious-minded and thus worthy of consideration and engagement. It is in that spirit that I respond to a few thoughtful critics of my recent FrumForum post, The War Must be Obama’s Top Priority.
Kanzeon, COProgressive, and sdm –
Your comments are the most substantive and serious, but still wrongheaded. You simplify my criticism into caricature. I never suggested that unless Obama speechifies about the War on Terror, people in the intel community will fail to do their jobs. That’s ridiculous; that’s a caricature.
COProgressive articulates this caricature most colorfully when he writes:
You are intimating that healthcare reform is the reason that the ‘Undies Bomber’ was allowed to board the flight — like everyone in the defense infrastructure was busy watching the healthcare debate with their feet up on the desk watching CSPAN and not doing their jobs. By killing the bill and starting over, all those lazy CIA agents and National Security personnel will turn CSPAN off and get back to the job of defending OUR country. That’s just pure BS! Nice try…..
I enjoyed this colorful piece of writing; it makes for great fiction! But it’s a caricature, and it’s false.
Of course, our great public servants within the U.S. national security and intel apparatus will do their jobs, and do them well, irrespective of what our national political leadership does or does not do; that’s not in dispute.
What is in dispute is how bureaucracies work and function — or fail to work and dysfunction. I’ve worked inside the bureaucracy; I know and understand how it works. The bureaucracy is highly responsive to political pressure and political leadership; and that’s what’s at issue: leadership, or the lack thereof. It’s not that our public servants won’t do their jobs. Of course they will and they do.
You’ll note that, according to the president, the policy and intel failures that led to the Christmas Day terrorist attack did not involve a failure to collect intelligence. No, our field agents did extraordinarily well — and that’s why, sdm, I salute our intelligence agents and personnel. They do extraordinarily difficult and unheralded work, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, extraordinarily well — and for that, they ought to be saluted.
What failed on Dec. 25 — and what’s failed too often in the past — is our political and bureaucratic leadership. Indeed, our field agents collected the necessary intel; but as even the Obama administration now acknowledges, their/our political and bureaucratic leadership failed to connect the dots.
Has our intelligence too often been lacking, as sdm notes? Absolutely. I’m reminded of Gandhi’s quip about Western Civilization: It’s a great idea, and I wish we had it. Gandhi was wrong about Western Civilization, which is real and glorious; however, his words certainly do apply to American military intelligence, which is absolutely essential to an effective American war effort, but which is too often lacking and not forthcoming.
It is not enough to blame the system and human error. There will always be human failures and system failures… The reality is that the system itself isn’t broken. It is that folks inside the Executive Branch did not use the system appropriately [emphasis added].
As for the charge of unconscionably politicizing national security, please. I addressed this issue recently in the American Spectator:
Politics is how we Americans settle and resolve public-policy matters. Politics is how we think through national and international problems — and how we arrive at answers or solutions. Politics is part and parcel of the American way of life and integral to our republican system of government. Politics is fundamental to American democracy.
In other words, people who oppose what they call the “politicization” of national security are really opposed to American democracy, and the vigorous arguments and exchanges of ideas which are part and parcel of American democracy. In that sense, COProgressive, your opposition to argument and debate, and your attempt to squelch the same, are positively un-American.
Of course, I quite agree that “politics should stop at the water’s edge,” and that Americans should be united in our efforts to defeat the terrorists and to win the War on Terror. In that sense, then, I don’t want to “divide Americans” over fundamental wartime goals and objectives.
But I’m not doing that. I’m committed, quite clearly, to the fundamental goal of winning the war and defeating the terrorists. The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for many on the political Left: They seem to want to stop the war, declare a premature cease-fire, and appease our enemies.
That said, we Americans certainly can and should argue vigorously over how to defeat the terrorists and win the war. We can and should argue vigorously over whether the president’s policies are the right policies to effect a winning strategy and a winning approach. We can and should argue vigorously over whether the Congress is providing proper oversight and guidance to the executive branch.
As for healthcare supposedly being a legislative responsibility, whereas national security is an executive branch responsibility, please. That is simply not true. The executive and legislative branches share responsibility for both healthcare and national security.
In any case, there is only so much political oxygen in the room to support the nation’s, and the bureaucracy’s, focus and attention. If the president and Congress are focusing most of their attention on healthcare, then they’re shortchanging the imperatives of national security.
Even Franklin Roosevelt, remember, largely abandoned any new New Deal initiatives, once America had entered World War II. Would that Obama did the same with his new “New Deal.” Problem is he’s such a committed left-wing ideologue, he won’t even consider doing any such thing.
The bottom line: America needs a wartime commander-in-chief. I very much want Obama to be that commander-in-chief, because he’s all we got right now. He is the duly elected President of the United States. We can only hope that Obama will grow while in office, and come to realize the imperatives of his command.