A Security Policy That George Costanza Would Be Proud Of

George W. Bush’s presidency had its problems, but Bush’s “Trumanesque,” plain-speaking style provided a certain clarity to American foreign policy. Granted, Bush had a propensity to mangle the English language, but generally speaking the American public and foreign leaders knew where he stood. His penchant for plain speaking occasionally got him into trouble, for in as much as Bush’s macho swagger turned off the more sensitive among us, his boasting about “bring ’em on” (regarding attacks on American forces in Iraq) or “there’s an old poster out West… that said, ‘Wanted, Dead or Alive’” (regarding the fate of Osama Bin Laden), was seen as positively imbecilic.

Mimicking the antics of George Costanza, the Obama team seems to think that by doing the opposite of George Bush they will usher in an era of universal peace and happiness. The administration recoils from Bushian bluntness, and in so doing emphatically rejects George Orwell’s advice regarding the importance of precision in language. Nowhere is this more evident than in the language the Obama administration employs when discussing the war formerly known as the “war on terror.” Regarding the latter phrase – the administration prefers more rhetorically uninspired and inoffensive language such as “Overseas Contingency Operation.” (The Obama administration also rejected the term “The Long War.”) Needless to say, “Overseas Contingency Operation” lacks a certain Churchillian flair.

While legitimate criticism was raised about the ill-defined, open-ended quality of Bush’s war on a “concept,” i.e., terrorism, the Obama administration prefers to avoid using the term “war” altogether – and at the same time prefers the term “violent extremism” instead of “terrorism.” Former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, the Queen of semantic obfuscation, preferred the term “man-caused disasters” instead of “terrorism.” It is almost as if the Obama administration believes that by refraining from uttering the “t” word, terrorism will simply go away.

The administration’s use of opaque language may seem somewhat unimportant, but when this neutered jargon is coupled with a “foreign policy” of “leading from behind,” one cannot help but conclude that this is a nation in retreat. Echoes of this retreat can be found in Attorney General Eric Holder’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on May 13, 2010, in which he was reluctant to use the term “radical Islam” or the word “terrorism” in attributing a motive to the Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad. The latter was a protégé of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Far too many libertarians, in concert with the American Civil Liberties Union, have expressed concern about this defector being deprived of his right to due process, but that is a posting for another day. Holder testified before Congress, “There are a variety of reasons why people have taken these actions . . .We’re in the process now of talking to Mr. Shahzad to try to understand what it is that drove him to take the[se] actions….” Mr. Shahzad could not have been clearer about his motives, which was to assist in the destruction of the United States, a cause he undertook at the behest of the aforementioned Anwar al-Awlaki.

The same ambiguity surrounded the arrest of the “Underwear Bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to bring down a Northwest Airlines flight traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009. The “Underwear Bomber” was another al-Awlaki disciple, and instead of being treated as an unlawful enemy combatant and shipped off to Guantanamo, the administration treated him as a common criminal and read him his Miranda rights, at which point the failed mass-murderer stopped talking.

Nidal Hasan

Nidal Hasan

But the most egregious situation of all involved the Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 soldiers and wounded 31 others in November, 2009. During his killing spree, Hasan methodically targeted soldiers in uniform and avoided shooting at civilians. The Obama administration, primarily through the Pentagon, has insisted that the shootings were a case of “workplace violence,” despite the fact that Major Hasan has unambiguously stated that his jihad was, once again, carried out at the behest of Anwar al-Awlaki.

The Pentagon has also refused to award the “Purple Heart” medal to victims of the shooting due to its classification of Hasan’s attack as “workplace violence.” Hasan carried a business card which read in part “SoA (SWT)” – many intelligence experts believe that this was shorthand for “soldier of Allah,” while the last three letters refer to “Subhanahu Wa Ta’all,” meaning “glory to God.” The Defense Department’s report on the Fort Hood shootings, Protecting the Force: Lessons from Fort Hood, never once mentioned Hasan’s connection to Anwar al-Awlaki or to radical Islam in its entire 86 pages. Anwar al-Awlaki proclaimed Nidal Hassan a hero, noting that “he is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people…. Any decent Muslim cannot live, understanding properly his duties towards his Creator and his fellow Muslims, and yet serve as a US soldier. The U.S. is leading the war against terrorism which in reality is a war against Islam.”

To make matters worse, General George Casey, the former Army Chief of Staff, observed that “what happened at Fort Hood was a tragedy, but I believe it would be an even greater tragedy if our diversity becomes a casualty.” It appears that Hasan remained in the military due to the imperative of fostering “diversity.” Despite repeated warning signs, which included intercepted communications with al-Awlaki, and his failure “to meet basic standards sets for officers for physical fitness, appearance and work ethic,” Hasan remained in good standing with the Army up until the day of the massacre.

Additionally, America’s descent into the quagmire of “war by lawyer” can be seen in all its garishness during the protracted proceedings over the status of Major Hasan’s beard. After weeks of haggling, a military appeals court removed Colonel Gregory Gross as the presiding judge in Hasan’s court-martial, in part due to his alleged bias toward the defendant which included an order that Hasan shave his beard in accordance with Army regulations. As I have noted before, excessive legalism in military matters represents a remarkable ceding of the war power to executive branch lawyers (including military JAG officers) and to their brethren in the judiciary who are playing a role they were never intended to play. All of this leads to widespread acceptance of the idea that war is an extension of law enforcement. But that is less important than the fact that we can persist in “celebrating diversity,” all the while hoping that the war which began at approximately 8:46 a.m. on a sunny Tuesday in September will simply go away.

The views expressed here are entirely those of Stephen F. Knott.

Reader Discussion

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on August 28, 2013 at 14:13:15 pm

This argument comes across as thoroughly apoplectic.

It also makes me think that Obama is a better manager and is better set up to roll off the conflict and actually set up an end game, which could only possibly be delivered by a Rand Paul or Gary Johnson conceivably.

If this is a war on terror, why haven't I been supplied a gun, and why am I not scared for my family? If there is one fear I have at this point, it is the relentless drum beating and rationales thrust upon us for why we need to live in a security state, why my e-mails must be read, my phone data recorded, my transactions monitored.

We have the perfect bogeyman with terrorists. They are easy to create. They rarely give up, and there will certainly never be an armistice treaty. Therefore, government need not recognize the natural rights of America because..."look, it's a terrorist!" It is the same method by...."look, it's a drug user!" or....."look, it's an immigrant!" One hand is pointing to the danger, another is buried deeply within our rectums.

Legally, Obama is more on point, because we're truly not in a war, much that you will indignantly claim we are. By refering to them as extremist, it sends the message that we are not scared to the perpetrators, even while trying to stir up fear at home that can only be addressed through more money and less privacy.

Americans want short, fast, effective retaliation. We don't want a war. We don't want a police state. We don't want to live in fear, not be told that we are protected when we are not.

Ten thousand Americans were murdered last year by Americans, and simply locking up known criminals for the longest time possible would dramatically affect that number. But to the federal government, an American life only matters if taken by a Muslim. And how many Americans, in America, were killed by a Muslim last year? Any? Now, you can point out that this is "working". Maybe, but it comes at the massive expense, lack of productivity, and taking the eyes off of prosecuting laws that would save far more lives.

The question I have is, do you have a legal or Constitutional argument you'd like to make for why Bush is better than Obama? Or why it even matters? Or do you simply want to get involved in semantics and style difference and a new Neo-conservative "political correctness" movement on the right words to use to protect ourselves? Does the Constitution specify what words we should use? The dictionary does, but, meh, why use one of those.......

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John Ashman
on August 28, 2013 at 14:21:15 pm


I, too, am appalled by "war by lawyer" and am cognizant of the effect on both our policy and on our soldiers, as JAG's reach does extend to tactical situations.

However, I have a question for you. Suppose, for a moment, that it was the Congress that were to provide the impulse toward "the death of common sense" as you rightly assert in another posting? How then do you propose that we respond? The Constitution does empower the Congress to set the rules for the Armed Forces. Supposing the Congress were to behave in similar fashion (not at all outside the realm of probability), would you accept this as constitutionally proper, if nevertheless impractical if not dangerous?
My concern is with the Judiciary exercising such a function - but I suspect we would be stuck with similar Congressional action.

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on August 28, 2013 at 15:00:59 pm

Also, let's talk about Nidal Hasan and Purple Hearts separately.

Once again, you complain about our measured and calculated response to dealing with Hasan as though it has failed. Meanwhile, he's no doubt never going to see the outside of a military prison. How is this a failure?

Let's move on to the Purple Heart. What is the PH? It is an award you give to victims. Not for bravery. Not for outstanding performance or devastating results. Victims. Think about this. "I got shot up on the battlefield and all I got was this stupid medal". It's a nice consolation prize, I suppose, though, I'd think $10,000 would go further. But this is the kind of thing that only the left would think of doing. OR maybe not. It must be absolutely terrible being wounded in battle. But that's not worthy of a medal, that's worthy of support and assistance above and beyond. After all, there was much ridicule of Kerry getting a medal for a flesh wound and possibly simply hurting himself. Why would we give a medal for being unlucky? It's liberal nonsense.

But here's where I'm going. Victim mentality. What I now call "Purple Heart Conservatism". It's the essence of right wing victim mentality. "You wounded me, I deserve reprisal, and I will never, EVER forgive or forget. Someone will pay and I don't care how much harm is done in the process". This is the essence of liberalism. Victimhood, reparations, political correctness, gross expenditures of money that never have a benefit to Americans, the deaths of more Americans and far more innocent foreignors. Gigantic institutions who's sole purpose is to voraciously grow and devour everything within their reach. Feel good victim handouts for the wounded and maimed. Nice platitudes for the dead. Children who will never know their fathers.

In reality, there is no difference between Purple Heart Conservatism and Bleeding Heart Liberalism. Both seek powerful institutions, at our expense, to "protect" us, yet magically, they never solve the problem, and continue to tell us that we should be scared, or angry about terrorists, or corporations or immigrants, or gay people or living on beans and rice for awhile, or not having someone willing to pay our doctor visit. It's all the same. Neo-conservatives are simply the flip side of neo-socialists. But around the rim, there is a very thin area that is neither neo-this, nor neo-that. It's called American. Original, good old fashioned red white and blue American. And we really don't need the rest of you or what you think is best for us. But thanks, anyway.

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John Ashman
on August 28, 2013 at 15:10:53 pm

Purple Heart requirements http://www.recognizethesacrifice.org/purple-heart-criteria.html

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Ken Masugi
on August 28, 2013 at 16:04:56 pm


You ask, "how many Americans were killed by Muslims last year?" Surely, you have not forgotten the Boston Bombing? or the deaths of American tourists in Egypt and elsewhere?

The above nothithstanding, I understand your point about growth of governmental power resulting from some conservative impulse toward a "security state." However, to seek to absolve Obama from responsibility or to assert that he is a better manager of this "quasi-war" or foreign policy is stretching things a bit too far. He has neither a policy nor a bent toward managing it. Rather, he has simply expanded some of the less commendable aspects of Bush's policy / tactics.

I am somewhat more supportive of certain intelligence gathering operations than are you, that is clear. However, I think that as government is won't to do, it has overreached - and this I object to.
Years ago, I commented to some friends upon hearing their concerns about privacy that they had more to fear from private business - who would create predictive algorithms to track behavior / preferences, etc of their customers / site visitors (think Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc). I was both wrong and right considering how government and and internet firms are cooperating. Much of the software comes from the private sector.
The opportunity for abuse is too great; because of this, however, are we to eliminate all intelligence gathering. I, for one, hope not. Rather, I would hope that we (government) exercise prudence in these activities.
So I ask, is your concern prompted more by the excess or the simple act of gathering intelligence?

take care

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on August 28, 2013 at 18:18:56 pm

Hi Gabe, you brought up things that happened this year or overseas, but even if we took this year, we have about a dozen dead from terrorism, and probably 7000 dead from murder.

I would actually at this point that doing exactly nothing would be 10 times more effective than the War on Terror™. The WoT costs us about 300 or more of our best kids every year, not to mention probably a thousand that are seriously hurt. A Purple Heart doesn't make up for missing limbs.

As far as Obama, if you go by American death count, there's no doubt Obama is doing a better job, the death toll in Iraq is now basically zero. Afghanistan deaths went up, but are now dropping again very quickly, so we may be in a position to pull back from Afghanistan at least. Bush had plenty of time to make that happen and failed.

But, look at the cost of this. We are deeply mired in debt, yet we are spending over $3000/person on defense. We have a Dept of Creating Terrorists and a Dept of Stopping Terrorists. It's absurd. Much as I like Israel, we give Israel $billions in aid, while simultaneously running a $10B trade deficit with them. That's entirely insane. It would be like giving money to China.

And then we get into the equally absurd stretching of the Constitutition which we wouldn't have to do with a non-interventionist foreign policy. The entire Purple Heart Conservative philosophy is designed around digging ditches, then filling ditches, then digging ditches, then filling them. But by creating terrorists, they can rationalize the NSA, just like making drugs illegal rationalizes the DEA and Border Patrol. The more problems they cause, the more we must give them for solutions. All the while, they have the rationale to break the Constitution because...does it sound familar......"never let a crisis go to waste".

The Republicans have finally because leftists. They simply have a different style.

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John Ashman
on August 28, 2013 at 19:55:31 pm

"The administration recoils from Bushian bluntness, and in so doing emphatically rejects George Orwell’s advice regarding the importance of precision in language."

It's difficult to make this criticism if you wish to conflate war between countries, with an act of vengeance or preemption. It would be arguably more accurate to call terrorism "political crime". This is the same kind of word-bending done by the left when they call any sexual assault "rape" or call neo-socialists "liberals". Both sides are equally guilty of this kind of Critical Theory word abuse and political correctness. I do recall that anyone who didn't wear a flag pin was suddenly not a "patriot" and therefore an America hater. This was a low point in politics. This kind of PC statism and indoctrination is precisely what leads to our terrorism attracting foreign policy.

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John Ashman
on August 29, 2013 at 20:28:35 pm

Before Orwell the great Chinese philosopher Confucius said 2,400 years ago when asked what would be his first action if he were placed in charge of the government of China:

"It would certainly be to correct language. If language is not correct then what is said is not what is meant. If what is said is not what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone. If this remains undone, then morals and acts deteriorate. If morals and acts deteriorate, justice will go astray. If justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence, there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything."

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E.Patrick Mosman

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