Anyone who has borne the responsibility for an organization has, by instinct or experience absorbed a few lessons. A key lesson is that management and leadership are two very different things. Management is the guiding of expertise, planning, analysis and goal setting. Leadership is how you define the context that expertise operates within; ethical and moral parameters, how decisions are made, organizational priorities and philosophical construct. You learn to make judgments based on symptoms, as that is, frequently, all you have to work with. You learn that a big part of leadership is sending messages consistent with your construct. Messages delivered by word and deed.
No one should be surprised that Mr. Abdulmutallab, our failed Christmas bomber was spirited off to the civilian justice system in advance of significant interrogation. While the President, likely, did not make that decision specifically, his organization knowing of the President’s intent to move the likes of Sheik Mohammed to civilian courts got the leadership message. The lead FBI Special Agent probably got a call from the U.S. Attorney advising him to do just that; no specific direction required as the organizational message was already well defined. Attempts at terror are a law enforcement matter, period the end. Getting Mr. Abdulmutallab a lawyer was a concern that overrode following up on his contention that there were “dozens more like him”. Again, a clear message.
It should also come as no surprise that Ms. Napolitano staggered in addressing the attempted bombing. When a world view comes into conflict with reality it can be comprehensively confusing. Wait a minute, we don’t use the word terror anymore, we don’t have a war on terror we have oversees contingency operations, the President reached out to the Muslim world in his Cairo speech, we’re closing Gitmo; why have not these “man made disasters” disappeared? Confusing indeed, if you believe that any of those activities will actually alter the security landscape and mitigate radical ideology!
The President’s contention that members of the intelligence community be prosecuted is a significant message as well. The message that shifting political winds can and will determine what is acceptable. Not performance, not risk taking, not results, not any variety of extraordinary methods or efforts; politics.
Leadership is also reflected in how you react to crisis. The President’s initial reaction was to label Mr. Abdulmutallab as an “isolated extremist”. The message, despite all evidence to the contrary; “it’s not a campaign of terror we face; it’s just these sad misdirected, disconnected souls”. Evidence quickly became so overwhelming that the President felt the need to make another statement, this time addressing Yemen. His first comment and his first instinct was to identify “crushing poverty” in reference to the backdrop of Yemen. Again, a message; it’s not radical ideology and hate; it’s poverty that represents the true nexus of the terror problem. The leadership message to the President’s organization was and is clear and thus defines the manner in which his organization will respond and react.
Leadership is reflected in who you choose to represent your agenda, leading us to Mr. Brennan’s obtuse, oxymoronic appearances on the Sunday shows where he simply could not define what, if any, was the downside to handling Mr. Abdulmutallab as an enemy combatant. Again, no surprises if you maintain some familiarity with Mr. Brennan’s background and former comments. Best to let Mr. Brennan’s comments speak for themselves. On August 6th in a speech titled “A New Approach for Safeguarding Americans” he said:
“Even as we condemn and oppose the illegitimate tactics used by terrorists, we need to acknowledge and address the legitimate needs and grievances of ordinary people those terrorists claim to represent”. It remains unclear exactly what Mr. Brennan considers legitimate needs and grievances. We do, however, know what al Qaeda’s grievances are: are; support for Israel, the presence of Americans in Arab lands, most aspects of American foreign policy and culture, the majority of the current regimes in Arab countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Yemen and the presence of non Muslims in Arab lands. One must wonder which of these concerns bear legitimacy in Mr. Brennan’s world view.
Mr. Brennan rejects connections between violent extremism and Islam adopting the politically correct delineation of Jihad as self directed purification as the correct use of the word and the proper way to consider Jihad. Mr. Brennan has, apparently, not kept up with hundreds of Islamic clerics and fatwa’s that contend exactly the opposite is the true definition of Jihad.
Mr. Brennan’s well know tendency toward Internationalism is reinforced in his comments as he identifies nuclear weapons in the hands of extremists as the most immediate and extreme threat; his answer? “Leading the effort for a stronger global nonproliferation regime, launching an international effort to secure the world’s vulnerable nuclear material…., and hosting a global nuclear summit.” In other words, let’s have a meeting! Mr. Brennan seems to operate with complete ignorance of the often stated self interest of the dangerous players he needs to actually cooperate in his “meetings”.
Mr. Brennan goes on at some length to discuss poverty and education, but ends up drawing a difference without a distinction. He contends that sic “poverty and a lack of education do not cause terrorism, but a lack of education and a job make people more susceptible to the ideas leading to terrorism”. Mr. Brennan is again, a little short on the factual; there are a variety of studies that show poverty and education are not key drivers of radical ideologies. As a matter of fact, it is the Islamic educational structure that operates in primary support of the radicalization process.
Mr. Brennan’s elevation as the President’s Assistance for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism is a symptom that speaks volumes regarding the attitudes of leadership in the White House, but he is, unfortunately, and expectedly just one of many.