Obama and the "Warrior Ethos"
Despite having "intellectual rigor," has President Obama gone too far from George Bush's "warrior ethos" in the fight against jihadist terrorists? Yes, said a top former U.S. intelligence officer in a compelling interview last night on PBS's Charlie Rose show.
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
It's a pressing issue, as the Obama Administration prepares to fly 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four top al-Qaeda plotters to New York for a criminal trial and, on Friday, to arraign in a Detroit courtroom the Nigerian man charged with the attempted Christmas Day bombing. And it's an enormously difficult one for this administration, which says it's emphasizing the rule of law and seeking to restore U.S. image abroad, while at the same time trying to reassure the American public it is doing everything possible to fight terrorism and keep America safe.
Last night, a new voice—one far removed from the partisan political din--entered the debate. Henry Crumpton is a revered figure in intelligence, someone who has been called in the Washington Post a "genuine American hero" who "changed the way the United States fights terrorism." He developed and implemented the astonishingly successful strategy that ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan in the weeks after 9/11 by partnering small groups of intelligence officers with local opposition groups.
As Robin Wright explained in her article on Crumpton, the biggest influences in his thinking are Sun Tzu, the Chinese military strategist born in 500 B.C. who wrote "The Art of War," and the Greek historian Thucydides, who chronicled the 5th-century B.C. war between Athens and Sparta. As Wright noted, he has written that his approach to using intelligence as a tool in counterterrorism is premised on Sun Tzu's advice: "The expert in using the military subdues the enemy's forces without going to battle."
60 Minutes' Lara Logan and producer Howard L. Rosenberg returned to Afghanistan with Crumpton for a terrific piece that aired last week, and last night, I caught him on Charlie Rose. He was critical of the Obama administration, which he says has intellectual rigor and a deep understanding of the issues, but is focusing too much on a legal approach to fight terror.
Crumpton's Exhibit A: The administration's decision to try top terrorist suspects as ordinary criminals in our criminal court system, where they receive the full range of constitutional and procedural protections, instead treating them in times of war as enemy combatants, subject to military proceedings. Crumpton said he saw some "positive signs" from the new administration, but that he has concerns about its overall view on the war.
Here's the conversation:
Rose: You said President Bush had a warrior ethos and President Obama comes at it from another extreme, he comes at it like a lawyer.
Crumpton: I believe I said President Bush aspired to a warrior's ethos, and President Obama views this conflict more from a legal point of view, and I'm not in any way diminishing the importance of law enforcement or the rule of law. That is a critical instrument of our statecraft. But I think that it is a war, and I think that it requires more than just a legalistic approach. It does require a warrior's ethos. But also--and this is where President Obama and some of his people are very strong--it requires intellectual rigor, it requires a deeper understanding of some of these issues and the consequences for our actions. But it also requires a determination, a deep commitment, to find and engage and to kill our enemies because they want to kill us, including some of us here in the homeland.
….I also question the Obama Administration and about how they've approached some of the terrorism suspects.
I believe that these are enemy combatants, and they should be treated as such. I think we also need to look at unilateral opportunities when we cannot depend on allies, both at a state level and a non-state level, and I am encouraged to some degree because President Obama has increased the use of CIA Predator drones. So I think there are some encouraging signs, but it also requires a warrior's ethos, because this is a war. A different kind of a war, but sadly, it's going to be with us for a long time.
Rose: You do not want to see people like (Khalid) Sheikh Mohammed tried in a criminal process in New York Federal Court, do you?
Crumpton: No, I do not. I think that's a mistake.
Rose: And would it be a mistake to do the man that they most recently captured, to treat him in the same way, even though that's the way they did the shoe bomber?
Crumpton: Ah, yes, I also agree that he should be treated as an enemy combatant. Right now, he has a lawyer, he is not cooperating, he obviously has valuable intelligence, and we're not able to acquire that, because he is being treated as a criminal within the U.S. and not as an enemy combatant, and I think that hurts us.
Rose: Why do you think...The Attorney General made that decision?
Crumpton: It goes back to my original comment about President Obama and his administration. I think they've done many good things, they've kept some great people, Secretary Gates, Jim Jones are the two examples…But I believe they still approach this in a very legalistic manner and they default to dealing with Al Qaeda and with threats in terms of our domestic legal system. But if you look at war, there are different laws, there are different requirements of war, and I think that's been one of the challenges for this administration.
I should note that I think our President is very smart, dedicated, hard-working, and I think he's learning on the job, and I am hopeful there will be some course corrections in the future.
Rose: Can you tell me what the course corrections are?
Crumpton: Well, I think if you look at Al Qaeda and their affiliates they should be treated as enemy combatants, and we need to deal with them in that way.
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