The Magazine

Our Disappearing President

Jun 24, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 39 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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That was June 7. And that was the last we’ve heard from the president on the subject.

So the president wants a debate, but he doesn’t want to participate.

We’ll acknowledge that this is a tough spot for Obama. He opposed programs like these as a senator and railed against them as a candidate. And less than a month ago, he declared an end to the global war on terror and announced a return to a pre-9/11 approach to al Qaeda. So he’ll face tough questions about why he changed his mind and how he can justify continuing these programs in the face of a diminished threat. 

Too bad. The president decided to continue these surveillance efforts for a reason. Intelligence officials who have spoken with The Weekly Standard about the programs say they are critical components of the U.S. effort to prevent attacks and that losing them would leave gaping holes in the intelligence picture we’ve developed of al Qaeda, its friends, and its sympathizers. Sober, nonhysterical officials tell us that if the programs were gone, we’d be considerably more vulnerable to large-scale mass-casualty attacks.

But skeptics of the programs raise legitimate concerns about privacy and overreach. It’s precisely because these are difficult questions that the president owes the country a detailed explanation of his decision to continue the programs and a robust defense of them. This will almost certainly involve providing specifics on the role they played in thwarting attacks, an unfortunate but necessary step after the misleading leaks about what the programs do.

If Obama isn’t going to end them, he needs to allay people’s concerns and defend them, forthrightly and soon.

 

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