Hooking a big fish



The political ramifications of Senator Evan Bayh's imminent goodbye have vastly overshadowed a far more important news development: The capture, by American and Pakistani intelligence forces, of the pivotal bad guy who commands the Taliban's military on the Pakistan side of the border with Afghanistan.

Indeed, that description understates the importance of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, since he not only presides over the Taliban military council, but also reportedly controls the Taliban's treasury (narcotics money, ransom money, things like that), oversees its political activities, and issues its policy statements. In short, he's the biggest fish we've ever hooked in eight years of war in that region. He was captured earlier this month; the New York Times broke the news online late Monday, after holding its story for a number of days, at the White House's request. He's being interrogated by both American and Pakistani intelligence specialists.

All of which prompts me to wonder why there has been so little reaction, over the past 48 hours, from the Republicans who have been busy sloganeering on national security; and who have been seeking, in advance of the '10 elections, to convince voters that the Obama administration has no clue about how to fight the terrorists. Rarely have the usual suspects stayed so mum.

As I mentioned here Monday, a former Bush speechwriter named Marc Thiessen has offered perhaps the most fascinating indictment. He complained back on Feb. 8 that Obama has been killing too many terrorists via his increased use of unmanned drones, and that, by doing so, Obama has made it virtually impossible for the good guys to capture bad guys and thereby extract valuable intelligence. Indeed, Thiessen wrote (without citing any evidence) that Obama "has eliminated the CIA’s capability to capture senior terrorist leaders alive and interrogate them for information."

Perhaps you see the irony: Here was Thiessen, assailing Obama for supposedly eliminating the CIA's capability to capture terrorists alive for purposes of interrogation...and posting his attack at roughly the same time that the CIA, working with its Pakistani counterparts, was capturing a senior terrorist alive for purposes of interrogation.

Indeed, as news reports indicated this week, the CIA has been stepping up its intelligence-gathering operations in Pakistan. And they're able to do this because, by all accounts, the Pakistanis have slowly become more amenable to cooperating with us - thanks to prodding over the past year from national security adviser Jim Jones, Pentagon chief Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Can we now expect the Republicans to admit, in the spirit of bipartisanship, that perhaps they were wrong about Obama's counterterrorism conduct, and that the capture of Baradar is kind of a good thing for America? Dream on. We're just as likely to see a Beatles reunion.

Actually, despite the thundering silence emenating from GOP offices, I have in fact found a few words of approval on at least one prominent conservative blog. Posting at The National Review yesterday morning, commentator Kathryn Jean Lopez coughed up three lines, calling Baradar "a most fruitful capture." Late yesterday, on the same site, Jamie M. Fly called the capture "a coup for the United States," one that "validates the Afghan strategy pursued by President Obama." Cliff May, a longtime neoconservative, wrote on the site that Baradar's capture "is a pretty big deal." And the conservative site Powerline said of the capture: "That's great, and we sincerely congratulate the administration on this accomplishment."

But still, we can only expect so much. Cliff May also quipped that Baradar "probably has a lot to tell - and the Pakistanis will not read him his Miranda rights." And Powerline said of the Obama team, "We can't help noting, though: why didn't they pay for a lawyer and read Baradar his rights?"

Clearly, Obama's conservative critics have to salvage something from this episode, even if it's only rhetorical. One way to do that? Simply move the goalposts. No doubt some of them will soon argue that Baradar's capture will count in the plus column only if the American intel agents agree to poke needles in his eyes between waterboarding sessions, and only if Obama demands that it be aired on C-Span. And if the Obama team fails those new tests, we'll no doubt hear from Dick Cheney very soon.