Earlier this weekend, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin told Chris Wallace in a Fox News interview that the Obama administration’s position on dissent is that detractors should “sit down and shut up.” The Huffington Post crowd immediately jumped on the statement, saying it couldn’t be supported.
Well, 24 hours later, White House homeland-security adviser John Brennan put this argument to rest by publishing a blog in USA Today that not only tells Americans to sit down and shut up but also accuses them of “serv[ing] the goals of al-Qaeda” if they question the president’s national-security strategy — as if two-sided political discourse is al-Qaeda’s ultimate goal.
In fewer than 400 words, Brennan embarrasses himself with half-truths, selective omissions, and name-calling hysteria. But more importantly, he identifies one of the major problems facing the Obama White House: They lack a credible leader on homeland security that the American people fully trust. This problem clearly began when DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano came out days after Christmas saying “the system worked.”
Napolitano was quickly sent to a cabinet timeout, where she joined HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, whose leadership has been noticeably absent from the health-care debate. The administration scrambled to find a public face for their damage control, and John Brennan drew the short straw. Since then, Brennan has lashed out at former Vice President Dick Cheney and other critics with a level of petulance unbecoming an adviser in his role.
In his blog, Brennan says Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was “thoroughly interrogated” immediately after his failed bombing attempt. However, even Brennan has stated that the interrogation lasted 50 minutes. Under no plausible scenario is 50 minutes of interrogation “thorough.”
Brennan goes on to say the “most important breakthrough occurred after Abdulmutallab was read his rights.” He fails to mention how many weeks that took, nor why we even know about this. Based on what can be gathered from administration officials, Abdulmutallab began cooperating long after intelligence was still actionable. White House officials leaked this conversation, putting Abdulmutallab’s profoundly cooperative family at risk and signaling to al-Qaeda that anything operational this foot soldier knows should be revised.
Brennan also delivers the overused line that, because shoe bomber Richard Reid was given Miranda rights, so should Abdulmutallab. Reid’s arrest took place in December 2001. John Brennan should remember that December 2001 wasn’t exactly our most organized hour as a nation. The White House Office of Homeland Security was just being stood up, anthrax attacks were being investigated, the sites of the 9/11 attacks were still smoldering, and Americans were rightly worried about the next attack. We didn’t have the luxury of second-guessing our arrest methods. We do now. Military tribunals were not yet congressionally authorized for this purpose.
Brennan accuses the president’s opponents of “fear-mongering” and says, “We need no lectures about the fact that this nation is at war.” On the bright side, administration officials have regularly failed to call our efforts against terrorists a war, so at least this brazen acknowledgement is progress. But they do in fact deserve a lecture.
Constitutional rights are not automatically granted to anyone who attempts to enter our nation, let alone to someone whose motivation is not to enter the nation but to direct a suicide bomb at its citizens. When Abdulmutallab was arrested, “senior counterterrorism officials from the White House, the intelligence community and the military” were not in fact consulted before “he was Mirandized” — unless Brennan is accusing Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair of lying to Congress. (Blair said he “was not consulted.”)
Conservatives have every ounce of available faith in our intelligence services and our law-enforcement community. We do not have the same confidence in the leaders who have spent the better part of the past year denigrating the work of the CIA and offering the false choice of waterboarding or civilian trial, with nothing in between.
This administration has attempted to build a narrative that if we don’t try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York, if we don’t close Gitmo, if we don’t read foreign enemy combatants their Miranda rights, than we embolden our enemies. The only problem with this narrative is that al-Qaeda terrorists simply don’t care about it. They want to destroy us regardless of these actions or who is in the White House.
Americans are not keeping score on political points, nor are Republicans in Washington. The only place the political scoreboard exists seems to be in the West Wing, where ugly demagoguery is the only winning play.
I have worked for four of Brennan’s five predecessors in his job. Each and every one of them — from former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, to Admiral Steve Abbot, to General John Gordon, to Fran Townsend — served admirably, professionally, and with integrity. Their first mission was not to denigrate political opponents but to prevent future attacks on our soil, and they were all hugely successful. John Brennan has failed to live up to the expectations his predecessors set in practice and rhetoric. President Obama should demand better, immediately.
Rory Cooper is Director of Strategic Communications at The Heritage Foundation. He served in the White House Homeland Security Council between 2001 and 2004. You can follow him on Twitter @rorycooper.