The Corner

The Message Filters Down

The repeated signs of radical Islamic furor that were shown by Major Hasan and ignored by his colleagues vested with authority, the assassination of CIA agents in Afghanistan by a double-agent Islamic operative, and the numerous missed opportunities to stop the Christmas Day airline terrorist, all should make us concerned about the effectiveness of various branches of our anti-terrorism services.

None of these deadly lapses are the direct fault of the present administration, but they are ominous signals that it is past time to once again think about counterterrorism as a necessary war against murderous Islamists rather than a criminal-justice matter that can be defused through serial outreach to the Islamic world, renunciation of effective Bush policies, and the personal charm and unique heritage of the president.

As worrisome as the actual acts themselves have been the immediate and baffling responses to them — in the Hasan case, military worries that Hasan’s murdering might imperil efforts at diversity enhancement and was proof of a new sort of secondary post-traumatic stress syndrome; in the Abdulmutallab matter, initial assurances that the system “worked” and legalisms what he had “allegedly” attempted to do (blow up 300 people). As for the CIA matter, last year we shifted our attention to the supposed culpability of past CIA acts and the need to investigate our own agents, failing to appreciate how perilous a job they carry out in the most godforsaken places in the world.

Again, the climate at the top is essential in keeping us safe. If the commander in chief, through speeches and acts, treats the war on terror in terms of its superfluousness, its constitutional criminality, or past American culpability, rather than in terms of its essential role in keeping us all alive, then that message, in insidious ways, will filter down to various branches of the national-security community, whose members will begin to shift their attitudes and actions accordingly.

Very dangerous, all this.

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