President Barack Obama arrives in the East Room of the White House in Washington, June 2, 2015. 
Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP

The scope of Obama’s counter-terrorism successes

Whenever the political world’s attention turns to matters of national security and terrorism, Republican criticisms of President Obama feature familiar talking points. The president isn’t “aggressive” enough, they say. His approach must be “tougher,” like the policies adopted by the Bush/Cheney administration.
 
Obama’s counter-terrorism policies are so ineffective, the right insists, that the White House won’t even use the specific words – “radical Islamic terrorism” – that Republicans demand to hear.
 
But the gap between GOP rhetoric and national-security reality continues to grow. We learned yesterday, for example, that a U.S. airstrike killed Nasir al-Wuhaysh, al Qaeda’s No. 2 official – and the top guy in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As Rachel noted on the show last night, his death is a “huge deal,” especially given the terrorist plots al-Wuhaysh has helped oversee.
 
NBC News had a helpful report yesterday on the frequency with which U.S. strikes have successfully targeted al Qaeda’s top leaders.
Since Navy SEALs killed [Osama bin Laden] in 2011, American drone strikes have taken out seven potential candidates to succeed him as the leader of what was once the most-feared terror gang.
 
The targeted attacks started within weeks of bin Laden’s death. Three al Qaeda higher-ups were killed in June, August and September of 2011, followed by another three in late 2012 and early 2013…. Now, the death of 38-year-old Wuhayshi – killed in a strike on Friday – is seen by American intelligence officials as a major blow to al Qaeda, which is struggling with decimated ranks and ideological competition from the Islamic State.
I’m reminded of this piece in The Atlantic last fall, when Jeffrey Goldberg, hardly a liberal, wrote, “Obama has become the greatest terrorist hunter in the history of the presidency.”
 
It’s a detail Republicans simply don’t know what to do with, so they ignore it and pretend the president is indifferent to matters of national security, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. While GOP officials and candidates continue to insist that what really matters is word-choice, Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy includes so many successes, they no longer generate much attention. Notice, for example, just how little chatter al-Wuhaysh’s death garnered yesterday.
 
There is, of course, an entirely different side of the debate. Yes, Republican rhetoric is divorced from reality. Yes, Obama has successfully targeted a wide variety of prominent terrorist leaders.
 
But there are all kinds of related questions that often go overlooked: do U.S. strikes deter or prevent future terrorist threats? Is the U.S. policy entirely consistent with the law? What are the implications of a policy reliant on drones? Should Americans expect the current national-security policy to remain in place indefinitely? What happens when one terrorist leader is killed, but he’s replaced by someone worse?
 
Rachel talked to NBC News foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin last night in a segment that’s worth your time if you missed it:
 
The Rachel Maddow Show, 6/16/15, 9:35 PM ET

US drone killing of al Qaeda leader elevates terror mastermind

Ayman Mohyeldin, NBC News foreign correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about the death of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s second in command, Nasir al-Wahishi, and the new leader, Qassim Al-Raimi, mastermind of past terror plots against the U.S.
 

Al Qaeda, Barack Obama, Counter-Terrorism and War On Terror

The scope of Obama's counter-terrorism successes