AEIdeas » Marc Thiessen The public policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute Fri, 25 Apr 2014 00:15:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Yemen drone strikes are nothing to celebrate Wed, 23 Apr 2014 15:08:29 +0000 read more >]]> The Obama administration has reportedly launched two drone strikes in Yemen and news stories indicate that the principal target was Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, the al Qaeda master bomb-maker behind the failed Christmas Day 2009 airliner attack as well as other failed attacks — including the foiled plot in 2012 to bring down a US bound airliner that had been apparently timed for the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death.

It is still unclear if they got al-Asiri, but if they did it would be a tragedy not a triumph.

No one is weeping for a dead terrorist, mind you. If dead, al-Asiri got the justice he deserved. But if a drone strike has indeed vaporized this ingenious terrorist intent on attacking the United States, it has also vaporized all the vital intelligence inside his brain.

We need that intelligence to keep the country safe.

Last May, following the disruption of the 2012 airliner attack, I published a column in the Washington Post entitled “Mr. President, please don’t kill this terrorist.” Rather than killing al-Asiri, I argued, we ought to capture him alive and interrogate him.

So what has been lost if al-Asiri has indeed been killed? Plenty. Here’s just some of what al-Asiri could have told US intelligence officials if captured alive for questioning:

  • “Who’s who”— al-Asiri could identify the couriers, financiers, operators, commanders, supporters and facilitators who make the AQAP network run, as well as the phone numbers, e-mail addresses and kunyas (or code names) they use so that we can track them down
  • “What’s where” — he could tell us the locations of AQAP safe houses, arms caches and training camps, as well as the ports of entry the terrorists use to move in and out of Yemen
  • “What’s what” — he could tell us about AQAP’s organizational structure, its hierarchy, its personnel strength, its view of how the battle is going and the state of the organization’s morale
  • “What’s next” — he could tell us the plots AQAP has set in motion and the operatives he has trained and deployed to carry them out

This last bit of information is critically important. According to CNN, “senior American officials say [al-Asiri] has also trained others in al Qaeda in advanced bomb-making, so his techniques may survive should he be killed in a drone strike.”

In other words, taking him out does not remove the threat al-Asiri poses — because his protégés will carry on his work. Capturing him alive, by contrast, could lead us to those protégés and so we can eliminate the threat they pose as well.

Capturing him alive would also preserve the valuable “pocket litter” he possesses that could provide key leads. According to former CIA counterterrorism chief Jose Rodriguez, author of the new book Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, “Al-Asiri’s capture could yield intelligence from phones, computers, paper records and fingerprints, which would help locate bombs he has created, bombers he has dispatched, new bombmakers he has trained and potential targets he had identified.”

If al-Asiri has in fact been killed by a drone, all this vital intelligence has been destroyed.

This is the problem with the Obama drone campaign. The president kills almost every high-value terrorist he locates. This is perfectly legal, but strategically insane — because in the process he is blowing up the very intelligence we need to protect the country.

So killing al-Asiri may feel good, but it may also help al Qaeda preserve its secrets and carry out the next attack.

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New poll suggests health-care reform may have hurt Obama’s credibility Thu, 17 Apr 2014 20:16:56 +0000 read more >]]> A new Fox News poll released last night has some stunning findings — 84% of Americans believe that Obama lies to them on important matters.

The Fox poll asked “How Often Does Barack Obama Lie To The Country On Important Matters?” The answer:

Most Of The Time: 37%
Some Of The Time: 24%
Only Now & Then: 20%
Never : 15%

This is not, mind you, a question of whether the president tells little lies. Americans were asked whether he lies on “important matters.” 84% said he does.

More devastating still, the number of independents who say Obama lies “most of the time” on important matters is whopping 40% (another 22% say he lies “some of the time” and 25% say he lies “now and then”).

That is a total of 87% of independents who believe Obama lies to them on important matters.

Even 66% of Democrats say that Obama lies to them on important matters (13% “most of the time,” 25% “some of the time,” and 28% “now and then”).

Moreover, 70% of liberals say Obama lies to them on important matters (16% “most of the time,” 24% “some of the time,” and 30% “now and then”) as do 83% of conservatives (49% “most of the time,” 26% “some of the time,” and 14% “now and then”).

Only 15% of Americans say Obama never lies on important issues — just 31% of Democrats, 4% of Republicans, and 8% of Independents.


The poll shows the devastating effect of Obama’s “you can keep your plan, you can keep your doctor” lie. Presidents can recover when they make mistakes — Americans are very forgiving and willing to give their leaders a second chance. But when people believe you lie to them on important matters, it is hard to recover. When you are caught in a big lie, people tend to tune you out — which makes it extremely hard to make your case and rebuild public support.

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Best of the foreign policy blogs (4/5-4/11) Fri, 11 Apr 2014 15:44:06 +0000 read more >]]> Here is the best of what AEI’s foreign and defense policy scholars are reading this week:

Robert Kaplan in the New York Times warns, Anarchy on Land Means Piracy at Sea

Rep. Paul Ryan in RealClearDefense offers A Clear Choice on Defense

David Petraeus and Vance Serchuk in the Washington Post write, U.S. Needs to Plan for the Day After an Iran Deal

Mike Gonzalez in the National Review Online on Sending Ideas to Cuba

Geoff Porter in the New York Times writes, Keeping an Eye on Algeria

Zachary Keck at the Diplomat asks Is India About to Abandon its No-First Use Nuclear Doctrine?

Adam Garfinkle at the American Interest asks, Is the Red Line Back?

Michael Gerson at the Washington Post on Remembering and Learning from Rwanda’s Victims

Jonathan Tobin at Commentary Magazine on What Peace Looks Like… and Requires

Daniel Nisman in the Wall Street Journal writes, Chemical Assad

And finally, here is a clip from Monday’s 20th commemoration of the Rwandan genocide:

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Former top Obama CIA official defends interrogation program Mon, 07 Apr 2014 18:04:37 +0000 read more >]]> While media coverage has focused on former deputy CIA director Michael Morell’s testimony on Benghazi last week, Morell also gave fascinating testimony on another subject — the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program.

During an interview with Charlie Rose, Morell was asked about the report by Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Diane Feinstein alleging that no valuable information came from the CIA’s interrogation of captured al Qaeda leaders. Morell was prepared for the question, and had a brilliant and impassioned defense of the effectiveness and morality of the CIA’s actions. Here is part of what he said:

One of the interesting things, Charlie, is that some of the very people who are criticizing this program today were the ones who were briefed on it previously, and did not oppose it… The Department of Justice deemed that these techniques were legal … they deemed that these techniques were not torture. So it actually drives me crazy when people call it torture…. Calling it torture means that my officers tortured people. When my people used these techniques, the Department of Justice said this was not torture.

The effectiveness of this program has been questioned in terms of generating unique intelligence. I believe that the program was effective….

When we questioned Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about Abu Ahmed, the courier who eventually took us to bin Laden, he denied knowing Abu Ahmed. When he went back to his cell, we were monitoring him, and we heard him tell other detainees ‘Don’t say anything about the courier. Nobody say anything about the courier.’ That’s important information….

I’ve really studied this, and I believe the techniques were effective. I’ve looked at the information provided by detainees prior to the techniques and the information provided after the use of the techniques…. The information they provided prior to the techniques was limited, vague, not specific. After the techniques? Volumes of information, specific, actionable. There is a big difference.

So this is why this is not easy. The people who say it was not effective want this to be easy. Legal and effective. Then you get to the morality question. You get to the question of: is it okay to do these kinds of things to other human beings? And reasonable people can differ on that. And there is a reasonable debate to be had. But it’s very important, I think, for the American people to understand that when you have that debate about whether it’s ok to do this to other human beings, you also have to have the debate about the flip side of the coin Charlie, which is: if you don’t use these techniques Americans are going to die. What is the morality of that question?

This defense of the interrogation program is coming from a man being accused by some of protecting Barack Obama on Benghazi – so it cannot be dismissed as partisan.

Morell has read the entire 6,300 page report. He has read the CIA’s rebuttal. And has seen firsthand the intelligence the interrogation program produced. He knows it was effective.

And he hits the nail on the head in explaining why Feinstein and company are so desperate to call into question the effectiveness of the program. They know that if they concede that the interrogation program worked in keeping us safe, they lose the debate with the American people. But in trying to prove that point, they are – in the words of former CIA director Mike Hayden – becoming like “birthers” who deny that Obama is an American citizen and to 9/11 “truthers” who claim that 9/11 was a Bush administration plot.

You can see the full video of his extended answer here:

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Best of the foreign policy blogs (3/29-4/4) Fri, 04 Apr 2014 13:15:10 +0000 read more >]]> Here is the best of what AEI’s foreign and defense policy scholars are reading this week:

Jackson Diehl at the Washington Post considers John Kerry’s Departure From Reality

Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal writes, The Dissing of the President

Clifford D. May in the Washington Times on How the U.S. Put Latin America Up for Grabs

William Pesek at Bloomberg asks, Is China Losing Taiwan?

Henri J. Barkey in the American Interest writes, Erdogan Jumps Out of the Frying Pan, Into The Fire

David Schenker in the Los Angeles Times explains How Syria’s Civil War Threatens Lebanon’s Fragile Peace

Charles Krauthammer at the Washington Post writes, Kerry’s Folly, Chapter 3

John Podhoretz in the New York Post on Why John Kerry’s Mideast Peace Push Collapsed

Peggy Noonan at the Wall Street Journal writes, Russia, the Big Picture

Jeffrey Tayler in the Atlantic lists 10 Tough Questions Obama Needs To Answer On Ukraine

And finally, here is a clip previewing the presidential elections in Afghanistan ahead of Saturday’s vote:


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Best of the foreign policy blogs (3/22-3/28) Fri, 28 Mar 2014 18:13:11 +0000 read more >]]> Here is the best of what AEI’s foreign and defense policy scholars are reading this week:

Leopoldo Lopez in the New York Times discusses Venezuela’s Failing State

Robert Kagan in the Washington Post considers President Obama’s Foreign Policy Paradox

Aaron David Miller in the American Interest on Why Obama Won’t Give (or Get) Much in Saudi Arabia

Robert Gates in the Wall Street Journal on Putin’s Challenge to the West

Bill Gertz at the Washington Free Beacon writes, Warfare Three Ways

Fred Hiatt in the Washington Post asks, Will Obama Rethink his Global Strategy?

Zalmay Khalilzad in the New York Times insists, Stand Up to Russia Now

Dennis Ross in the Los Angeles Times writes, Next Test for Obama: Soothing the Saudis

Bonnie Glaser and Ely Ratner at CNN’s GPS blog ask, Can Asia Prevent its Own Crimea?

Jonathan Mahler at Bloomberg writes, Qatar’s World Cup Is Race Against Death

And finally, here is some late night mockery of Obama and Putin:

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Americans think America is weaker under Obama because…Obama is weaker under Obama Thu, 27 Mar 2014 17:51:04 +0000 read more >]]> A new Fox News poll finds that a majority of Americans believe that the country is weaker since Barack Obama became president:

Some 52 percent of voters think the country is weaker and less powerful today than it was six years ago. That’s three times the 17 percent who say the country is stronger and more powerful. About 3 in 10 think it is unchanged (29 percent).

Last year, 48 percent said weaker, 24 percent stronger and 27 percent unchanged (Feb. 2013).
The number of Democrats saying the country is stronger now has dropped 11 percentage points: it’s 32 percent today, down from 43 percent in 2013. Twenty-two percent of Democrats say the country is weaker and 44 percent say it is the same. …

The poll also shows a significant deterioration in Americans’ sense of security over the past decade. In 2004, by a 35-point margin, more voters said the U.S. was safer than before 9/11. In 2010, nearly two years into Obama’s first term, the margin had narrowed to 23 points. Now the spread is down to 10 points: 49 percent think the country is safer today, while a record-high 39 percent say it is less safe.

Furthermore, the number that believes the U.S. is the world’s “most dominant power” has dropped 26 points since 2002: 85 percent felt that way then, while 59 percent say the same today.

There’s a reason why a majority say the country is weaker and less powerful than it was six years ago — because we are weaker and less powerful than we were six years ago.

Just a few weeks ago, the Ukrainian Prime Minister came to Washington seeking military aid to defend his nation. He asked for arms, ammunition and intelligence. You know what we gave him? MREs. As in Meals-Ready-to-Eat. Food rations. He asked for RPGs and got MREs instead. You can’t make this stuff up.

What kind of signal does that send to the world?

And that is just the latest sign of weakness. Think of what we have seen in the past few years: In Libya, we saw the birth of the doctrine of “Leading from Behind.” In Syria we saw the administration threaten “unbelievably small” military strikes that would be “just muscular enough not to be mocked” (their words) and then fail to follow through. In Washington, we see a president who constantly talks of withdrawal so we can focus on “nation-building here at home,” reduces the Army to pre-World War II levels, and almost never makes the case for American leadership in the world. And now in Ukraine we’ve seen the Obama administration stand by helplessly while Russia invades and annexes Crimea in the most blatant act of aggression on the European continent since the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968.

It’s little wonder that Americans believe Obama is weak. And if Americans believe that Obama is weak, you can bet that Vladimir Putin does as well.

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How Snowden is helping Putin in Ukraine Mon, 24 Mar 2014 19:40:04 +0000 read more >]]> In June 2013, The Guardian revealed that, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the NSA had intercepted the communications of then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.  According to the classified document — “Russian Leadership Communications in support of President Dmitry Medvedev at the G20 summit in London — Intercept at Menwith Hill station” — the NSA had discovered “a change in the way Russian leadership signals have been normally transmitted.”

In other words, the documents Snowden stole (yes, that is the correct word) from the United States government contained highly classified intelligence detailing the NSA’s collection capabilities against the Russian presidency – information that is now in Moscow’s hands.

Fast forward to this morning. The front page of the Wall Street Journal reports:

U.S. military satellites spied Russian troops amassing within striking distance of Crimea last month. But intelligence analysts were surprised because they hadn’t intercepted any telltale communications where Russian leaders, military commanders or soldiers discussed plans to invade.

America’s vaunted global surveillance is a vital tool for U.S. intelligence services, especially as an early-warning system and as a way to corroborate other evidence. In Crimea, though, U.S. intelligence officials are concluding that Russian planners might have gotten a jump on the West by evading U.S. eavesdropping….

Some U.S. military and intelligence officials say Russia’s war planners might have used knowledge about the U.S.’s usual surveillance techniques to change communication methods about the looming invasion. U.S. officials haven’t determined how Russia hid its military plans from U.S. eavesdropping equipment that picks up digital and electronic communications.


Some, like House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, have declared that Snowden is “under the influence of Russian intelligence services.” To what extent he may be actively helping the Russians defeat US collection efforts remains unknown – at least to the general public.

But this much we do know: the secrets he has leaked publicly have aided Russia, by exposing the fact that the NSA had successfully penetrated the communications of the Russian presidency – a revelation which undoubtedly led Russian intelligence to take countermeasures to protect those communications.

That means – whether directly or indirectly – Edward Snowden is helping Vladimir Putin in his unlawful invasion of a sovereign nation. How does that make him a hero, or a champion of civil liberties?

We do not yet know whether Snowden is a stooge, a traitor or both — but he is without question a criminal.

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Gallup: More Americans care about hunger and homelessness than illegal immigration or terrorism Fri, 21 Mar 2014 13:58:15 +0000 read more >]]> When Gallup recently asked Americans what national problems they most worry about, much of the press coverage focused on the finding that only 49% are worried about climate change — an issue on which Democrats seem to be spending a lot of time and political energy.

But here is the one statistic from the Gallup survey that did not get a lot of attention, but should — especially for Republicans:

Of the top 15 problems Americans say they are most worried about, hunger and homelessness came in at #5 in the Gallup rankings — with 76% reporting that they worry a great deal or a fair amount about those who do not have enough to eat or a place to sleep.

Hunger and homelessness came in ahead of a host of issues on which the GOP spends a lot of time and energy — including the size and scope of the federal government (68%), the availability and affordability of energy (67%), the possibility of a future terrorist attack in the US (63%), and illegal immigration (57%).

Even more interesting, Americans’ concern about hunger and homelessness is nearly universal:

  • 72% of Republicans worry a great deal or a fair amount about hunger and homelessness, as do 71% of independents and 85% of Democrats.
  • So do 70% of conservatives, 76% of moderates, and 84% of liberals.
  • So do 75% of college graduates, 72% of those with some college, and 78% of those with a high school diploma or less.
  • So do 73% of young Americans aged 18-34, 78% of middle-aged Americans 35-54, and 79% of those who are 55 or older.

In other words, pretty much everyone worries about the poor and vulnerable.

Granted there are differences in intensity. For example, 58% of non-whites worry “a great deal” about hunger and homelessness, compared to 38% of whites.  And 65% of liberals worry “a great deal” about it compared to 37% of moderates and 32% of conservatives.

But in no group (except those with some college) does the number who say they are “only a little” worried about hunger and homelessness exceed 20%.

And in no group (except young people) does the number who say they are “not at all” worried even reach double digits.

So when Mitt Romney declared during the 2012 campaign “I’m not concerned about the very poor” that sentiment resonated with precisely … 6% of the American electorate.

Not a winning message.

Romney went on to explain that “We have a safety net to help those that are very poor . . . My focus is on middle-income Americans.” The problem with that is middle-income Americans are concerned about the very poor. And they want leaders who share that concern.

If Republicans abandon the poor to the Democrats and focus only on helping the middle class, they will hurt the poor — because Democrats have all the wrong answers for the problems of poverty. But they will also hurt themselves. Because no one, in the middle class or any class, wants to support a party that does not care for the most vulnerable among us.

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Best of the foreign policy blogs (3/8-3/14) Fri, 14 Mar 2014 17:53:30 +0000 read more >]]> Here is the best of what AEI’s foreign and defense policy scholars are reading this week:

Michael Oren at CNN argues, Russia is Playing a Weak Hand Very Strongly

Rebecca Zimmerman at US News & World Report writes, Stuck Between a Rock and the ‘Zero Option’

Sen. Robert Menendez in the Washington Post argues, Russia’s Aggressive Behavior Can’t Go Unchecked by the US

Oleksandr V. Turchynov in the New York Times delivers Kiev’s Message to Moscow

Lee Smith at the Weekly Standard writes, Strike Syria

Sen. Rob Portman in Forbes on why Events in Ukraine Show Need for a New American ‘Reset’

John B. Judis in the New Republic writes, Speak Loudly and Carry a Small Stick

Jonathan S. Tobin at Commentary Magazine considers The Danger of Ignoring Iran’s Threats

Gregory Jones in the National Review discusses Iran’s Arak Reactor and the Plutonium Bomb

William Kristol at the Weekly Standard writes, War-Weariness as an Excuse

And finally, here a video clip of Russian troops conducting new military exercises near the Ukrainian border:

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