Following Barack Obama’s inauguration last year, the newly-elected commander-in-chief sought to impose his vision of “change” on U.S. counter-terrorism policies. On his third day in office, the President signed an executive order directing that Guantanamo Bay prison be closed within a year. The decision was complemented by an additional order to ban enhanced interrogation techniques, effectively removing life-saving procedures from the intelligence gathering toolbox. While the President’s attempts to transform American counter-terror strategy were welcomed with open arms by his political allies in Congress, others were less enthusiastic.
President Obama was quick to criticize the Bush administration’s counterterrorism tools at the beginning of his tenure, but as the President is coming under fire, he now finds himself having to cite the value of maintaining continuity in terror policies as justification for his administration’s decisions. The most recent illustration is the administration’s insistence that civilian trials for terrorists are in keeping with Bush-era procedures. Though the President should be praised for keeping intact many of the essential policies that have prevented another 9/11-style attack, using the “consistencies in terror policies argument” as political cover is not an effective counter-terror strategy.
As Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) noted in a recent Heritage lecture, America faces an enemy that is adaptable, and our tactics must reflect the ever-evolving threat posed by terrorism. Instead of putting politics over security, the administration must re-focus its national security strategy. Rather than make national security decisions with political calculations in mind, the President should resist pressure from his political base to treat terrorism as a law enforcement problem. As technology advances and Islamist terrorists develop new methods of attack, the need to remain one step ahead of our adversaries is more important than ever. In order for the nation to successfully meet the ongoing threat of terrorism, President Obama must focus his efforts on winning the war on terror, not reelection.
Ben Smithwick is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm