Among Republicans, it’s simply assumed that President Obama and his administration are passive and indifferent when it comes to counter-terrorism. In recent months, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for example, has said the White House’s approach to defeating terrorists is simply “rhetorical,” and barely exists in practice. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) added in November, “I recognize that Barack Obama does not wish to defend this country.”
And yet, reality keeps getting in the way of ridiculous conservative talking points.
The leader of the Taliban has been killed in a U.S. airstrike, officials in Afghanistan said Sunday, setting up a potential succession showdown in the deeply-divided insurgent group.A statement from the Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security was the first official confirmation of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor’s death. It was soon followed by an announcement from Afghanistan’s chief executive – but no acknowledgement from the Taliban.
Earlier this morning, President Obama personally confirmed the Taliban leader’s death, calling it “an important milestone” for Afghanistan, and adding that the United States had “removed the leader of an organization that has continued to plot against and unleash attacks on American and coalition forces.”
This specific airstrike reportedly occurred in southwestern Pakistan, in a province called Baluchistan, which the New York Times described as “the de facto headquarters of the Afghan Taliban.”
Much of the focus now shifts to the future of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the fact that Mansoor reportedly has no clear successor. But it’s also worth pausing to appreciate the recent U.S. record when it comes to counter-terrorism.
As we’ve discussed, there are all kinds of important questions to ask about the White House’s national security policy. Is it meeting its broader objective? Are we deterring and preventing future threats? Are we acting within the rule of law? What are the implications of a policy reliant on drones? Should Americans expect the current national-security policy to remain in place indefinitely?
Policymakers never seem to get to these questions, however, in large part because Republicans (a) prefer to pretend the president is simply indifferent to terrorist threats, and (b) are preoccupied with whether the White House uses specific phrases that conservatives find ideologically satisfying.
Revisiting our previous coverage, however, the fact remains that the Obama administration is responsible for ordering a lot of strikes on prominent terrorist leaders – well beyond the high-profile raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
It wasn’t long ago that the Obama administration confirmed “the death of the Islamic State’s senior leader in Libya, known as Abu Nabil, who was targeted in a Nov. 13 U.S. air strike carried out by F-15 aircraft on a compound in the city of Derna.”
And shortly after that, the Obama administration said a U.S. military strike also killed a senior leader of al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Those strikes came on the heels of U.S. forces killing the al Qaeda operative “in charge of suicide bombings and operations involving explosives,” which followed U.S. forces also killing the top official in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Finding Osama bin Laden’s successor in al Qaeda has been made difficult because President Obama has ordered strikes that have taken out “seven potential candidates” slated to lead the terrorist network.
And this doesn’t even get to the administration’s success in killing the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attack, both of which Obama mentioned Tuesday night.
I’m reminded again of this piece in The Atlantic, in which Jeffrey Goldberg, hardly a liberal, wrote, “Obama has become the greatest terrorist hunter in the history of the presidency.”
And yet, bizarre perceptions linger – most of the public still believes the president hasn’t been “tough enough” – probably because Obama’s conservative critics simply overlook the record, and the discourse plays along. Will the death of the Taliban leader challenge stale assumptions? Recent history suggests it’s unlikely.