Marc Thiessen Suggests That Killing Terrorists Poses A National Security Risk
Former Bush speechwriter and torture-thrillist Marc Thiessen has, of late, been mounting some sort of prolonged campaign of pure, mountain-grown idiocy. He reached a new plateau today with a piece that essentially bitches about how President Barack Obama's success at eliminating terrorists is putting the country in danger. I know: What?
Just so we're clear, let the record state that Thiessen agrees that Obama is doing a good job killing terrorists. I found this out by searching his article for the phrase, "to be sure," which I knew was in there somewhere!
To be sure, unmanned drones are critical in the struggle against al Qaeda. They allow the United States to reach terrorists hiding in remote regions where it would be difficult for special operations forces to reach them, or to act on perishable intelligence when the only choice is to kill a terrorist or lose him. Constantly hovering Predator (or Reaper) drones also have a psychological effect on the enemy, forcing al Qaeda leaders to live in fear and spend time focusing on self-preservation that would otherwise be used planning the next attack. All this is for the good.
Okay, that said, Thiessen's basic problem here is that with all this eliminating of the terrorist threat, Obama is harming our ability to detain and torture terrorists for their valuable intelligence.
President Barack Obama's escalation of drone strikes is one area in the counterterrorism fight where he has earned plaudits from even his most vocal critics on the right. Hold the applause. Obama's escalation of the "Predator War" comes at the very same time he has eliminated the CIA's capability to capture senior terrorist leaders alive and interrogate them for information on new attacks.
It's a weird thesis -- drone strikes are precluding any other possible counterterror effort, and we're getting too good at killing terrorists for our own good. It makes it sound like there can't be a parallel effort to garner intelligence or question suspects alongside targeted drone attacks. And it's not just a weird, unproven thesis, its one that just doesn't comport to available facts. Why, here's Walter Pincus, documenting the highly effective interrogation of this guy, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Maybe you've heard of him?
Right away, I start looking for evidence that some "CIA capability" has been "eliminated." A program cut, maybe? A budgetary line item reduced? Intelligence officials re-assigned? Thiessen's sense of incredibly unwarranted certainty seems to stem from some unnamed guy he got to back up the premise of his book, and in so doing, this article, who alleges that "In the wake of 9/11, [the CIA] put forward a program that had a lethal component to strike back at the people who did this. But the other component was to prevent this kind of catastrophe from happening again. And for that, killing people -- especially killing senior al Qaeda leaders -- is potentially counterproductive in that we can't know or learn of future attacks. You can't kill them all, and you don't want to kill them all from an intelligence standpoint. We needed to know what they knew." But nowhere in there is actual evidence of, well, anything.
As Matt Yglesias points out, the underlying premise of Thiessen's piece appears to be that "it's better to let four terrorists go free if that lets you torture a fifth." Dead terrorists may tell no tales, but tortured terrorists tend to tell tales that don't amount to a hill of beans, as far as national security is concerned.
I think Thiessen would have fashioned a more compelling article if he'd have just leveled with his readers, and simply said that the pain induced by torturing people fortifies his precious bodily fluids with feelings of awesomeness.