Captain Underpants vs. Professor Poopy-Pants?
Marc Lynch has a new post at Foreign Policy, Don't Let Captain Underpants Bring Back the GWOT, on the mass over-hysteria about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his failed bomb plot on the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
But is too much to ask that the national discourse over the failed bomber be more mature and analytical than "Captain Underpants vs Professor Poopypants "?
Lynch cites with approval this WAPO op-ed, "Don't Panic, Fear is Al Qaida's Real Goal," which is well-worth a read. He also correctly notes: [More...]
It was the media -- egged on by right wing critics eager to score political points, but manifestly enthusiastic all on its own -- which took a failed plot and blew it up into a major national crisis.
Lynch wrote a few weeks ago that the Arab media was ignoring the event. No more. Today he writes:
The initial Arab response to the attempt was a collective shrug, indifference at yet another failed plot by a marginalized actor. Now, the Arab public seems increasingly fascinated by the story, with more articles and commentary about a resurgent al-Qaeda than in the immediate aftermath, and Arab commentators seem increasingly angered by the Obama administration's reactions. Between them, the American media and political gamesmanship transformed yet another al-Qaeda failure into what it can now claim as a success. They must be very proud.
While Lynch's foreign policy views generally make sense to me, I also come away from his articles struck by how much he defends Obama. Today, first he defends Obama:
It is just wrong to suggest that Obama has not taken al-Qaeda seriously just because he doesn't use the magic words so beloved of his critics. His administration has continued or expanded a wide range of effective measures to degrade and dismantle its networks across the region and world. Its escalation in Afghanistan was, for better or for worse, largely justified in terms of degrading and destroying al-Qaeda's South Asian base.
Then he refers to Obama's early mis-steps:
Faced with this political frenzy (over the holidays, no less), the Obama administration did seem to be falling back into those old habits of the GWOT, likely against their better foreign policy instincts. This led to some off-key messaging from an strategic communications perspective. Obama's stern declarations that we are at war with al-Qaeda tended to drown out his simultaneous insistence that it would not force the U.S. to compromise its values.
And the effect of Obama's early comments on the Arab world:
Rightly or wrongly, to Arab and Muslim ears this sounded much like the old Bush talk, and the announcement of extra screening for people coming from primarily Muslim countries sounded much like the old Bush deeds. Arab commentators noticed and complained bitterly. Such talk reinforces the increasingly dangerous narrative in the Arab media that Obama is really no different from Bush, and that whatever his intentions he can't deliver real change.
He gives this advice to Obama:
It's not too late to walk this particular frenzy back. The worst thing which Obama could do now is to return to the old GWOT frame to placate domestic critics while losing sight of the strategic urgency of reshaping American relations with the Muslim world.
And ends with a statement of confidence in Obama:
I think that Obama's team really does understand both the security demands of combatting an adaptive and resilient but small jihadist core and the strategic demands of marginalizing al-Qaeda and reshaping America's relations with the Muslim world. I hope they get back to it.
I'm nowhere near as confident in Obama's balancing act. I sense a continuation of the Bush Global War on Terror, just without the name. Obama keeps referring to some greater Al-Qaeda, as if Osama bin Laden is running the show world-wide, as if al Qaeda in Afhanistan and Pakistan are directing the actions of AQAP, AQ in Somalia and other regional AQ branches.
I'm tending more to believe these off-shoots do not have a central command. The more Obama makes it seem we are fighting a single entity, Al Qaida, wherever located, the more he embues them with a power greater than they actually have. The more changes he makes to our way of life in reaction to his universal AQ theory, the happier these off-shoots are. They are getting the equivalent of a free public relations company to increase the perception of their brand.
Yes, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was thwarted from committing a horrible act of destruction. Yes, he has said, and it's probably true, AQAP has 20 more like him, already converted and waiting in the wings to commit some as yet undetermined suicidal bombing act.
We have so much intelligence capability. Help Yemen locate the AQAP leaders so Yemen can take them out. Take some of our FBI agents who are so adept at going into chat rooms, pretending to be 13 year old girls to trap the men who are soliciting them, and put them on duty infiltrating the chat rooms and forums being used by AQAP as recruitment tools. Let some agents enroll in the schools that have produced the most recruits and infiltrate, the way they infiltrate the mob, drug cartels and motorcycle gangs. Violent crime is down in this country, and the War on Drugs needs a break, we can spare a few.
Instead, we're going to make every airplane traveler's life miserable and spend billions of dollars on more airplane security, in the hopes that if some violent group puts another recruit on a plane, we'll thwart it. As if that will deter them from just trying again. They love how they have disrupted our lives and dominated our media and consciousness since Christmas. It's time to take another tack and stop responding to them by aggrandizing them. We don't need military intervention, we don't need more profiling, we don't need mass body imaging or spying on Americans. Obama needs to focus more on being pro-active instead of re-active -- and on the bigger picture, which is not one giant, unified mass called al Qaeda that marches in sync and harmony.
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