I commend Victoria’s unpublished letter (by the Washington Post) and her excellent WSJ op-ed. I just want to add a couple of other responses to the new lefty talking point: How could you criticize Obama’s reaction to Abdul Mutallab given how Bush handled Reid?
As Victoria notes, there was not yet a military commission system (though the executive order authorizing commissions had been issued) when Reid tried to destroy his flight and kill all the passengers. But it’s also worth putting this in context: 9/11 had only just happened, and Bush had responded not only by authorizing military commissions but, more importantly, by taking the country to war against al-Qaeda — not just a few feckless cruise missiles, but a full-scale attack with boots on the ground. The president had also announced what became known as the “Bush Doctrine,” the plan to attack al-Qaeda wherever it operated and to treat rogue nations that supported terrorists as the equivalent of terrorists.
Did Bush make errors here and there? Sure he did — just as every commander-in-chief reacting to a true emergency has. Reid, Moussaoui, and John Walker Lindh should all have been detained as enemy combatants then tried by commission. Still, there was no doubt whatsoever about where Bush was coming from on the need to wage the war as a war. And compared to what had just happened at the time (9/11, anthrax attacks, invasion of Afghanistan), Reid seemed almost tame.
By contrast, Obama sold himself as the anti-Bush, argued in favor of the Clinton law-enforcement approach of the nineties, has difficulty acknowledging that we are at war, believes we should engage rather than challenge pro-jihadist regimes, and staffed his administration with many people (especially lawyers) who virulently opposed Bush-style counterterrorism. The Christmas ‘09 attack did not happen in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and its occurrence blows gigantic holes in Obama’s delusional claims that we can be safer by turning away from a law-of-war paradigm and “changing the tone” with the Muslim world.
Americans are thus understandably concerned about this president’s commitment to a counterterrorism model that truly seeks to prevent attacks rather than prosecute them after people get killed. It would take a Democratic strategist, an Obamedia apologist, or a detached egghead to fail to see the obvious point that, in the public mind, Abdul Mutallab was a much bigger deal for Obama than Reid was for Bush — or that “the system worked” was about the worst imaginable thing an Obama official could have said under the circumstances.
I’d also note that the appellate opinion affirming Moussaoui’s convictions, which I posted about this morning, reinforces Victoria’s assessment of the Moussaoui trial.
Finally, if we’re going to dwell on Bush’s inconsistencies in the hectic period right after 9/11, what are we to make of Obama’s inconsistencies today, in a much calmer time when we’ve had nine years to think things over? He has handed the Cole bombers over to a military commission — despite the fact that there was already a pending indictment in the Cole case in the civilian justice system. When the Cole attack happened, there was no military commission system. What is the predicate for trying the Cole case by commission? Why, 9/11 of course . . . the incident Obama has moved from the military system to the civilian courts — thereby rewarding those who target civilians (i.e., those who most severely flout the civilizing underpinnings of international humanitarian law) with the greatest due process protections.
What is the sensible explanation for sending the Cole case — a decade-old incident with a pending civilian indictment — to the military commission system, but handing over to the criminal justice system Abdulmutallab — an alien enemy combatant sent by al-Qaeda to commit a 9/11-style war-crime and who, according to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, had fresh, “actionable intelligence” to give us but who cut off interrogation when we let him lawyer up?