President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign was built on the claim that he was not just tough on terrorists, but also he was successful in fighting them. “President Obama has placed the killing of Osama bin Laden at the center of his reelection effort,” began one Washington Post story about the effort.
Vice President Joe Biden was sent out on the campaign trail to repeat the mantra daily: “Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive!”
And it wasn’t just bin Laden. The campaign wanted to emphasize how successful Obama’s strategy was when it came to containing Islamist terrorism. Throughout the 2012 campaign, Obama described al Qaeda as being “on the path to defeat” or “decimated.” One media outlet counted 32 instances of him saying this even after the al Qaeda-linked attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
At a campaign stop in Colorado, he said, “Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq — and we did. I said we’d wind down the war in Afghanistan — and we are. And while a new tower rises above the New York skyline, al Qaeda is on the path to defeat, and Osama bin Laden is dead.”
A seven-minute video that made the case for re-electing Obama includes the now-even-more-outlandish promise that 32 million uninsured Americans would be covered under Obamacare by 2016, along with various other domestic claims. The foreign policy section touted an Obama speech where he said, “and now the war in Iraq is over,” and “for nearly nine years, our nation has been at war in Iraq. As your Commander-in-Chief and on behalf of a grateful nation, I’m finally proud to say these two words, ‘Welcome home.'” Graphics that read, “Iraq War Ended,” and “Libya Liberated” flashed across the screen.
The media carried the message forward. Al Qaeda was on the run. When the GOP presidential nominee talked about Russia being a major geopolitical threat, Obama chided him: “The 1980s are calling, they want their foreign policy back.” Snap! Zing! The media loved it. They bought the claim that Benghazi was not an orchestrated, successful, Islamist terror attack so much as a very good reason to re-evaluate the First Amendment in the U.S. They bought the Sunday morning show talking points and carried the candidate to victory.
Cut to not even two weeks ago when 14 Americans were brutally killed in San Bernardino, California, and another 22 injured by Islamist terrorists Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik. This was the deadliest such terror attack on American soil since September 11, 2001.
There has been a smattering of in-depth media coverage in the aftermath, including local reporting by the Los Angeles Times, and some solid investigations into the federal bureaucracy’s inability to prevent these attacks by The New York Times. But you’d be forgiven for darkly laughing at one wag’s observation from Twitter:
“How The Murder of 14 American Civilians on Our Own Soil Doesn’t Reflect Badly On Obama In Any Way Whatsoever” ~ every article today
Will Antonin (@Will_Antonin) December 7, 2015
Indeed! The media have seemed willing to go in any direction but there. Maybe the problem is people praying to God for mercy, some with actual jobs in the media suggested. Others went to their quasi-religious discussions of gun control. Many have stayed there. Still others have responded to Donald Trump’s every utterance with codependent yelps and squeals. Anywhere, anywhere, but a discussion of Obama’s handling of national security as it relates to Islamist terrorists. Can you even imagine such journalistic avoidance under the Bush administration? Particularly, seven long years into the Bush administration? Let’s look at a few Obama talking points that very quietly took a beating in recent weeks.
Women Can’t Be Terrorists
Shortly after ISIS’ horrifically deadly attack throughout Paris a month ago, Obama responded to concerns about terrorists exploiting refugee and immigration paths to entry to the U.S. In an odd press conference in the immediate aftermath of Paris, the president sounded detached and disinterested, except when he mocked Republicans for expressing such concern. Later, in the Philippines, he revised and extended those remarks. Here’s a sample:
Speaking to reporters Wednesday morning in the Philippines, Obama scoffed at attempts to block refugees following the Paris terror attacks as “political posturing” that “needs to stop.” “Apparently they are scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America,” Obama said of Republicans. “At first, they were too scared of the press being too tough on them in the debates. Now they are scared of three year old orphans. That doesn’t seem so tough to me.”
Whenever he talked about Paris — an attack, which investigators suspect, saw some terrorists exploit refugee systems in Europe — Obama seemed more passionate about making fun of Republicans who worried about terrorists exploiting refugee systems. He kept making the point that women and children are nothing to fear. It’s of course true that most Islamist terrorists are male. But women can also commit acts of terrorism, as was the case in San Bernardino when Malik and her husband killed and injured so many innocent Americans. Obama quickly dropped the taunts about fearing women, but no media called him on it.
We Vet Immigrants Well
Another claim made repeatedly by the Obama administration was that people were stupid idiots to be worried about terrorists exploiting entry pathways to the country on account of how good our vetting is. When the Republicans in Congress worked on a bill to improve the process of vetting refugees from Syria, the White House issued yet another — yet another! — veto threat. The statement began:
The Administration’s highest priority is to ensure the safety and security of the American people. That is why refugees of all nationalities, including Syrians and Iraqis, considered for admission to the United States undergo the most rigorous and thorough security screening of anyone admitted into the United States…. The current screening process involves multiple Federal intelligence, security, and law enforcement agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), State, and Defense, all aimed at ensuring that those admitted do not pose a threat to our country.
And so on and so forth. Media coverage — which included numerous stories trying to guilt critics by making Biblically questionable comparisons with the Holy Family — strongly suggested that skeptics were evil. Either way, if poor, vulnerable refugees are vetted this much, surely we must be vetting regular immigrants even more, right? Bad news. One of the San Bernardino murderers came into the country on a fiancé visa. Her tough application included questions such as, and I’m not joking:
- “Are you a member or representative of a terrorist organization?”
- “Have you ever ordered, incited, committed, assisted or otherwise participated in genocide?”
- “Have you ever committed, ordered, incited, assisted or otherwise participated in torture?”
I mean, what answers do they think they’re going to get? The New York Times further reports that the murderer was openly calling for violence against the U.S., but we totally missed it because of how bad our vetting is:
WASHINGTON — Tashfeen Malik, who with her husband carried out the massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., passed three background checks by American immigration officials as she moved to the United States from Pakistan. None uncovered what Ms. Malik had made little effort to hide — that she talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad. She said she supported it. And she said she wanted to be a part of it… Had the authorities found the posts years ago, they might have kept her out of the country. But immigration officials do not routinely review social media as part of their background checks, and there is a debate inside the Department of Homeland Security over whether it is even appropriate to do so.
ABC News also reported that a “Secret US Policy Blocks Agents From Looking at Social Media of Visa Applicants, Former Official Says.” Remember how much crap we gave President Bush for his “heckuva job, Brownie” comments in the aftermath of Katrina? Well, heckuva job everyone responsible for vetting new Americans. You couldn’t be doing better. A++ work.
But back to Obama. He issued a veto threat after claiming we couldn’t do any better at screening people. Turns out we’re asking them to volunteer information about how bad they are and respecting the “privacy” of their public comments calling for violent jihad. And yet, the media undoubtedly spent 200 times more time talking about whatever a certain floppy-haired presidential candidate muttered than this. Seriously, we saw the media make fun of Trump’s claim that he’d screen Muslim visitors by simply asking them whether they were Muslim. And rightly so, because that’s a plan that makes no sense. It’s also exactly what we were doing to screen out threats — asking people to tell us whether they were one — but the breathless and concerned coverage about the policies of an actual administration currently in power seems notably lacking.
ISIS Is No Biggie, Everything Is Awesome
As we discussed at the beginning, a major theme of Obama’s presidency has been that Al Qaeda’s on the run, ISIS is the JV team, they’re totally contained, and we’re going to stay the course while fighting them. This is quite obviously wrong to everyone outside of most newsrooms. Also, Obama has claimed that we’re out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Except that we’re in no way out of Afghanistan and Iraq. In October, he announced that the U.S. would keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, contrary to the campaign promise he’d end the war there. On December 6, the Los Angeles Times rather softly noted, “The Obama administration quietly announced a significant new escalation in its war against Islamic State last week: It’s deploying U.S. special operations troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria to go after leaders of the Islamist movement.” And yet again, the media aren’t particularly concerned. During the Bush administration, newscasts ended with solemn music and a scroll of the names of men and women who had died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Newspapers ran sections listing the dead. Yet for some reason, the media coverage of the cost of such wars has been eerily quiet, even though 75 percent of the soldiers killed in Afghanistan have been killed during Obama’s time in office.
Protecting The Homeland
A Gallup poll just came out showing that American concern about terrorism has spiked:
Americans are more worried about terrorism than they have been in a long time https://t.co/A2XjpsHCm1 pic.twitter.com/p5zpj5nchK Aaron Blake (@AaronBlakeWP) December 15, 2015
A Wall Street Journal poll shows similar results:
Heightened fear of terrorism is rippling through the electorate, thrusting national-security issues to the center of the 2016 presidential campaign, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released on the eve of Republicans’ latest presidential debate.
Some 40% of those polled say national security and terrorism should be the government’s top priority, and more than 60% put it in the top two, up from just 39% eight months ago.
A whopping 70 percent say the country is “on the wrong track,” and 60 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of ISIS.
Meanwhile, more than 50 intelligence analysts working out of the U.S. military’s Central Command “have formally complained that their reports on ISIS and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria were being inappropriately altered by senior officials, the Daily Beast reported.
The New York Times also reported that classified assessments about ISIS were significantly changed to “mask some of the American military’s failures in training Iraqi troops and beating back the Islamic State. The analysts say supervisors were particularly eager to paint a more optimistic picture of America’s role in the conflict than was warranted.”
And yet too many in the media sound downright Vox-y in their overall analysis of Obama’s foreign policy. This wasn’t even true when Matt Yglesias wrote it on November 16, but here’s how Vox Voxsplains Obama’s foreign policy:
Obama’s excellent record on national security
Consider, for example, the crowd-pleasing high points of Obama on national security. Unlike George W. Bush he really has “kept us safe” and avoided any terrorist attacks on the US homeland.
Even more wrong now than it was November 16.
And yet The Atlantic‘s James Fallows writes this week:
Obama: Chessmaster, not Pawn
Many of the president’s supporters fear that he hasn’t really known what he is doing. Many of his critics worry that he is all-too-skillful at attaining his ends. There’s increasing evidence that the critics may be right.
I think this may be the most obsequious subhead about Obama I’ve read yet: His supporters have a minor criticism that doesn’t dissuade them from supporting him! His critics think he’s a genius! The critics are right!
Even worse, this is the headline and subhead for an article claiming that Obama is totally awesome at foreign policy because of the mere existence of a climate deal; because of rapprochement with Cuba; and because of the Iran deal.
Now, let’s assume he included Cuba because he needed at least three examples. And let’s acknowledge that there are people, such as Fallows, who earnestly believe the Iran deal is not a disaster. The climate deal? Are you kidding? I know it got journalists excited, but there was no risk of not getting a deal, particularly when it demanded so very little of the signers.
In any case, it’s 2015. We’re at war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, helped destabilize Libya and Syria, have seen the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, have no ability to vet visitors and entrants to the country or otherwise protect our borders, and have no coherent strategy for dealing with ISIS. We have a president who actually claims that climate deals are a good way to fight ISIS, and a press that treats this as a reasonable claim to make.
Must be nice to be a Democratic president.