Tuesday, January 5, 2010


The New York Times has published a preview of its upcoming Sunday magazine cover article, "Inside Obama's War on Terrorism."
1. Obama's approach to fighting terrorism demonstrates continuity with the Bush years more than it does change.

The major shift is rhetorical with little political change to speak of. Obama has worked to reclaim the message that the US is fighting terrorists and not Islam, which he articulated in his June 2009 Cairo discourse. Why no more substantial policy differences?

-Because the administration is learning that Bush era policies are either necessary or too well-crafted to be easily dismantled.

-Many important evolutions to the counterterrorism strategy had already begun by the end of the Bush presidency (such as transferring Gitmo detainees and emptying many of the CIA's secret foreign prisons)

According to Bush's former CIA Director Michael Hayden, "It's really, really hard to find a difference that's meaningful and not atmospheric." The absence of sweeping change has angered many Obama supporters on the left who worry how much further Obama will lean toward Bush policies should the US fall under attack on his watch.

2. Special focus on John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, and his privileged place at the center of Obama's inner circle for national security.

-A career CIA man, Brennan eventually became George Tenet's chief of staff then the agency's Deputy Executive Director before quitting the government in 2005. Shortly after his departure, Brennan penned an op-ed criticizing the Bush administration ("Mr. President, You're Wrong on Iraq"), which he submitted for CIA clearance then withdrew. It was leaked to the White House thus thrusting him entirely out of the graces of the president's team.

-Brennan is close to former NSA Tony Lake, who introduced him to Obama during the campaign. On election, Obama considered naming Brennan as CIA Director before confronting two major problems: the would-be perception of Brennan's proximity to Tenet and his support of many of Bush's enhanced interrogation tactics including "black site" secret CIA prisons abroad (though Brennan did voice opposition to waterboarding)

3. Finally, the article evokes the emerging frontiers of terrorism, highlighting the success of drones in Pakistan, increased US funding to support Yemen anti-terror efforts, and the threat of American extremists who train abroad with the intention of carrying out attacks at home.

- Amy Greene