No reward for being a grown-up

NO REWARD FOR BEING A GROWN-UP…. I have no idea if Republicans’ insane attacks against President Obama on counter-terrorism are going to have an effect. The daily tracking polls haven’t shown much of a shift as of yet, but much of the public is enjoying the holiday season and may not be fully engaged in the GOP talking points of the day.

Ideally, Americans would see through the baseless condemnations of the White House, and recognize them for what they are: petty and stupid. But if public attitudes actually start to shift, and wrong-but-loud criticism undermines confidence in the administration’s national security policies, there is an alternative strategy available.

Up until now, the president has chosen a mature, sensible, and effective approach to counter-terrorism. Marc Ambinder had an item over the weekend about the deliberate White House strategy in response to the failed Abdulmutallab plot.

Here’s the theory: a two-bit mook is sent by Al Qaeda to do a dastardly deed. He winds up neutering himself. Literally.

Authorities respond appropriately; the President (as this president is want to do) presides over the federal response. His senior aides speak for him, letting reporters know that he’s videoconferencing regularly, that he’s ordering a review of terrorist watch lists, that he’s discoursing with his Secretary of Homeland Security.

But an in-person Obama statement isn’t needed; Indeed, a message expressing command, control, outrage and anger might elevate the importance of the deed, would generate panic (because Obama usually DOESN’T talk about the specifics of cases like this, and so him deciding to do so would cue the American people to respond in a way that exacerbates the situation. […]

Let the authorities do their work. Don’t presume; don’t panic the country; don’t chest-thump, prejudge, interfere, politicize (in an international sense), don’t give Al Qaeda (or whomever) a symbolic victory; resist the urge to open the old playbook and run a familiar play.

Republicans didn’t care for that approach, and preferred a collective display of pants-wetting. GOP voices and the media decided the strategy to deny terrorists a p.r. victory wasn’t good enough. This was a time for partisan grandstanding, not mature leadership.

Again, maybe Americans will find the president’s approach compelling. They should. But at this point, it seems pretty obvious that the president acting like a grown-up is going over the political world’s head.

There’s apparently an expectation that the president can — and probably should — exploit incidents for as much political gain as possible. So, for example, when U.S. forces, acting on the president’s orders, successfully took out Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, the ringleader of a Qaeda cell in Kenya and one of the most wanted Islamic militants in Africa, the president should appear before the cameras and explain, “Hey, look at me! I took out one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists!” When U.S. forces, acting on the president’s orders, killed Baitullah Mehsud, the terrorist leader of the Taliban movement Pakistan, Obama should assemble reporters to declare, “Booyah! Who’s da man?”

When the Obama administration took suspected terrorists Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi into custody before they could launch their planned attacks, each and every instance requires its own press conference, in which the president can proclaim, “Republicans’ talk is cheap; I’m the one keeping Americans safe.”

The president, by all appearances, finds such shameless politicization of counter-terrorism offensive. And it is. But Republicans are running an aggressive misinformation scheme, and if it’s effective, the White House may need to reconsider whether the public rewards or punishes leaders who act like grown-ups.