In defense of shameless exploitation

IN DEFENSE OF SHAMELESS EXPLOITATION…. The capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s top military commander, is no small matter. It’s a “major victory.” Given that Baradar is the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the war began, and his role in leading the Taliban’s military operations, this is a success that may very well pay considerable dividends for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

As far as the politics is concerned, it’s worth noting that U.S. leaders were well aware of Baradar’s capture late last week, but deliberately kept the news under wraps in order to help bolster a sensitive and ongoing intelligence-gathering effort. This prompted Juan Cole to note:

[T]hat Joe Biden and others kept the arrest secret, in order to allow further operations against Taliban leaders in Karachi, shows a discipline that Bush and Cheney never had. They were always happy to prematurely release details of ongoing investigations to get a political bump, even if it meant allowing terrorists to escape.

Right. Dick Cheney was blasting the Obama administration on national security over the weekend, and it might have been tempting for Biden and others to use the Baradar capture as evidence that Cheney doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But the White House Grown-Ups knew the ongoing efforts were more important than making Dick the Clown look foolish. As Andrew Sullivan noted, the president and his team “are serious about national security and do not put domestic political games before it.”

And that’s obviously a good thing, which inspires confidence in the administration. That said, Steve M. raises an interesting observation.

[G]uys? You should probably take at least a small victory lap. There has to be something you can do that’s more than stoic silence but still well short of the “Mission Accomplished” flyboy stunt. At least send Biden to the morning shows to talk about the capture … subtly, but with pride.

That seems pretty persuasive to me. During the Bush/Cheney era, no counter-terrorism development was too small to trumpet. The arrest of some low-level thug who once said something nice about al Qaeda was reason enough for press conferences and media interviews with high-ranking administration officials. If U.S. officials had helped capture Baradar in the Bush/Cheney era, we’d probably see just about every official you can think of — POTUS, VPOTUS, AG, Defense Secretary, HHS Secretary, NSA, etc. — hitting the airwaves to pat themselves on the back. The goal would be to get a bump in the polls.

Obama and his team are obviously less interested in exploiting counter-terrorism victories for political gain, and prefer to treat Americans like adults, rather than manipulating their fears. As a result, capturing high-profile terrorists (Baradar), killing high-profile terrorists (Hakimullah Mehsud, Baitullah Mehsud, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan), and arresting would-be terrorists (Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi) — all victories that bolster our national security interests — are treated as low-key successes. All in a day’s work.

That’s admirable, to be sure. But a little chest-thumping is hardly out of the question here. If the White House doesn’t draw more attention to their victories, the public may not hear about them.

I can appreciate the president’s mature, sensible restraint as much as the next guy, but the White House is also facing an aggressive misinformation campaign, launched by those who still want to convince Americans that Obama isn’t reliable on national security, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Some understated-but-public appreciation for the men and women in the military and intelligence agencies who make these successes possible seems more than fair.