The Obama administration is falling into a state of passivity on national security because it cannot bring itself to fully admit that the war against al-Qaeda is a war.
The president’s subordinates, according to a Washington Post story today, say that they would like to bring the al-Qaeda prisoners held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan back to the U.S. for trial. This is a terrible idea that should have been permanently squashed by congressional rejection of Attorney General Eric Holder’s plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in downtown New York City. So instead, the administration will apply its strategy of failure again: As it has with the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden, the White House will wish that its problems would just go away, or that bureaucracy will take care of everything (which seems to be its great hope with Obamacare too, now).
Don’t look to Obama for leadership, especially in the area where his constitutional responsibilities are highest — protecting the nation’s security. In fact, Bagram is a problem of his own creation. Obama cannot reach an agreement with the Afghans to continue operating the base. No doubt Afghan president Hamid Karzai is none too happy about being abandoned in the middle of a fight. The administration cannot send the enemy prisoners to their home countries, such as Yemen or Pakistan, because these countries cannot be trusted to hold them. Obama will not move the prisoners to Guantanamo Bay because he has ordered that no prisoners be added there (which has reduced U.S. captures of al-Qaeda leaders to almost zero and cut off our most valuable source of intelligence on the enemy). He cannot bring them to the U.S. because of congressional opposition to his earlier attempt to move the Gitmo prisoners to the continental U.S.
The best policy would be to acknowledge that we are fighting a war and that these detainees are enemy prisoners of war, and to transfer them to Guantanamo Bay, rather than praying that the detainees could be brought to the U.S. for trial. But that would require the administration to continue to follow the Bush administration’s terrorism-as-war paradigm, which Obama and his followers cannot bring themselves to openly admit.