Bush Counterterrorism Officials Unofficially Approve of Obama’s Counterterrorism Plans.

by Daniel Russ on January 4, 2010

President Barack Obama

“A half-dozen former senior Bush officials involved in counterterrorism told me before the Christmas Day incident that for the most part, they were comfortable with Obama’s policies, although they were reluctant to say so on the record. Some worried they would draw the ire of Cheney’s circle if they did, while others calculated that calling attention to the similarities to Bush would only make it harder for Obama to stay the course. And they generally resent Obama’s anti-Bush rhetoric and are unwilling to give him political cover by defending him.”

“There was a tendency on the part of some to view the world through that prism — you know, are you with us or against us, black and white, this global war on terror,” John Brennan told me a couple of months ago in his windowless, low-ceilinged, soundproof office in the West Wing, where mobile phones are banned. “It was almost all-consuming. It was the driving force for our foreign policies, that we were now engaged in this march on the global war on terror.” That attitude, Brennan went on to say, proved counterproductive. “This president recognizes that there’s still a very serious terrorist threat that we face from organizations like Al Qaeda,” he said. “But at the same time, what we have to do is make sure that we’re not pouring fuel on the flames by the things that we do.”

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 Emmanuel his chief of staff, told me.

The policies themselves, though, have not changed nearly as much as the political battles over closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay and trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York would suggest. “The administration came in determined to undo a lot of the policies of the prior administration,” Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the homeland-security committee, told me, “but in fact is finding that many of those policies were better-thought-out than they realized — or that doing away with them is a far more complex task.”

Source: NYT


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