That's the question I ask in my Washington Times column today on the eleventh anniversary of al Qaeda's heinous terrorist attack on America. We were fortunate to have a sitting president who was equal to the task of combatting global terrorism and reducing America's serious security vulnerabilities by utilizing tactics such as enhanced surveillance, tough interrogations and pre-emptive strikes. What if not George W. Bush, but Barack Obama had been president on September 11, 2001?
First, the Obama administration would have hampered American efforts to fight terrorism by treating Sept. 11 as a criminal matter rather than an act of war. Mr. Obama has populated his administration with officials who argue that the attacks did not begin a state of war, that law enforcement rules should constrain America’s response and that the courts should supervise the war on terrorism. Obama administration officials would have replaced the goal of preventing future attacks by taking pre-emptive action with the criminal law’s focus on investigating and punishing suspects after the fact.
Mr. Obama campaigned for a world where terrorists get the same constitutional rights as garden-variety criminals. He wanted to end military commission trials and send terrorists to ordinary civilian trials. A terrorist would receive Miranda rights to have counsel, to remain uncooperative and to force the government at trial to reveal its vital intelligence secrets. Instead of focusing on efforts to protect our nation from a future attack, military and intelligence officials would secure “crime scenes” on battlefields, take statements from “witnesses,” collect evidence in plastic baggies and secure its chain of custody for transport all the way back to the United States while they operate in a war zone.
Second, the Obama administration would not have the necessary intelligence to prevent another attack. Our only means of preventing future attacks, which could some day involve weapons of mass destruction, is to gain intelligence that permits pre-emptive action. Once attacks occur, it is too late.
Under the Obama administration, CIA interrogators would need to be polite. They would not be allowed to use coercive techniques, threats and promises or even the good-cop, bad-cop routines used in police stations every day. There would be no Guantanamo Bay detention center, no military commissions, no enhanced interrogation program, no terrorist surveillance program and hence no mosaic of intelligence to give us the information that repeatedly has identified potential attacks. That system of intelligence-gathering and analysis provided Mr. Obama with his greatest national security victory by identifying Osama bin Laden’s couriers and following them to his location.
Third, the Obama administration would have undercut the executive responsibility set out by our Founding Fathers. In 2007, Mr. Obama stated, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” As commander in chief and chief executive, the president has broad constitutional authority — indeed, a duty — to protect the nation from foreign attack.