WaPo: Obama's wishful thinking won't win war on terror

The Washington Post’s editorial on the embassy closings and the worldwide terror alert is worth noting for a couple of reasons.  First, the Post’s editors call out Barack Obama for his naïveté in dealing with terrorism, especially on the issues of captured terrorists and the administration’s utter lack of preparation of dealing with that issue in the future:

THE STATE Department has shuttered 19 embassies for a week, fearing terrorist attacks. Hundreds of prisoners, including senior al-Qaeda operatives, have busted loose in prison breaks in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan. At Bagram air base in Afghanistan, The Post’s Kevin Sieff reports, U.S. forces are holding 67 non-Afghan prisoners, many of whom can’t be tried in court but are too dangerous to release.

Meanwhile President Obama says he wants to “refine and ultimately repeal” the mandate Congress has given him to fight the war on terror. What’s going on here?

Good question.  The forces of AQ have just exploded over the last three-plus weeks, thanks to the eleven jailbreaks that seem to have been coordinated in correlation, at least, to the current threat.  What will the US do with them if we capture those escapees in order to end the threat?  Er … no one really knows:

From the beginning of his tenure, the president has been reluctant to build a legal framework that would assume that the fight against al-Qaeda and like-minded groups might go on for a long time. He not only proposed closing the prison at Guantanamo, rightly given its poisonous effect on the United States’ image, but he also opposed options to hold prisoners taken in future operations. That may be one reason so many alleged terrorists have been killed during his time in office and so few captured.

This President has been reluctant to even use the terminology of war, preferring anodyne euphemisms like “overseas contingency operations,” “kinetic military operations” (applied to Libyan intervention), and my favorite, “man-caused disasters.”  All of those replacements intended to downplay the threat of terrorism and the actions needed to address it.  That’s either explicitly dishonest or a case of wishful thinking, although I’d bet that it’s the latter more than the former.

The Post then gives a confused account of Obama’s strategy in the Middle East:

The president also has sought to minimize U.S. involvement in dangerous countries as much and as quickly as possible. He failed to negotiate a follow-on force in Iraq, where violence is again spiraling out of control. He has resisted engagement in Syria, where vicious brigades associated with al-Qaeda are establishing beachheads. He has provided little assistance to Tunisia or Libya, where emerging democracies are struggling to contain Islamist militias. He surged troops to Afghanistan but simultaneously announced a timetable for their withdrawal, which is underway.

It’s true that Obama has resisted engagement in Syria — but the Post seems to have missed the fact that Obama wants to engage on the same side as those al-Qaeda brigades and their beachheads.  Obama isn’t talking about intervening on the side of Bashar al-Assad, after all, and neither is John McCain.  The fact that we haven’t intervened so far (to our best knowledge) might be among the wiser war-on-terror choices Obama has made, or more accurately, has had forced upon him.  On Libya, Obama’s entire strategy was to avoid putting resources on the ground after forcing Qaddafi’s fall, which is what created that failed state and led to the invasion of Mali by AQ and the prison break last month.  Obama’s record on these points is so incoherent that even the Post can’t keep up.

Finally, the editors express amazement that Obama is talking about ending the war as AQ is obviously expanding it.  John Kerry made a commitment to end drone strikes in Pakistan “very, very soon,” based on a “very real timeline” from Obama himself, who said in May that “This war, like all wars, must end.” A refusal to fight a war is not the same as ending it, the Post reminds the President:

But like all wars, this one will end only if one party is defeated or both agree to lay down their weapons. Neither appears likely any time soon, and the president’s eagerness to disengage, while understandable and in sync with U.S. public opinion, may in the end lengthen the conflict. His hope of fighting the bad guys as antiseptically as possible, with drone strikes and a minimal presence, may prove as forlorn as President Clinton’s similar effort in the 1990s, when the equivalent weapon at his disposal was cruise missiles.

That’s exactly correct.  The question will be whether this week’s events will change the calculus in the White House.  If ever there was a wake-up call on the danger of al-Qaeda that doesn’t involve a successful terrorist attack, this should be it.