What Propaganda War?
The Facts: Obviously we are at war and obviously the President knows at least that much. He's escalated in Afghanistan, and I'm pretty sure he knows they're not playing pattycake over there.
The Propaganda: What we call it, what we call them, is really just propaganda. Republicans confuse American propaganda with an "operating theory of terrorism." I don't know how effective Obama's anti-Radical propaganda is in the Muslim world. But I do think the target of American propaganda should be future generations of Muslims, not American emotions. But Charles Krauthammer calls for a World War II-style propaganda campaign aimed at the American public: "We Are At War!" I don't see the big need for that. We're not asking Americans en masse to make huge wartime sacrifices. We're at war, but there's no draft, no rationing, no war tax (only war deficits). Women aren't manning our factories to replace men who are all in the army. Why should the priority be to propagandize the American public with war rhetoric--as opposed to propagandizing Islam with peace rhetoric to counter al-Qaida's ideology?
The Policies: I guess the tough question is whether the 'soft' propaganda aimed at bolstering diplomacy in the Muslim world lulls the national security team. Krauthammer says:
But a government that refuses to admit that we are at war ... turns laxity into a governing philosophy.
I'm not convinced by that. I don't think you can attribute Napolitano's incompetence to a law enforcement mentality (as opposed to a wartime mentality). Laxity does not describe NYPD or our police commissioner Ray Kelly. You can make a line item critique of Obama's propaganda campaign without dumping the whole Obama Doctrine. For example,
Mirandizing the Christmas Day Bomber: This is bizarre and moronic. So bizarre as to make Obama look like an Isaac Asimov space alien with strange outlier thinking. It's reverse-Kafka: not an individual, but our national security trapped at the mercy of a bureaucracy that has no link to human thought or feeling.
And I don't see the propaganda win here. What's the idea, that Muslims are going to identify with Khalid Sheik Mohammed and judge our attitudes towards lawful Islam by the way we treat Muslims who commit mass murder? I'd be insulted by that if I were a Muslim. That's treating KSM like a Muslim ambassador.
So the broad strokes of Obama's propaganda will work better combined with some action--but not this action. These show trials for enemy combatants are terrible ideas.
War and Terrorism: Terrorism is the by-product of victory in war. Suicide bombings started in the Arab-Israeli conflict only after decisive Jewish victories in the Six Days and Yom Kippur Wars. With no real military power, terrorists try to create the illusion of power through high profile tragedies. No matter how painful the tragedies, we can't fall for that illusion of power. Until the day they acquire WMD's, terrorists can't actually force events through their small explosions. So Krauthammer is extremely wrong--dangerously wrong--when he equates the Christmas bomber with the air power of Imperial Japan!
More jarring still were Obama's references to the terrorist as a "suspect" who "allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device." You can hear the echo of FDR: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- Japanese naval and air force suspects allegedly bombed Pearl Harbor."
That's precisely the illusion of full-scale military power that terrorists try to create, and that Obama resists. Both Lowery and Krauthammer magnify the power of terrorists. It's the same as negotiating with terrorists or recognizing them.
So exactly who is aiding the terrorists? I won't go that far, but Krauthammer's not helping when he demands (1) that we squander propaganda resources on the American public rather than on the Muslim world and (2) that we fall for the terrorists' illusion that small explosions equal military power.