Commentary Magazine


Topic: airline passengers

James Jones: Prepare to Be Shocked by Our Incompetence

The Obama administration’s failure to block the Christmas Day bomber is shocking. They really have messed up. Even though they wouldn’t label it a jihadist attack, Fort Hood was another screw-up. So the Obama team has seen two attacks on the homeland — two more than in all the years following 9/11. We can’t afford a third. Is this the conservative case against Obama? No, this is the administration’s own national security adviser, James Jones, telling us we are going to freak out when we learn what stumblebums they all are. USA Today reports:

White House national security adviser James Jones says Americans will feel “a certain shock” when they read an account being released Thursday of the missed clues that could have prevented the alleged Christmas Day bomber from ever boarding the plane.

President Obama “is legitimately and correctly alarmed that things that were available, bits of information that were available, patterns of behavior that were available, were not acted on,” Jones said in an interview Wednesday with USA Today.

“That’s two strikes,” Obama’s top White House aide on defense and foreign policy issues said, referring to the foiled bombing of the Detroit-bound airliner and the shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in November. In that case, too, officials failed to act when red flags were raised about an Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Hasan. He has been charged with killing 13 people.
Jones said Obama “certainly doesn’t want that third strike, and neither does anybody else.”

Given all that, it seems inexplicable that no jobs will be lost in the administration nor thoughts given to reversing their most significant policy decisions, which now seem utterly inappropriate (e.g., closing Guantanamo, setting a public trial for KSM, ending the use of enhanced interrogation techniques). The Obama team will have new and mind-numbing ways of hassling airline passengers. They will rejigger the watch lists. But real, fundamental change, or a meaningful personnel change? I wouldn’t bet on it. So get ready to be shocked — shocked at the incompetence and shocked that nothing ever provokes meaningful self-evaluation by Obama and his team.

The Obama administration’s failure to block the Christmas Day bomber is shocking. They really have messed up. Even though they wouldn’t label it a jihadist attack, Fort Hood was another screw-up. So the Obama team has seen two attacks on the homeland — two more than in all the years following 9/11. We can’t afford a third. Is this the conservative case against Obama? No, this is the administration’s own national security adviser, James Jones, telling us we are going to freak out when we learn what stumblebums they all are. USA Today reports:

White House national security adviser James Jones says Americans will feel “a certain shock” when they read an account being released Thursday of the missed clues that could have prevented the alleged Christmas Day bomber from ever boarding the plane.

President Obama “is legitimately and correctly alarmed that things that were available, bits of information that were available, patterns of behavior that were available, were not acted on,” Jones said in an interview Wednesday with USA Today.

“That’s two strikes,” Obama’s top White House aide on defense and foreign policy issues said, referring to the foiled bombing of the Detroit-bound airliner and the shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in November. In that case, too, officials failed to act when red flags were raised about an Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Hasan. He has been charged with killing 13 people.
Jones said Obama “certainly doesn’t want that third strike, and neither does anybody else.”

Given all that, it seems inexplicable that no jobs will be lost in the administration nor thoughts given to reversing their most significant policy decisions, which now seem utterly inappropriate (e.g., closing Guantanamo, setting a public trial for KSM, ending the use of enhanced interrogation techniques). The Obama team will have new and mind-numbing ways of hassling airline passengers. They will rejigger the watch lists. But real, fundamental change, or a meaningful personnel change? I wouldn’t bet on it. So get ready to be shocked — shocked at the incompetence and shocked that nothing ever provokes meaningful self-evaluation by Obama and his team.

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Needed: Wartime Commander in Chief

If nothing else, the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should remind us that the “war on terror” (oh, that now banished phrase!) was not dreamed up by some neocon conspiracy bent on curtailing Americans’ civil liberties and on colonizing poor defenseless countries. It is nothing but a simple, accurate description of the threat we face from Islamist extremists bent on mass murder to advance their deranged worldview.

It is not only luck that has kept us (relatively) safe since 9/11, aside from a few random nuts like the Beltway sniper (John Allen Muhammad) and the Fort Hood shooter (Major Malik Nadal Hasan). There has been no lack of larger plots against American targets here and abroad. A few, such as the attempted bombings by Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, have been foiled by a combination of bad planning on the part of the terrorists and active resistance by airline passengers. Many more plots, such as the attempt to blow up airliners flying across the Atlantic by using liquid explosives, have been defeated by active intelligence and law enforcement work. A vital contribution to that work has been made by the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 changes, which have made it easier to wiretap suspects, share intelligence, and (don’t forget) aggressively interrogate captured terrorists and keep them in custody even if they cannot be convicted beyond a shadow of a doubt in a civil court.

Unfortunately all too many people have drawn the wrong lesson from these post-9/11 successes, concluding that we are so safe that we can go back to the pre-9/11 status quo, back when we treated terrorism as a law-enforcement problem and nothing more. This has become the conventional wisdom of the mainstream, left-wing of the Democratic Party and a tiny, right-wing fringe of the Republican Party (Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan), which see the U.S. government as the biggest threat we face—not al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers.

It would be unfair to say that President Obama has bought into this worldview. To his credit, he has continued an active program of using drones and Special Forces to assassinate terrorist kingpins from Pakistan to Somalia; has ramped up our military efforts in Afghanistan; and has continued an active program of intelligence and military cooperation designed to allow states such as Yemen and the Philippines to fight their own wars on terror. Moreover, he has signed off on wider wiretapping and intelligence-gathering authority than the ACLU is comfortable with. But there are certainly some worrisome trends evident from this administration, which insists on trying Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court, which has banned the use of all stress techniques in interrogation, and which continues releasing detainees from Guantanamo, many of whom go right back to the sorts of activities that got them interred in the first place. And let us not forget the president’s unwillingness to get tough with Iran, whose nuclear-weapons program could before long radically increase the chances of our allies’ suffering a nuclear terrorist attack.

Obama has actually been a little tougher on terrorism (and Iraq and Afghanistan) than his record as an ultra-liberal senator would have led us to expect; certainly a lot tougher than Michael Moore or his ilk would like him to be. But not perhaps as tough as the situation demands. If there is any good that comes out of the attempted bombing of the Detroit flight, or the Iranians’ rejections of his naive overtures, it is that he may finally shed some of his remaining illusions about the world and start acting more as a wartime commander in chief should.

If nothing else, the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should remind us that the “war on terror” (oh, that now banished phrase!) was not dreamed up by some neocon conspiracy bent on curtailing Americans’ civil liberties and on colonizing poor defenseless countries. It is nothing but a simple, accurate description of the threat we face from Islamist extremists bent on mass murder to advance their deranged worldview.

It is not only luck that has kept us (relatively) safe since 9/11, aside from a few random nuts like the Beltway sniper (John Allen Muhammad) and the Fort Hood shooter (Major Malik Nadal Hasan). There has been no lack of larger plots against American targets here and abroad. A few, such as the attempted bombings by Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, have been foiled by a combination of bad planning on the part of the terrorists and active resistance by airline passengers. Many more plots, such as the attempt to blow up airliners flying across the Atlantic by using liquid explosives, have been defeated by active intelligence and law enforcement work. A vital contribution to that work has been made by the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 changes, which have made it easier to wiretap suspects, share intelligence, and (don’t forget) aggressively interrogate captured terrorists and keep them in custody even if they cannot be convicted beyond a shadow of a doubt in a civil court.

Unfortunately all too many people have drawn the wrong lesson from these post-9/11 successes, concluding that we are so safe that we can go back to the pre-9/11 status quo, back when we treated terrorism as a law-enforcement problem and nothing more. This has become the conventional wisdom of the mainstream, left-wing of the Democratic Party and a tiny, right-wing fringe of the Republican Party (Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan), which see the U.S. government as the biggest threat we face—not al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers.

It would be unfair to say that President Obama has bought into this worldview. To his credit, he has continued an active program of using drones and Special Forces to assassinate terrorist kingpins from Pakistan to Somalia; has ramped up our military efforts in Afghanistan; and has continued an active program of intelligence and military cooperation designed to allow states such as Yemen and the Philippines to fight their own wars on terror. Moreover, he has signed off on wider wiretapping and intelligence-gathering authority than the ACLU is comfortable with. But there are certainly some worrisome trends evident from this administration, which insists on trying Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court, which has banned the use of all stress techniques in interrogation, and which continues releasing detainees from Guantanamo, many of whom go right back to the sorts of activities that got them interred in the first place. And let us not forget the president’s unwillingness to get tough with Iran, whose nuclear-weapons program could before long radically increase the chances of our allies’ suffering a nuclear terrorist attack.

Obama has actually been a little tougher on terrorism (and Iraq and Afghanistan) than his record as an ultra-liberal senator would have led us to expect; certainly a lot tougher than Michael Moore or his ilk would like him to be. But not perhaps as tough as the situation demands. If there is any good that comes out of the attempted bombing of the Detroit flight, or the Iranians’ rejections of his naive overtures, it is that he may finally shed some of his remaining illusions about the world and start acting more as a wartime commander in chief should.

Read Less