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Opinion: Is Obama soft on terrorism?

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

But what about Timothy McVeigh, the terrorist who blew up a government building in Oklahoma a few years ago? Should he have been tried in military court for war crimes?
Well, he wasn’t a Muslim terrorist, the answer might be.

Are we, then, at war with Muslims? Even Bush went out of his way to say we were not. And for that matter, if we are at war destroying an airplane is perfectly acceptable under the rules of war. How could that be a war crime?

Of course war on terrorism was never an accurate description for anything. Terrorism is a method, not something you can declare war on. The “war” image is often used to mobilize people against something: war on drugs, war on poverty, etc. etc. But it loses its usefulness if it is a war you can never win.

When asked what about Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber" who was tried in civilian court in Boston, in 2001 Cheney said that we didn’t have the repressive laws we have now. “The administration really wasn’t equipped to deal with the aftermath of an attempted attack against the United States in the sense that they didn’t know what to do with the guy,” said Cheney. But now that we have abandoned some civil liberties, according to Cheney, we should not seek to restore them.

It turns out that no harm was done by granting Abdulmutallab his rights. He is reportedly singing like a canary with useful, actionable intelligence. Many would argue that torture can lead the torturers up all sorts of blind allies because people will say anything in order to avoid more pain. Even more pointless, in Cheney’s time harsh interrogations were often based on Communist methods, which were not designed to extract information, but to get show-trial confessions for crimes that not even the interrogators believed the victims had committed.

Many Americans do not want to see a terrorist read his Miranda rights, and, politically, this became a rallying cry. The victory of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, polls show, was influenced by the alleged coddling of the "underpants bomber."

With the capture of top Talib Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar a few days ago, and following the deaths of other Taliban leaders in drone attacks during Obama’s watch, there seems to be no lack of fortitude on Obama’s part. Indeed the escalation of the war in Afghanistan has demoralized some of his anti-war Democratic base.

But the criticism of Obama for softness on terror is not going to go away as long as the politics of fear remains in vogue. It worked very well for Cheney and George W. Bush , and the reality is that if there is a major terrorist attack on this country in the next three years — or perhaps even a minor one — you can count on the politics of fear trumping the politics of hope.