NOTHING WRONG WITH TOUTING GOOD NEWS…. According to Iraqi officials today, two key leaders of the insurgency — Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and a “somewhat mythic figure who has operated under the name Abu Omar al-Baghdadi” — were killed in a joint raid launched by U.S. and Iraqi forces. American military officials confirmed Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s announcement.
Regular readers may recall that I’ve frequently argued that the White House has done far too little to brag about these major counter-terrorism success stories. I was delighted, then, to see Vice President Biden talk up the developments in Iraq.
Vice President Joe Biden took no questions Monday during his brief Briefing Room appearance at the White House. He was there to drive a message, not discuss. Iraqi security forces, with U.S. military support, had killed the two most senior leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq, operational leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri and spiritual leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. “Their deaths are potentially devastating blows to Al Qaeda in Iraq,” Biden said.
Good. A strategy memo published in March encouraged the White House be more aggressive in highlighting successes like these, encouraging officials to “hype hit lists and body counts.”
That strikes me as a politically sound strategy. Nearly “three times as many terrorists were killed in Obama’s first year as there were in all of President Bush’s second term,” but the vast majority of the public has no idea that this is true.
Indeed, recent successes on counter-terrorism are one of the best-kept secrets in American politics today. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s top military commander, was captured. High-profile terrorists have been killed — Hakimullah Mehsud, Baitullah Mehsud, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan — while many more have been arrested — Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi.
For 14 months, President Obama and his team have been very reluctant to exploit these counter-terrorism victories. That’s admirable, to be sure. But a little chest-thumping now and then is hardly out of the question. If the White House doesn’t draw more attention to their victories, the public may not hear about them. Worse, when GOP hacks suggest the administration isn’t “tough” enough, a lot of the public may not realize immediately how idiotic the rhetoric is.
Biden’s remarks today were heartening, both as a matter of national security, and as a matter of political strategy.