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Michael Maccoby
Scholar

Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership. He is the author of The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow.

Our need to feel protected

In deciding how to treat and try terrorists, Attorney General Eric Holder insisted on insulating his department from political considerations but was forced to retreat because of public outcry. What leadership lessons should he draw upon in trying to balance the sometimes-conflicting demands of legal legitimacy and political legitimacy?

The idea that Eric Holder has tried to insulate his department from political considerations is the invention of a few media commentators.

From the day Holder took office, every decision he has made about prosecuting al Qaeda terrorists has been influenced by politics. Initially, he declared that terrorists would have Constitutional rights and be tried in civilian courts. The public response was generally positive, a reaction against the Bush administration's "torture" of prisoners at Gitmo. Europeans applauded this decision which possibly contributed to Obama's Nobel peace prize. The reaction in the Middle East was also good. Many people thought that this decision would undercut al Qaeda's propaganda and recruitment message.

Holder and the Obama administration must have anticipated political benefits from its decision. What changed, what they could not expect, was the foiled al Qaeda attempt to blow up a plane of Christmas day. The Republicans saw an opportunity to make political gains by claiming that Holder and Obama were soft on terrorism because they permitted the FBI to interrogate the Nigerian suspect and to give him Miranda rights.

In fact, the Republicans ignored the fact that the Bush administration had allowed the FBI to proceed in this way with a number of al Qaeda terrorists. Their attack, amplified by the media, portrayed Holder as indecisive and naïve. Holder understands politics, but he lost this round.

All cabinet members have a political role: to further the president's policy within the guidelines of the law. To do so, they must be able both to interpret the law and sense how the public is likely to respond to their actions. Legal experts have debated whether terrorists should be tried as criminals, with Constitutional rights, or as prisoners of war to be tried by military tribunals. An anxious public has no doubt that the terrorists are soldiers in the al Qaeda army. Effective leaders transform fear into resolve by acknowledging it and attacking its cause.

By treating terrorists as criminals with Constitutional rights, Holder gives fuel to the president's political enemies who are firing up public anxiety and calling him weak on terrorism. Holder's policy thus makes it harder for the president to achieve his goals.

In time of war, past presidents have trampled on the Constitutional rights of American citizens. For example, Lincoln famously suspended habeas corpus, arresting and not charging thousands of Civil War opponents, and FDR ordered Japanese-Americans into concentration camps.

One can argue whether or not these acts were justified. But most of the terrorists going to trial are not citizens and have been sent to kill Americans by an avowed enemy. I can think of no compelling reason for Holder to ignore his role as a political leader who should be strengthening the administration by responding to the public's need to feel protected from America's enemies.

By Michael Maccoby

 |  February 17, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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"Protect us from our enemies"

America's enemies are the Republican Party and the Lunatic Fringe of the Reichwing. They are more of a "THREAT" that the Taliban, or Al Qaeda. They are the enemy from within this Nation.

Posted by: austininc4 | February 17, 2010 3:46 PM
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Maybe Maccoby shouldn't have skipped civics.

>But most of the terrorists going to trial are not citizens and have been sent to kill Americans by an avowed enemy.

The Constitution guarantees citizens and non-citizens the same freedoms from arbitrary arrest, cruel and unusual punishment, etc. It's irrelevant that they were "sent by an avowed enemy". Did Timothy McVeigh or the 1993 bombers lose their right to counsel because they not only avowed, but tried to kill as many people as possible? Of course not. Did Jeffrey Dahmer lose his constitutional rights because he engaged in heinous acts? No, he did not. (And still these criminals, including terrorists, were sentenced to harsh penalties.)

"I can think of no compelling reason for Holder to ignore his role as a political leader"

Holder's oath was to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; ..." -- I guess Maccoby falls into the "domestic" category.

" who should be strengthening the administration by responding to the public's need to feel protected from America's enemies."

What kind of dumb, chest-beating macho argument is that? Be strong by responding to a perceived need to violate the Constitution?

Assuming a majority of Americans were indeed in favor of taking away the constitutional rights of defendants, Holder's role is to DEFEND the Constitution, not the opposite -- no matter what the propaganda-whipped public thinks.

Posted by: poGhoh3K | February 17, 2010 3:44 PM
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I personally would rather not live in a police state. There will always be risk in life, and there is NO way to eliminate it all.

Given a choice, which I was NOT, I would rather have freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly - rather than Homeland Security and a shredded Constitution.

One guy, whose father TOLD US that his son was mixed in with the wrong crowd, and who ultimately FAILED his attempt (although not because our "intelligence" groups were on the ball), should not dictate our security policy. The guy is just a convenient excuse to critize the President for not being a "Bush-lite" clone.

Posted by: shadowmagician | February 17, 2010 1:53 PM
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"I can think of no compelling reason for Holder to ignore his role as a political leader who should be strengthening the administration by responding to the public's need to feel protected from America's enemies."

And there's the difference between you and I: you want our political leaders to make the public "feel protected from America's enemies." I want them to use their expertise to actually make the public more protected. It's clear that you and the partisan fear-mongers like yourself don't understand the difference.

"Leadership" indeed.

---

So glad I no longer pay for WaPo content. The sooner you're out of business, the better for the public discourse.

Posted by: antontuffnell | February 17, 2010 1:52 PM
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I note that one of the poster children for the "liberal mainstream media" has provided a forum for yet another fear-mongering piece of right-wing hackery. An "expert" on leadership informs us that there is "no compelling reason" for the Obama administration to follow Constitutional and legal principles so that, instead, they may feed the "public's need to feel protected from America's enemies." How utterly contemptible.

Posted by: ozma1 | February 17, 2010 12:58 PM
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Protecting this country would be lots easier if we didn't have to defend ourselves from the enemies within - Limbaugh, Faux News and the GOP. They have done more damage to this country than all our foreign wars AND terrorists from outside. Arresting Cheney and 43 would be a good start and shutting down the Republican disinformation network.

Posted by: BigTrees | February 17, 2010 12:46 PM
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Name calling and your attitude is what is going to get the Dems blown out in November. We Independents are sick of being called stupid, hacks, liars (did I miss any of your elementary insults).
------

ever watch Fux news?

Posted by: kkrimmer | February 17, 2010 12:27 PM
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To AIPACiswar,

Name calling and your attitude is what is going to get the Dems blown out in November. We Independents are sick of being called stupid, hacks, liars (did I miss any of your elementary insults). You need to get off your high horse and try some independent thinking for a change. You are stuck on your political position and can't argue any issues without calling anyone who disagrees - names.
You resonded to me twice because you hate the fact that everyone is going to page down and read my remarks that actually show some independent thinking.
Keep selling that one party line and see how far that gets you in November.
Any intelligent response to my points have not been received yet. No more coffe for you!

Posted by: Independent23 | February 17, 2010 11:57 AM
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Title should read; GOP Koolaid Addicts Need to "Feel" Protected.

Then, Maccoby could tell us all about the intractable 15% of America who suddenly "feel protected" when winked at by Caribou Barbie, or when right wing radio lists who to hate.

If the weak and fearful and stupid are the tipping point for how we vote, this nation is doomed.

Posted by: AIPACiswar | February 17, 2010 11:51 AM
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Independent23 - You are both alone, and stupid. Not worth responding to!

Nobody who matters thinks Holder is what you say he is. You're alone on a dead end street on that one. Laughable; coffee comments, who you voted for, who the frig cares who you voted for? You just show you confusion.

Posted by: AIPACiswar | February 17, 2010 11:41 AM
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WHO "widely recognizes" MacCoby as an expert on leadership, Pearlstein?

He was brought in to blast away at Holder, Pearlstein's favorite thing.

And apparently MaCoby has heard the Woodward statement yet, that the Christimas Bomber turns out to be wildly fearful of being locked up...or in cramped places...

and that the interrogators found that out immediately and knew he would sing. AS HE DID.

In other words MacCoby opines his two cents worth WITHOUT knowing what the hll
is/was the situation. Just Another idiot mouth off.

Posted by: whistling | February 17, 2010 11:30 AM
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Can't expect anything from the WaPo or the New York Times,

or the rest of the Jewish owned pro Israeli
media in the US...

but has anybody read the posts here and all over lately, the last few months? Might be interesting to poll how many people think Israel and it's machinations
and constant shrieking for war is our enemy.

How long are going to just love being used by them. And does anyone suppose Ameridcans don't see the connection between their morrgages defaulting and GOldman Sachs, the great Jewish firm on Wall Street? The claque of Bernie Madoffs?

My own fury is that Americans have so little pride they let Dual Loyalists in Congress. There should be a loyalty oath.

Posted by: whistling | February 17, 2010 11:22 AM
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To AIPACiswar - No more coffee for you today - take a chill pill.
Try to get this: Everyone sees everything through the spectrum of their own politics.
Try considering a more thoughtful approach before you vent your politcal venom here.
Have a nice day - no more coffee for you!

I voted for Obama but he is wrong about this!
These killers should be held and tried at GITMO (period). Any suggestion otherwise is political. When you erase all the politics and posturing GITMO is the solution.
Obama made an ideological decision about GITMO before he knew all the facts. His advisors let him make this mistake for ideological reasons - most unfortunate. Holder is 100% wrong and is a politician posing as AG. Holder should be fired for his political Christmas Day bomber decision.
Beyond just being wrong they want to spend at least a Billion dollars on trials and a new U.S. based Prison - hello.
Why take any chance with any cities security or any citizens security when GITMO is paid for???
Being wrong happens. Dumping a Billion dollars to self satisfy your politics is beyond wrong.
I'll be voting on security issues next election!

Posted by: Independent23 | February 17, 2010 11:17 AM
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If Obama and Holder believe that their prime obligation is to treat terror arrestees fairly, so be it. Give the
"alleged" terrorists rights under the US Constitution and assign them lawyers at taxpayers' expense. The voters will make their own judgment about whether they agree with that move or not at the earliest opportunity- at the ballot box.

Posted by: mhr614 | February 17, 2010 11:00 AM
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Independent23 YOU are the joke! Even your username is a cheap, hack, lie.

Anyway, ignore you!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Maccoby is a rather subtle fear monger who encourages readers to embrace crooked interpretation of justice that play to their sense of retribution not their sense of justice.

This is his twisted logic: "By treating terrorists as criminals with Constitutional rights, Holder gives fuel to the president's political enemies who are firing up public anxiety and calling him weak on terrorism. Holder's policy thus makes it harder for the president to achieve his goals."

So what if it makes it harder for Obama? Write an article disparaging the enemies, not the President or AG! Are you paid off by the GOP?

Holder, in his confirmation hearings, was as professional and non-political as a man can be. He is, in fact, a far better judge of ethical procedures than the writer of this article, Michael Maccoby. Holder is so good in fact, that if we happen to lose a Supreme Court Justice I would expect Holder to be near the top in line as replacement.

The underwear bomber does not constitute an enemy combatant, he is a criminal, same a Tim McVeigh. A couple hundred religious nuts, whether they are in Alabama or Yemen, do not constitute a foreign army. They are religious mafia.

The AG does NOT have the liberty to frog hop around policies, according to how he feels the public will react. He follows the law to the best of his abilities, which we can see are very great indeed.

Posted by: AIPACiswar | February 17, 2010 10:49 AM
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We're not all afraid of al Quaeda. Some of us think that the Christmas bomber, who didn't even know how to use his bomb and sang like a canary after being mirandized, indicates that al Quaeda isn't particularly strong now. Every time that a decision is made on the basis of fear of terrorism, the terrorists win. Some of us don't like that.

Posted by: jlhare1 | February 17, 2010 10:32 AM
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So the principles set out in the Constitution, which protects the rights of "persons" in this country, citizen or not, should be thrown under the bus in the face of partisan political attacks? Is this what we've come to? The christmas would-be bomber committed a crime under US jurisdiction and should be tried as such. Why let the scaredy-pants in the political class undermine the rule of law and our Constitution?

Posted by: cyberwa | February 17, 2010 9:53 AM
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Is this article a joke?
Holder is a politician acting politically. You suggest Holder should not ignore his political role.
He took an oath to protect us. His political decisions have put NYC at risk to make his political point. I'm sorry I don't see any leadership there except political posturing.
If you write any more articles about Leadership better leave the Obama admin out of it.

Posted by: Independent23 | February 17, 2010 9:03 AM
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