Touting a strong counterterrorism record

TOUTING A STRONG COUNTERTERRORISM RECORD…. We’ve talked a bit lately about the Obama administration’s record on counter-terrorism, and how the president has quietly established a strong national security profile. I say “quietly” because it hasn’t garnered much attention, but there’s ample evidence that “al Qaeda and its ideology of global jihad are in a pronounced decline,” some key international terrorist targets have been killed by U.S. forces, and federal officials have taken would-be domestic terrorists into custody.

It seemed reasonable, then, for President Obama to highlight this record at the National Counterterrorism Center earlier today.

President Obama said on Tuesday that Al Qaeda has “lost operational capacity” after a series of recent missile strikes and special forces raids, but vowed to continue pressing the battle to cripple the network around the world and protect America from future terrorist attacks.

During a visit to the National Counterterrorism Center just outside Washington in McLean, Va., Mr. Obama hailed successes against Al Qaeda and its allies “especially in recent months and days.” He cited in particular the arrest of Najibullah Zazi, an American who authorities said was trained by Al Qaeda in Pakistan in preparation for an attack in the United States.

“Because of you, and all the organizations you represent,” Mr. Obama told employees at the center, “we’re making real progress in our core mission — to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda and other extremist networks around the world.”

Citing a counterterrorism expert, Mr. Obama added: “Because of our efforts, Al Qaeda and its allies have not only lost operational capacity, they’ve lost legitimacy and credibility.”

Now, there is a worthwhile debate to be had over the legal mechanisms the administration has used to establish this record. Opinions among credible observers vary — the estimable Glenn Greenwald argues today that the president and his team have “aggressively defended, justified and embraced the overwhelming bulk of Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies,” while the equally estimable A.L., who tends to agree with Glenn on these issues, argues that “equating Obama’s policies with those of the Bush administration fundamentally obscures the most dangerous and deplorable elements of the Bush/Cheney approach to terrorism policy.” I’d encourage readers to check out both of their pieces.

But from a purely political perspective, I’d just add that the right is fond of arguing that President Obama simply doesn’t take counter-terrorism seriously. Some conservatives have gone so far as to say the White House has decided not to “worry so much about terrorism.” The success stories, which the president was right to tout today, point to a record the administration doesn’t usually talk much about, but which conservatives should find enviable.