Buried in Peter Baker's article for the New York Times magazine, "Inside Obama's War on Terrorism" are a few revealing nuggets about the President's approach to, dare I say, the GWOT.
First, despite Baker's title, the President doesn't believe in a war on terrorism:
"Rather than seeing terrorism as the challenge of our time, Obama rejects the phrase "war on terror" altogether, hoping to recast the struggle as one of a number of vital challenges confronting America. The nation is at war with al Qaeda, Obama says, but not with terrorism, which, as he understands it, is a tactic, not an enemy."
Second is the revelation that the President believes that through speechifying he can combat the threat posed by al Qaeda:
"And so perhaps the biggest change Obama has made is what one former adviser calls the "mood music" -- choice of language, outreach to Muslims, rhetorical fidelity to the rule of law and a shift in tone from the all-or-nothing days of the Bush administration. He is committed to taking aggressive actions to disrupt terrorist cells, aides said, but he also considers his speech in Cairo to the Islamic world in June central to his efforts to combat terrorism. "If you asked him what are the most important things he's done to fight terrorism in his first year, he would put Cairo in the top three," Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff told me."
It makes you wonder what other actions round out the top three. Pledging to close Guantanamo Bay? Banning enhanced interrogation procedures? One would hope that sending tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda or increasing the number of drone strikes in Pakistan would make the list, but perhaps they aren't seen as making us as safe as a good speech. A speech, by the way, which evensome of the President's supporters are beginning to realize was long on rhetoric and short on follow-through.
Also of interest in Baker's article is an exchange between Michael Leiter, head of the NCTC, and the President-elect one week after his election. Leiter, who oversees the National Counterterrorism Center, is quoted as expressing concern about America's global image.
"Mr. President-elect, we are doing things very well, but we're losing the messaging war," Michael Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told him a week after the election, according to an official informed about the session. A significant share of the global population thought America was at war with the rest of the world, Leiter maintained. "You have an opportunity to change that message, to change how the struggle is perceived," he said."
Perhaps Leiter, whose organization appears to have dropped the ball in connecting various intelligence reports about the underwear bomber and ensuring that he was put on a TSA watch list, might want to spend more of his time tracking down terrorists and less worrying about global public opinion.
But this is likely too much to ask when the President Leiter reports to seems to believe that by giving a few speeches and presenting a different (non-Bush) face to the world, the terrorist threat will be diminished. Just as they are beginning to realize their engagement strategy with Iran, North Korea, and other rogue regimes has yielded little progress, hopefully the failed Christmas Day attack will cause the Obama administration to realize that their terrorist engagement strategy is fatally flawed as well.