Clarity is not only good but unusual. It is also good that President Obama did not refer to the Christmas Day unpleasantness as an alleged and isolated criminal attempt to cause a man-made disaster, and that he pledged to do “whatever it takes.” It seems possible that the lessons left unlearned following the Fort Hood incident more than two months ago may now have been learned, albeit tardily.
But what did President Obama actually mean on January 7? As observed at Powerline: “The prospect of losing a reelection race concentrates the mind wonderfully.”
Well yes, but the loss of Massachusetts came too late to concentrate President Obama’s mind before his January 7 address.
What did “at war” mean on January 7 and how does the United States conduct a war with al-Qaeda terrorists bent upon causing death and destruction in the United States? “War” is a strange word; once upon a time, it had an understandable meaning. We were at war with Germany and Japan following the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, for example. Later, we got into wars with poverty, AIDS, hunger, obesity, acne, and a bunch of other quite different enemies. Those wars seem not to have been won, use of the word “war” in those contexts had little meaning, and even some Code Pink members probably supported some of those heroic efforts.
Nevertheless, the words must have had some meaning in the present al-Qaeda context.
Being “at war” with al-Qaeda evidently did not mean that we are at war with Islam; that would be politically incorrect beyond belief, and it would indeed be both shocking and surprising if that was what President Obama meant. He has substantial roots in Islam, for which he apparently has high regard. Islam, as we have been told repeatedly and have even memorized, is the religion of peace and enlightenment — there are only a few “isolated” Islamic extremists, and since they are not peaceful they are not really and truly Islamic. We are at war only with card-carrying members of al-Qaeda.
It seemed from President Obama’s January 7 address that being at war with al-Qaeda did not mean that, should we happen to capture one, we would treat him with disrespect or otherwise be unpleasant. That’s the job of the Transportation Safety Administration, and they don’t seem to understand there’s a war on (they just do it routinely). In dealing with al-Qaeda terrorists, we are said to be bound not only by the United States Constitution and statutes but apparently by international law as well, so any extra protections afforded by the latter will also be provided.
The sense I got from President Obama’s January 7 address — unlike the sense I got from Mr. Blair’s “misconstrued” January 20 testimony — was that we must continue to demonstrate to the world, much of it populated by Islamists, that we are fair and transparent. Hence, after the appropriate Miranda warning and provision of counsel (if accepted), it appeared that we would confine the criminal suspect in a reasonably pleasant place to await a speedy trial, provide more physical comforts than he is likely to be accustomed to, cater to his religious sensibilities, and provide food and other amenities consistent with those sensibilities.
We would not “torture” a criminal suspect to get information useful in preventing jihadist attacks, nor jump to hasty conclusions — as President Obama warned us not to do in addressing Major Hasan’s escapade at Fort Hood. We would not punish the victim of our society’s wicked ways inappropriately. Indeed, Abdulmutallab would be deemed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at a full trial, preferably in a civilian criminal proceeding in the United States, at which he would enjoy bountiful rights — none of which are enjoyed under sharia law or off-with-his-head justice.
We did the same in the case of Zacharias Moussaoui, and will do so with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Mr. Abdulmutallab, whose escapade on Christmas Day caused President Obama finally to proclaim that we are “at war.” As was the case in the recent trial of Blackwater guards, any “fruit” of the poison tree of a coerced statement will be scornfully rejected.
What else did the presidential proclamation that we are “at war” mean and what can it reasonably be expected to accomplish?