The sounds of silence

    Has anyone noticed the Republicans’ non-response to the news that the Obama administration has just knocked off the most pivotal player in al Qaeda?Perhaps you didn’t hear about this. On Saturday, counter-terrorism officials announced that a drone attack had wasted the group’s number two, the chief of international operations. Experts are saying that, on the significance scale, this new hit arguably ranks with the hit on Osama bin Laden – because number two man Atiyah abd al-Rahman was in charge of coordinating attacks on the U.S. and Europe, ferrying messages to the rank and file, and keeping all the far-flung affiliates in line. In short, al-Rahman was running al Qaeda. From his base in Pakistan, al-Rahman was, in the reported words of one American official, al Qaeda’s “human Rolodex.”So how nice it would be, at least as a nonpartisan patriotic gesture, if the Republican presidential candidates would see fit to hail this news, to acknowledge that the strategy known as “leadership decapitation” is indeed succeeding as planned, to applaud the fact that the senior ranks of al Qaeda are being systematically shredded. But no. Instead, from the Republicans, we hear the sounds of silence. And it’s hardly a mystery why this is so.Basically, if Republicans can’t tag Obama as a terrorist appeaser, or caricature him as a wuss committed to a “pre-9/11 mindset,” or joke that he’d rather read terrorists their Miranda rights, they aren’t programmed to say anything at all. Confronted with the factual truth that Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy is demonstrably superior to the Bush-Cheney strategy (the latter featured an invasion of the wrong country under false pretenses, far from the al Qaeda epicenter, at a cost approaching $1 trillion), the Republicans are rendered mute.Back in February, a former Bush speechwriter named Marc Thiessen did try to assail Obama’s strategy – he said that Obama, via his increased deployment of drones, was actually killing too many terrorists, thus making it harder for the good guys to gather valuable intel – but that complaint was deemed laughable as soon as it was uttered. And the hit job on bin Laden, three months later, made it clear that the U.S. was gathering good intel all along, even as it continued to launch drones against targeted bad guys.Granted, even though Pentagon chief Leon Panetta said last month that we are “within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda,” the death of al-Rahman won’t erase the terrorist threat. Even without the “human Rolodex,” we still face threats from affiliates, in places like Yemen, who want to act on their own. The affiliates are potentially capable of wreaking havoc without any say-so from a senior guy in Pakistan. But counter-terrorism experts say that the drone successes in Pakistan are proof that the Obama national security team is on the right track in this deadly backstage war. Drone raids have already been stepped up in Yemen and Somalia. (The Bush team launched roughly 40 drone attacks during the final four years of George W.’s tenure; the Obama team, in its first two years, reportedly launched more than four times that number.)No wonder the Republicans stay silent. On the issue of avenging 9/11, how can they possibly outflank Obama on the right? Whacking the top terrorists doesn’t quite jibe with their faux riff about how Obama keeps “apologizing” for America – because here he is launching drones in Pakistan without any advance word to the Pakistani government, much less apologizing for it.The GOP’s current foreign policy confusion is best illustrated by Rick Perry, who sought in a speech yesterday to outline his priorities. The result was incoherence. At times he seemed to embrace the Bush-era neoconservatives who marched us into Iraq (“We cannot concede the moral authority of our nation to multilateral debating societies”), but at other times he seemed to be rejecting the neoconservatives (“I do not believe that America should fall subject to a foreign policy of military adventurism”) while embracing the Obama multilateral approach (“We respect our allies, and we must always seek to engage them in military missions”). Clearly, too many of Perry’s cooks had poured recipes into his head. Most notably, however, Perry also said this: “We must renew our commitment to taking the fight to the enemy wherever they are, before they strike at home.”Well? Isn’t that precisely what Obama is doing, with demonstrable success? Isn’t that what he just did to al Qaeda’s general manager, Atiyah abd al-Rahman?Naturally, Perry didn’t go near that territory. He didn’t utter a word about the hit on al-Rahman, or about the demonstrable success of the drone strategy, because in his pursuit of Obama-hating voters, he pays obeisance to the ironclad Republican rule: When confronted with evidence of an Obama achievement, particularly in the national security realm that Republicans traditionally view as their sacred turf, silence is golden. ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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