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Opinion: Is Obama soft on terrorism?

Actually, his approach to terrorism has not been all that different from Bush’s.

A U.S. Army cadet reads a book entitled "Kill Bin Laden" as he waits with other cadets for U.S. President Barack Obama to deliver an address on U.S. policy and the war in Afghanistan at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York Dec. 1, 2009. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

BOSTON — The old cliche is that Americans trust the Democrats with the mommy issues, education, social welfare and the like, but they look to the GOP for the daddy issues, ie. war and foreign affairs. The former vice president, Dick Cheney, is trying to keep this image of the Democrats alive by constantly criticizing President Barack Obama for being soft on terrorism.

The fact is that Obama’s approach to terrorism has not been all that different from George W. Bush’s approach, especially in Bush’s second term when Cheney’s star was waning. Bush's war in Iraq is being wound down, but has not ended precipitously. Unlike the Bush administration, which practiced “ABC” (Anything But Clinton), Obama has not proclaimed that everything Bush did has to go. The exceptions are torture and the Guantanamo prison, and even there Obama has missed his deadline for closing the notorious prison.

The fact is that Guantanamo had become such a symbol of American brutality and lawlessness throughout the world that it made good sense to close it and send the prisoners somewhere else. It is hardly being "soft" if the prisoners are sent to a maximum security installation elsewhere. But there are political obstacles as Americans say they want no Guantanamo prisoners in their back yard.

It also made good sense, if we are to retain any sort of moral high ground against Muslim extremism, to forgo torture. As the GOP’s last presidential candidate, John McCain, once said: We should stop torturing people because of ourselves, not because it benefits our enemies. But then McCain ran against the Bush-Cheney administration’s record as well as against Obama. 

With 30,000 more soldiers surging into Afghanistan, and with an increase in drone attacks, what are the justifications for accusing Obama of being soft? Torture is one. Cheney is for it. But as Cheney himself put it: “It is the mind-set that concerns me. What the (Obama) administration was slow to do was to come to that recognition that we are at war, not dealing with criminal acts.” And flowing from that is the criticism of trying terrorists in civilian courts.

Cheney, and many Americans, believe that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the "underpants bomber" who tried to blow up a plane on Christmas Day, should not have been given any civilian rights, and put straight into military custody to be tried for a war crime.

But let’s look at that closely. Are we at war with Nigeria, from whence Abdulmutallab came? Well, no, Cheney might have said if asked, but we are in a war against terror and Abdulmutallab is a terrorist.