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The Times Paints Obama As Tough Wartime President


The New York Times does terrific, balanced reporting from the battlefields (e.g., the articles by C. J. Chivers) and fairly presents controversial military topics (e.g., Sunday’s article by Elisabeth Bumiller). Given its editorial advocacy for Obama and all things liberal, however, the Times must be careful when its correspondents write factual articles pertaining to the White House. Today’s article re “Obama’s Leadership in War on Al Qaeda” illustrates the dilemma.

The article raises interesting points, but it includes too many adjectives and descriptions that verge on hyperbolic value judgments. Examples include the following:

“Obama’s ferocious campaign against Al Qaeda strikes that have eviscerated Al Qaeda”

“a paradoxical leader who shunned the legislative deal-making required to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, but approves lethal action”

“The president had no intention of ending rendition — only its abuse.”

“‘Pragmatism over ideology,’ his campaign national security team had advised. . . . It was counsel that reinforced the president’s instincts.”

“A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility.”

“Mr. Obama’s striking self-confidence”

“a precision weapon, the drone”

“a withering campaign to use unmanned aircraft to kill Qaeda terrorists”

Such encomiums assure access to the White House but detract from objectivity. On the surface, Mr. Obama comes across as a tough wartime president, which is helpful to him in his reelection bid.

To its credit, though, the article did contain two disturbing facts. First, it presented a process that is at odds with the statement that the Obama administration had “eviscerated Al Qaeda.” The article described a debating society comprising 100 persons who “recommend to the President who should be the next to die. Given the contentious discussions, it can take five or six sessions for a name to be approved, and names go off the list if a suspect no longer appears to pose an imminent threat.”

How can that be described as “a withering campaign?”

Second, the article poised a central dilemma about the acquisition of intelligence:

Mr. Obama has avoided the complications of detention by deciding, in effect, to take no prisoners alive . . . only one has been taken into American custody, and the president has balked at adding new prisoners to Guantánamo.

Wow. If only one al-Qaeda member in the past three or more years has been captured and interrogated in the U.S. system, then how do our analysts gather the fresh leads that Jose Rodriguez (Hard Measures) and Hank Crumpton (The Art of Intelligence) insist is the lifeblood of operational intelligence?

— Bing West’s latest book is The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan


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