In a column in the Seattle Times today, the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer explains exactly how to appease al-Qaeda and then excoriates President Obama for not doing it:
The reason the country is uneasy about the Obama administration’s response to this attack is a distinct sense of not just incompetence but incomprehension. From the very beginning, President Obama has relentlessly tried to downplay and deny the nature of the terrorist threat we continue to face.
This is so far beyond false, I don’t even know where to begin. Obama has not only expanded the war in Afghanistan, he’s also broadened the scope of our international fight against terrorism to Pakistan and Yemen. His approach to terrorism has been just as bellicose as his predecessor’s.
Obama reassured the nation that this “suspect” had been charged. Reassurance? The president should be saying: We have captured an enemy combatant — an illegal combatant under the laws of war: no uniform, direct attack on civilians — and now to prevent future attacks, he is being interrogated regarding information he may have about al-Qaida in Yemen.
Instead, Abdulmutallab is dispatched to some Detroit-area jail and immediately lawyered up. At which point — surprise! — he stops talking.
What? When Abdulmutallab was arrested, he did spill the beans on the connections he had to al-Qaeda in Yemen. He didn’t need to be waterboarded or denied due process. And giving him a lawyer didn’t all-of-a-sudden cause him to clam up and refuse to cooperate.
There are a few more inaccuracies and examples of bad logic, but I want to cut to the heart of Krauthammer’s fallacy:
The president said that this incident highlights “the nature of those who threaten our homeland.” But the president is constantly denying the nature of those who threaten our homeland. On Tuesday, he referred five times to Abdulmutallab (and his terrorist ilk) as “extremist(s).”
A man who shoots abortion doctors is an extremist. An eco-fanatic who torches logging sites is an extremist. Abdulmutallab is not one of these. He is a jihadist. And unlike the guys who shoot abortion doctors, jihadists have cells all over the world; they blow up trains in London, nightclubs in Bali and airplanes over Detroit (if they can); and are openly pledged to war on America.
This is a distinction without a difference. In fact, it may not even be a distinction at all, considering that environmental extremism exists throughout the world. A jihadist is an extremist, just a particular flavor of extremist. And there’s no rationale for treating them – and their movement – any differently than we treat eco-terrorists or the way we treated Timothy McVeigh and his movement.
Al-Qaeda is not a single organization with a heirarchy. It’s a movement based upon extreme views about America’s power in the world. And it thrives whenever America’s actions play into certain paranoid stereotypes about us. But Krauthammer argues that we should be doing exactly the kinds of things that play into those stereotypes. It’s hard to imagine a worse way to deal with the problem of jihadism.
The root of what makes people like Abdulmuttalab into willing jihadists is a feeling of powerlessness. To overinflate the reality of their own potency is to appease that desire. In the past, we’ve dealt with Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui by trying them in criminal court, treating them just like any other criminal, and that properly squashed their desires to be seen as some special kind of threat that America needs to treat differently.
The goal of radical Islamic extremists is to have a war between the Muslim world and the United States. It’s not a rational goal by any stretch, but that’s what makes them extremists. The worst thing we can do is to convince ourselves that these small groups of nutjobs are sufficiently powerful enough to force us to change our own way of life and our own customs. But Krauthammer is arguing just that. He’s asking us to change the way we handle criminals simply because he’s as afraid of them as they want all of us to be. His attempts to overinflate their importance is nothing more than appeasing them, making them into the powerful people they aspire to be.