In National Journal yesterday, Michael Hirsch wrote,
The Obama camp knows it has only a so-so case to make, at best, that the president's performance on the economy qualifies him for a second term. So the White House and Obama's Chicago-based campaign staff is preparing a well-thought-out effort to cast him as the most impressive Democratic president on national security in decades.
Ok, so call me jaded. Call me crazy. Call me dumb. But I get uncomfortable when I read articles talking about a president wanting to run on national security, particularly when there doesn't seem to be any credible, sustained national security risk on the horizon.
Why do I get nervous? Because sadly, I've learned through past experience that in Washington, when you need a risk, and a real risk doesn't exist, you have to make up a perceived one. And sometimes as history has shown when the wrong people and agendas get involved in fabricating perceived risks, they can (and often do) morph into very real risks. And then, of course, people die. Sorry to be so blunt.
"I would regard this as the most capable and purposeful Democratic administration in foreign policy since John F. Kennedy's," says Philip Zelikow, a former senior counselor to Condoleezza Rice, Bush's loyal Secretary of State.
Now, first and foremost, no president should ever want Phil Zelikow praising his foreign policy. And if somebody like Zelikow is so openly spooning the fig jam like this on the morning after the State of the Union Address and in the middle of an election year, then we all better ask ourselves why.
By way of background and disclosure, the reason I don't trust, respect or like Phil Zelikow is because he was the Staff Director of the 9/11 Commission.
But even before that, Zelikow a close friend and confidant of Condoleeza Rice, former Bush National Security Advisor, served on the Bush national security transition team. Thus, in December 2000 and January 2001, Zelikow was privy to top-secret briefings between the outgoing Clinton Administration and the incoming Bush Administration. This would mean that information regarding Bin Laden and any future warnings of domestic terrorist attacks would have been placed before Zelikow's eyes and it would have been Zelikow's job in concert with Rice to design the national security strategy and policy of the Bush Administration to deal with such threats or strikes. I think the 9/11 attacks, the failure to net Bin Laden in Tora Bora and the costly war in Iraq to name just a few, attest to the fact that neither Rice nor Zelikow did a very good job.
Yet incredibly, after 9/11, Zelikow -- against the wishes of many 9/11 family members -- was appointed to be the Staff Director of the 9.11 Commission. In essence, Zelikow would guide the direction of the investigation and at crucial points also be responsible for investigating himself and his close friend Condoleeza Rice. In my opinion, Zelikow did his very best to make sure that the facts of 9/11 remained obscured and that virtually no accountability would ever be assigned to any and all US leaders, officials, or agents who failed to prevent the attacks that killed 3000.
So when my Google Alert pinged me notifying me that Zelikow was throwing around gratuitous props to our Democratic president, I took notice. And I wondered why? And to what end?
Perhaps not so widely known about Phil Zelikow, is how he arrived to be the Staff Director of the 9.11 Commission. George Bush appointee? Dick Cheney choice? Nope. He was hand-picked by former Indiana Congressman and 9/11 Commission Democratic Co-Chair Lee Hamilton to head the 9/11 investigation. I will reiterate that the 9/11 families vehemently opposed Zelikow's appointment to the Commission, just like we opposed Henry Kissinger's as Chairman of the Commission.
Now to some, Kissinger automatically sets off alarm bells. To me, Zelikow and Hamilton should set off similar alarm bells because, though lower profile, they are equally as busy in their carving, crafting, and pushing of policies behind the scenes in Washington. Ultimately for me, it wasn't such a surprise that Hamilton ignored our gripes about Zelikow. And as a result, in my opinion, the 9/11 Commission's Final Report would thereafter always be incomplete, compromised, and in parts pushing an agenda, a fact that left Hamilton seemingly unfazed.
Undoubtedly, when it comes to Washington and the murky defense/foreign policy/intelligence establishment that runs it, one quickly learns that allegiances span decades, are well-masked, and readily cross party lines. The ends, however, always remains the same: money and power. I just wish more people understood this. (and fought against it)
So is it mere coincidence that Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes, who incidentally also worked for Lee Hamilton, is quoted in this article saying some of the very same things as Phil Zelikow regarding the national security cred of President Obama?
"Insofar as character is an issue, many ways in which [Obama's] excelled speaks to this issue: The ability to make tough decisions; to show grace under pressure," he said. "As commander-in-chief he has demonstrated that he will make the difficult decisions to use forces in sometimes very risky situations, but he also recognizes the limits of military force." During the election campaign, the campaign plans to highlight his "tremendous results." "There is so much political noise," says Rhodes, "but the president has built a record in the last three years that is in many respects unassailable."
Sorry but for starters, I don't consider Obama's character or record to be so "unassailable" when it comes to honoring his word regarding GTMO, the trial of terrorists in Article 3 Courts, the Patriot Act, and/or scaling back Executive Branch powers, just to name a few. In fact, I find it reprehensible and just like George Bush.
But worse, let's talk about the drone attacks mentioned in the article,
Although the administration does not publicly acknowledge the existence of the program, the number of Predator drone strikes on targets in Pakistan and elsewhere has more than tripled during Obama's presidency, and the CIA, supplied with more resources than it got under Bush, has conducted "the most aggressive counterterror ops in the agency's history," according to an intelligence official. A number of terror experts believe the terror group is now close to defeat.
Is this considered "grace under pressure"? Or, the sort of "tough decisions" being made?
Because to me, the ease in which President Obama routinely green-lights these unilateral top-secret little mini-acts of war is plain alarming -- particularly when carried out by a man who balked about the illegal war in Iraq and who was also at one time a constitutional law professor.
These drone attacks lack any credible oversight and suffer from no public accountability--except of course for the dead people (whose guilt or innocence in the war on terror we'll never know) blown to bits on the other end of the feed-screen. As a genuine believer in democracy, is it wrong for me to want, expect some checks and balances over Obama's sweeping use of this lethal Executive power? And, I'm not saying discontinue drone attacks. I'm saying, how about a little oversight and accountability.
But it's the last sentence of the intelligence official's quote that brings me back to the beginning of this article and causes me the most worry: "the terror group is now close to defeat."
Because, again, maybe I'm just dumb, but why would Obama's campaign team design a re-election platform that is no longer ripe; indeed almost obsolete. After all, to run on a war platform, don't you need a war footing? And to get on a war footing, don't you need a viable, identifiable enemy? And forgive me but I don't think Somali pirates -- though noisome -- rise to quite that actionable a level.
And so I start thinking about the past 10 years. And real vs perceived risks. And then I look at some of the names and faces of the players. And I watch them show up on the scene one by one, on talk shows, in blogs, in newspaper columns. And I listen to their spinning of words. I hear the substitution of Iran for Iraq.
And then I consider how no risk turns into perceived risk turns into real risk.
And then I wonder whether this is déjà vu all over again.
Of course, I'm sure it is just pure coincidence that Rhodes and Zelikow are quoted in the same article singing similar songs of praise for a president who didn't get elected to be a war president. Just like the raid and rescue in Somalia that dovetailed with the SOTU was serendipitous, Jim Miklaszewski overhearing Obama's words to Panetta was accidental, and Obama singing Al Green in Harlem last week was spontaneous.