Death of a Theory
The Left can’t give up its operating theory of terrorism, no matter how tattered.
By Rich Lowry
Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab couldn’t ignite the bomb in his underwear on Flight 253 on Christmas Day.
All he managed to blow up was a worldview.
His failed attempt put paid to the notion that terrorism is the byproduct of a few, specific U.S. policies and of our image abroad. This view dominates the Left and animates the Obama administration. It informs its drive to shutter Guantanamo Bay, to get out of Iraq, and to cater to “international opinion.” If we are only nice and likable enough, goes the theory, the Abdul Mutallabs of the world will never be tempted to violent mayhem.
Only the young Nigerian didn’t appear the least bit moved by Pres. Barack Obama’s commitment to close Gitmo in a year. He didn’t seem to care that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will get a civilian trial in New York. He didn’t appear to be fazed at all by Obama’s Cairo and U.N. speeches, or a year’s worth of international goodwill gestures. He just wanted to destroy an airliner.
It shouldn’t be hard to fathom why. Abdul Mutallab was in the grip of a violent ideology with an existential hatred of the United States at its core, an ideology promoted by a global terrorist conspiracy under the loose rubric of al-Qaeda. This is the essential fact that the Left tends to minimize or deny.
Obama called Abdul Mutallab an “isolated extremist” in his initial statement on the incident, and left the same impression about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the terrorist of Fort Hood. How coincidental that we are beset by isolated extremists believing the same things and inspired by the same people — in the cases of Abdul Mutallab and Hasan, the radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
A totalist rejection of the United States, this ideology will never lack for particular reasons to hate us. For years, we were told that the Iraq War was al-Qaeda’s best recruiting tool. Now, new recruiting tools are at hand. Hasan reportedly was disappointed that Obama stayed in Afghanistan. In taking responsibility for Abdul Mutallab’s attempted attack, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed it was in retaliation for a U.S.-sponsored strike against its leadership in Yemen.
If we pull our troops from Afghanistan, they’ll object to our missile strikes in Pakistan. If we stop the missile strikes, they’ll object to our training of foreign militaries. If we stop that, they’ll object that we have the temerity to maintain a blue-water navy. Nothing short of suicidal abdication will suffice.
The other great reputed recruiting tool was Gitmo. But what’s worse — holding terrorists in a facility condemned by the world’s scolds, or releasing them to re-invigorate al-Qaeda’s franchise operations? AQAP got a critical boost from one former Gitmo detainee who, according to the New York Times, is “the rising star of the local movement,” and another who is “the mufti, or theological guide.” The Wall Street Journal says eleven Gitmo returnees have joined the ranks of Yemeni militant groups, making the detention facility AQAP’s farm team.
No matter. Just before Christmas, the Obama administration returned six more Gitmo detainees to Yemen, home to about 90 of the 200 remaining prisoners. Obama counterterrorism adviser John Brennan pledges to keep sending them back, and insists that “several” or “many” of the six latest returnees are in Yemeni custody. Whatever that means. Yemeni government is not a model of Prussian precision. In February 2006, AQAP managed a mass break from a Yemeni high-security prison. The environment there is so treacherous that we were just forced to shut our embassy temporarily.
The administration is loath to admit that vacating Gitmo has itself proven a powerful tool for the terrorists.
It can’t give up its operating theory of terrorism, no matter how tattered. Instead of designating Abdul Mutallab an enemy combatant and interrogating him, we have granted him all the protections our justice system provides a civil defendant. Whatever comes of this foolish act of generosity, we can be sure that the next Abdul Mutallab will be singularly unimpressed.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. © 2010 by King Features Syndicate
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