PITTSBURGH — President Obama’s re-election makes it easier to continue the war on terror because his political supporters went along with it through his first administration, a Bush-era CIA director said in Pittsburgh on Monday.
Though Obama went after terrorists much like his predecessor, President George W. Bush, Democrats largely accepted his approach, retired Gen. Michael Hayden said. If Republican Mitt Romney had been elected and taken similar steps, protesters would have taken up permanent vigil outside of the White House, Hayden said.
“The real truth — the most powerful truth — is how much alike these two very different presidents have been when it comes to fighting this war,” Hayden said. “Targeted killings, state secrets, indefinite detentions, military commissions. In fact, they both call it a war.”
Hayden spoke to about 50 people at The Duquesne Club, Downtown, where he worked as a doorman and night watchman in 1968. The event was sponsored by The Jamestown Foundation, a nonpartisan counterterrorism think-tank in Washington, and co-hosted by Jim Roddey, former Allegheny County executive, and Dick Scaife, publisher of the Tribune-Review.
Hayden, who grew up in Pittsburgh’s North Side, was CIA director from 2006 until about three weeks into the Obama administration in 2009. During this year’s presidential campaign, he was an intelligence and national security adviser to Romney.
The Arab Spring uprisings throughout the Middle East are a cause for some optimism because the events turned on American ideals such as voting and free speech, Hayden said.
Though the instability that followed allows radicals to grow stronger, he said the chances for a major incident such as the 9/11 attacks are greatly diminished.
“We’re still at war, and these guys are still a danger,” Hayden said. “But future attacks against our homeland will predictably be less complex, less well-organized, less likely to succeed and less lethal if they do.”
Even though Obama got a “free pass” on his counterterrorism tactics in his first four years, liberal Democrats might be more outwardly critical now that he no longer faces re-election, Michael Kenney, international affairs professor at the University of Pittsburgh, told the Trib in a phone interview.
Across the Middle East, meanwhile, the United States must keep up the battle for a pro-democracy narrative, Kenney said.
“The jury is still out on the Arab Spring, and the West needs to realize this is an important opportunity for us,” he said. “The Arab Spring was an important win for democracy and grassroots activism, but we need to follow up on this.”
Security agencies from local police to national defense have worked to reduce the terrorism threat, but they must stay focused on it, Michael Ryan, a Jamestown senior fellow, told the Trib after the event.
“All they have to do is get lucky one time and, depending on the attack, they could create a certain backlash in us that creates a more dangerous situation,” Ryan said.