This is a very important point, Jen, that Brown’s surge began with the response to the Christmas Day near-bombing. It indicates that the unease about Obama and the Democrats extends beyond economic uncertainty to issues of core judgment — can the president and his party be trusted to keep the country safe? If that question cannot comfortably be answered in the affirmative, even a popular health-care bill (and this isn’t one) wouldn’t save them from the judgment of the voters.
I think most Americans expect consequences for incompetence: “Two senators said Sunday that despite President Barack Obama saying the buck stops with him on the Christmas Day bombing attempt, disciplinary action should be taken against those who let Nigerian suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab slip through the cracks and get on the Detroit-bound flight. ‘People should be held responsible for what happened’ Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. ‘And we can’t go back to the old Washington kind of routine, we are all responsible so therefore nobody is responsible. Somebody has got to be held responsible.’” Sen. Joe Lieberman agrees.
The mainstream media have figured it out: good campaigner, not so good president. “In winning the White House, Barack Obama’s team earned a reputation for skill and discipline in dominating the communications wars with opponents. In office, virtually the same team has struggled, spending much of the past year defending the administration’s actions on the two biggest domestic issues — the economy and health care.”
The Boston Globe poll has Martha Coakley up 15 points in Massachusetts. But here’s the interesting part: “Brown matches Coakley — both were at 47 percent — among the roughly 1 in 4 respondents who said they were ‘extremely interested’ in the race.”
Phil Klein notes that the Globe didn’t poll many independents.
The Nation or National Review? “The new unemployment numbers are devastating, and they should send up red flares in Washington, a city where officials have so far has been absurdly neglectful of the most serious social, economic and political crisis facing the country. … President Obama and the Democrats in Congress face the prospect of serious setbacks in 2010 congressional and state races if they do not recognize that there is a disconnect between their focus and that of the American people who will decide the political direction of the country in November.”
Democrats probably didn’t need this: “Republican leaders called on Harry Reid to step down as Senate majority leader, Sunday, after the Nevada senator apologized for calling Barack Obama as a ‘light-skinned’ African-American who lacked a ‘Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.’ … Forgiveness from Obama and other black political leaders is unlikely to bring an end to the controversy. While it does not appear that Reid will be forced out of his leadership post for his racially insensitive comments, Democratic strategists describe the incident as a serious blow to his already difficult re-election campaign.”
But Democrats generally have faith that they can say anything and get away with it: “[Sen. Diane] Feinstein said she ‘saw no Democrats jumping out there and condemning Senator Lott. I know Senator Lott. I happen to be very fond of him. And he made a mistake.” Huh? Al Gore sure did. Obama did.
This sounds right: “The nation’s first elected African-American governor said on Sunday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should apologize to the entire country for his comments about President Barack Obama’s skin color. ‘The Reid apology should be to the totality of the American people,’ said Doug Wilder, former Virginia governor.”
Liz Cheney thinks we should stop making it worse: “It was actually a year ago today that the president announced the stimulus, because he said that we needed to put this in place in order to prevent — prevent unemployment from nearing double digits. So here we are, a year later, with unemployment, you know, over double digits, over 10 percent, having gone deeper into debt, and — and I think that the uncertainty in the economy isn’t because people are worried the stimulus won’t continue. I think the uncertainty is because people are watching things like the debate over the health care bill here, which has gone on and on and on, the actions by the administration, which I think are actually creating a drag on this recovery.”
Yesterday, President Obama acknowledged that “We are at war,” though he’s still a bit sketchy about exactly whom we are fighting, since nobody in Washington is allowed to use the “I” word. (It may, however, be possible to say the “T” word every once in a while.) But though the failed airliner attack over Detroit may have concentrated the administration’s collective mind on the task of fighting Islamist terrorists, even if we aren’t allowed to call them that, our overburdened and often confused intelligence services are also being asked to track another deadly enemy: global warming.
Last month, NPR reported that: “For the first time, Pentagon planners in 2010 will include climate change among the security threats identified in the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Congress-mandated report that updates Pentagon priorities every four years. The reference to climate change follows the establishment in October of a new Center for the Study of Climate Change at the Central Intelligence Agency.”
This decision was rightly lampooned in an editorial in Investor’s Business Daily. They point out that a group that hasn’t been able to focus with accuracy on the threat from Iranian nukes (as demonstrated by the fallacious National Intelligence Estimate on that subject released in late 2007, which had to be repudiated within months) ought not to be wasting valuable resources worrying about the supposed threat to the polar bears. Recent intelligence failures have highlighted an attitude of complacency about the potent threat from Islamist terror. But instead, the CIA is going to be squandering its efforts playing to the Al Gore environmental alarmist crowd. They seem to be forgetting, as IBD points out, “hijacked airliners, not rogue icebergs, brought down the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon.”
IBD’s conclusion is right on target: “We disagree that a purely hypothetical and thoroughly discredited threat to our planet, attributed to our use of carbon-based energy, is as serious as the threat posed by Islamofascism. When the al-Qaeda threat recedes, we’ll start worrying about the glaciers.”
As Pete and I compile what seems like a very long list of “things wrong with Obama,” we should include the descent in tone and the crumbling of Obama’s inspirational rhetoric that characterized his campaign. Many conservatives (including me) didn’t care much for the somewhat inane “we are the world” campaign talk. How could we really be the change we were waiting for? Did he really think oceans would fall once he was in office? But at least he was aiming high and talking in sweeping terms meant to uplift the public. And lots of people felt good about politics. It was something.
Now we get bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. Here is what Charles Krauthammer observed of the president’s appearance yesterday afternoon:
I find it mind-numbingly bureaucratic, flat, bloodless. It was almost inside baseball describing how bureaucracies work. And his conclusions? Directive # 1 is: High-priority intelligence will now have to be treated urgently not just some of the time, but all of the time. That’s a remarkable advance!! … A, he said the buck stops here, because it looked as if he was detached and blaming everybody else. Secondly, he said we are at war, which is a concession, because people are complaining about the fact, rightly so, that he gave the bomber over Detroit a defense lawyer and treated him as a civilian defendant.
Others have picked up on it too. Politico’s report explains:
In the case of terrorism, Obama recognizes too that he must be more out front, responding to the public’s gut fears and anger after the attempted attack on a U.S. airliner Christmas Day. “Ultimately, the buck stops with me,” he said. As a candidate, Obama’s cool was never fatal because so many voters simply imposed their own dreams on him. But wrapped in the bubble of the Oval Office and surrounded by Ivy-educated budget and economic advisers, this detachment is magnified and hurts him with lawmakers and voters alike, looking for more of a connection amid tough times.
Think about that: he realizes he has to be more out front when it comes to responding to a terror attack. It doesn’t apparently come instinctively to jump to the fore and rally the crowd. He doesn’t have anything he really wants to say to us? Indeed, he suggests that all that emotion and all the press conferences (the 24/7 news cycle he disparages) are beneath him. Suddenly it’s ice-water-in-the-veins time.
That inspirational candidate from 2008 is nowhere to be found now. He’s reduced to mouthing bureaucratic platitudes. Is it part of the gambit to de-escalate, once again, the war on Islamic terrorists? Or has he simply lost the rhetorical touch, run out of things to say? Maybe his “eloquence” wasn’t eloquence at all but a short list of buzzwords and New Age window dressing meant to disguise a candidate with a thin resume and limited repertoire of executive skills. Just wondering.
David Broder, like many pundits more conservative in outlook who have hoped for an Obama “Ah ha!” moment, seems to think that Obama will have an epiphany in the wake of the Christmas Day bombing plot. He contends:
The near-miss by a passenger plotting to blow up an American airliner as it flew into Detroit seems to have shocked this president as much as the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon did the last.
Really? It’s hard to discern. Obama has not ordered a review and reconsideration of his fundamental policy decisions. He has not declared that classifying terrorists as criminal defendants may require a second look. He’s still bent on closing Guantanamo. Eric Holder and the lefty lawyers still reign supreme at the Justice Department, and KSM is headed for trial. And so far, not a single Obama official has been fired for what the president concedes was an abominable screwup. We have no new declaration of U.S. policy. How shocked could he be?
Broder divines that the “Christmas plot appears to have shaken Obama like nothing else that happened in his first year.” But how can we tell? This seems, frankly, to be a bit of wishful thinking, just as observers listening to the Nobel Peace Prize speech saw glimmers of a tougher Iran policy or a more robust assertion of American exceptionalism. Certainly we’ve come a long way since the Hawaii performance, when the president proclaimed the Christmas Day bombing plot the work of an “isolated extremist,” but the reaction has been a flurry of incremental, bureaucratic adjustments. Former 9/11 commission member John Lehman let it rip, deriding the Obama response:
President Obama just doesn’t get it. … I don’t think he has a clue. It’s all pure spin. He’s ignoring key issues and taking respectable professionals like John Brennan and turning them into hacks and shills. It’s beyond contempt. The president has ignored the 9/11 Commission’s report. … This whole idea that we can fix things by jumping higher and faster is ridiculous. The fact is that the system worked just like we said it would work if the president failed to give the Director of National Intelligence the tools he needs: it’s bloated, bureaucratic, layered, and stultified.
President Obama continues to totally ignore one of the important thrusts of our 9/11 recommendations, which is that you have to approach counterterrorism as a multiagency intelligence issue, and not as a law-enforcement issue.
Obama and his political gurus have figured out that the president’s national-security stance — downplaying the war against Islamic fundamentalists, hyper-legalistic rhetoric, a refusal to recognize jihadist attacks as part of a concerted war on the West, etc. — is a political loser. The public, Congress, and the media recoiled in horror when they saw the president’s ho-hum reaction to an attempt to incinerate nearly 300 people. But understanding the political peril does not signify a commitment to rethink policy assumptions. That would require a fundamental reorientation away from the “not Bush” policies, including the decision to classify terrorists captured in the U.S. as criminal defendants and to try them in civilian courts. Even the Washington Post editors sense that the response is somehow not commensurate with the gravity of the intelligence failure:
Mr. Obama’s solutions have the air of the small bore: a “training course” for the National Security Agency; a “dedicated capability responsible for enhancing record information on possible terrorists … for watchlisting purposes.” Perhaps a series of individual tweaks will do the job. But the administration report suggests that the problem is less tractable than Mr. Obama has acknowledged. His depiction Thursday of the shortcomings was admirably honest and more frightening than previously portrayed. His proposed fixes did not entirely reassure.
The fixes do not reassure because they do not begin to address the most basic errors of the Obama administration and its odd predilection, made odder by mismatched rhetoric, to see the war against Islamic fundamentalists as peripheral to its agenda. We will know that Obama has really been “shaken” when the war on Islamic terrorists is identified as such, when that becomes the core mission of the administration and when the president’s policies and not just his rhetoric changes.
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 pattern in reacting to terrorism is now unfortunately all too familiar. First, the administration says, “The system worked.” But everyone knows that’s crazy talk. So a day or so later, we hear there was a “systematic failure.” The president, despite ample media reports, first tells us this was the work of an “isolated extremist.” But that’s just plain wrong. So he later tells us this was an al-Qaeda-backed terrorist. For days, administration spokespeople have pushed back on the notion that we should stop sending Guantanmo detainees to Yemen. Even Democrats like Rep. Jane Harman, and Sen. Diane Feinstein said it was preposterous to keep feeding the terrorist pipeline. Finally today we hear:
President Barack Obama has come under political pressure from some U.S. lawmakers not to send any more prisoners to Yemen as a result of revelations that a would-be bomber on a Detroit-bound plane had received al Qaeda training in Yemen. “While we remain committed to closing the (Guantanamo) facility, a determination has been made right now — any additional transfers to Yemen is not a good idea,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
So why is the administration the last place where the light bulb goes on? Again, you have to look to the top. The president, we are informed, “wants no more finger-pointing.” Well, especially at him. But if there is no blame assigned, there is also no accountability. And that still seems to be the name of the game here. Even after all of the criticism, the White House persists in doing the same old damage-control routine: deny fault, defend current policy, attack critics’ motives, and deflect blame. That is why they seem to be in perpetual catch-up mode, racing to avoid the fallout from the voters (and increasingly from the Democrats) who perceive that the Obami are simply not getting it.
When the political heat boils over, then the Obama team grudgingly reacts. But not before. Who really thinks they are capable of assessing themselves and making needed changes? If they did, someone might be seen to have been at fault. And the president says there will be none of that.
Bob Herbert gives us a peek into the mindset I think permeates the Left and the Obama administration in particular:
I’m starting the new year with the sinking feeling that important opportunities are slipping from the nation’s grasp. Our collective consciousness tends to obsess indiscriminately over one or two issues — the would-be bomber on the flight into Detroit, the Tiger Woods saga — while enormous problems that should be engaged get short shrift.
A celebrity scandal. A terrorist-bombing attack (the third on the homeland last year). All the same. Such a distraction. So many overheated conservatives. Can’t we just move along? You can feel his desperation and the frustration that precious time, energy, and resources are being diverted from the ultraliberal agenda:
Voters were primed at the beginning of the Obama administration for fundamental changes that would have altered the trajectory of American life for the better. Politicians of all stripes, many of them catering to the nation’s moneyed interests, fouled that up to a fare-thee-well. Now we’re escalating in Afghanistan, falling back into panic mode over an attempted act of terror and squandering a golden opportunity to build a better society.
That’s the mindset, of course, that caused the president to slough off the Christmas Day bombing. That’s the predisposition that led to the imposition of an 18-month deadline in Afghanistan — at the price of sending a mixed message about our intentions and unsettling our allies there and in Pakistan. The Democrats’ window of opportunity to remake American society is closing faster than they ever imagined. And now all anyone wants to talk about is national security, terrorism, connecting dots, and the president’s refusal to use the words “Islamic fundamentalism.” The liberals are beside themselves. This was not to be. After all, they told us, it was the Bushies who exaggerated the dangers and put us on a needlessly alarmist path. The Obami were there to put all of that aside and get back to the pent up domestic demands of the Left.
Obama plainly shares Herbert’s sense that a moment is passing us by. His policies and demeanor have been designed to replace the war against jihadists with an inward looking, government-centric agenda as the nation’s primary focus. This is the moment — so long as supermajorities in Congress remain — to get it done, they plead. But wait. Doesn’t this historic moment also include a critical juncture for Iran, where a totalitarian revolutionary Islamic state might be overthrown by a popular revolt? Doesn’t the “golden opportunity” also include the potential that freedom and democracy will triumph over the death cult of the jihadists?
Sadly, it doesn’t seem so for the Obami. Not only do the administration and its restive supporters on the Left not see those international commitments as vital and “glorious” (as the president put it in deriding the conduct of the war against Islamic fascism), but they seem to imagine that the great era of prosperity and social progress is possible if we husband our resources (e.g., starve the Defense Department), limit America’s commitments (no open-ended ones, thank you), and stop raising the alarm when America is attacked. Yes, it’s as if 9/11 never occurred. Too bad reality keeps knocking at our door.
Cliff May tries to explain satire to the Beagle Blogger. And it doesn’t even involve Sarah Palin.
COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick, on designating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant: “The question of what type of legal status we ought to grant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab remains a live question with serious implications for the national security of the United States. As the situation now stands, with an untold number of plots in the works, treating this man as a criminal defendant requires us to count upon the discretion and good will of a would-be mass murderer.”
Former CIA Director James Woolsey doesn’t think Flight 253 was “a problem of coordination”: “It was about people within the agencies pulling in their horns. The only person who can turn this around is the president. Not much will change unless he speaks up. He needs to tell people that this is a long struggle against radical Islam and its manifestations.” I hope I am wrong but somehow I don’t think Obama is the one to “smash political correctness upside the head.”
A top-tier GOP contender shows interest in a Blue state senate race: “Republican Rep. Pete King (N.Y.) signaled Monday that he is reconsidering his decision not to run for Senate in 2010 .King said he’s actively looking at a run for statewide office this year after he’d ruled out such a campaign last summer.” If they suspect it will be a wave election, many more well-known challengers may want to jump into races that in ordinary years would be considered out of reach.
Benny Avni explains why “targeted” sanctions on Iran are a dumb idea: “No one in last week’s well-organized pro-regime mass demonstrations carried a sign advocating diplomacy to defuse tensions with America (and anti-government demonstrators aren’t itching for it either). A diplomatic solution exists only in our head. Some (like [John] Kerry) cling to last year’s foolishness, but for others it’s replaced by a new ‘boomerang’ theory: If we sanction the Iranian people too heavily, they ‘will be fooled into thinking we are to blame,’ as an unnamed administration official told the Washington Post. Nonsense, says Israel Radio’s Farsi Service veteran Menashe Amir, whose broadcasts are often cited by Iranian media as instigating the antigovernment protesters. . . Once again, the ideas underlying Washington’s new policy miss the target. At this late date, sanctions can only be helpful if they facilitate regime change, which should be the top objective of the new strategy. Targeting for sanctions only a handful of evil regime operators would hardly impress the Iranian masses (although it will be widely applauded in Washington and the United Nations).”
The State Department goes rushing to the defense of Hannah Rosenthal (who is supposed to be working on anti-Semitism but took some time out to lash out at Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren for not being nice to her J Street pals). “Separately, Rosenthal’s predecessor, Gregg Rickman, has slammed her for her remarks about Oren. ‘Ms. Rosenthal’s criticisms of Ambassador Oren strike a chord particularly because this is not her policy portfolio to advocate . . . She is supposed to fight anti-Semitism, not defend J-Street, an organization on whose Advisory Board she formally sat before her appointment to the State Department.”
If “Big is bad” is catching on as a political message, how long before voters exact revenge once they figure out that the Democrats have struck a health-care deal with big and bad insurance companies?
James Taranto goes on a roll: “We suppose Napolitano is a glass-is-half-full kind of gal. And it’s true that, apart from allowing a known extremist to board a plane while carrying a bomb, the system worked. . . ABC News reports that ‘one of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit was released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November 2007.’ Said Ali Shari, a Saudi national, was released into the custody of our friends the Saudis and “has since emerged in leadership roles in Yemen,” says ABC. Heckuva job, Nayef. In fairness, we should note that in November 2007, Barack Obama was only the junior senator from Illinois. This is a problem he inherited from the Bush administration. And he has responded by putting a stop to the release of terrorists from Guantanamo. Just kidding!” Looks like the joke is on us.
Worse than returning the Churchill bust: “The name of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was included in a dossier of people believed to have made attempts to deal with known extremists that was shared with American intelligence. . . Abdulmutallab came to the attention of intelligence agencies because of ‘multiple communications’ he had with Islamic extremists in Britain while a student between 2006 and 2008. However, denying reports that the information had not been divulged, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘Clearly there was security information about this individual’s activities and that was information that was shared with the US authorities. That is the key point.’”
Plainly, Obama doesn’t relish the job of being commander in chief, and more specifically, leading the West in the war against Islamic jihadists. Now, it’s true that his cool demeanor and rather grumpy countenance over the last few months suggest that there may be little he really relishes about the presidency — doing the job as opposed to obtaining the job. But at least on domestic policy, he seems to be engaged and invested. However, this is not a president who seeks to define himself as the protector of Western civilization or who leaps to the metaphorical rubble heap to seize the moment, rally the country, and level a steely warning to our enemies. He can barely be bothered to interrupt his vacation. There are several explanations for this — temperamental, ideological, and political.
As for the temperament, this is a president whom we’ve reluctantly come to see as fancying himself above gut emotions. His professorial pretensions now verge on zombie-like detachment. As John Brummett writes:
I get No-Drama Obama. I see what it’s about and agree with it usually. But I don’t much care for it when an al-Qaida-trained terrorist nearly blows up one of our airplanes on approach to Detroit on Christmas Day. In that case, the drama is already out of the bag. I want somebody to get dramatic in my behalf — outraged, I mean — and to do so instinctively and quickly, if not quite impulsively. . . You can’t avoid drama when drama already has occurred, and a terrorist attack by persons warring against you is bona fide drama already. We lull ourselves into a false sense of security when we downplay that people are trying to kill us. And while it scares us, yes, to ponder such a world, it, more to the point, makes us fighting mad.
Well, Brummett and others hoping for some feistier leadership will continue to be disappointed, I think. For this is not a president to react with outrage (pique at Fox News, maybe, but not outrage) or to even acknowledge that outrage is the appropriate reaction to his fellow citizens’ being threatened. He is not going to get fighting mad on our behalf, so we are left to be mad on our own. His detachment separates him from the country and shows a measure of his condescension toward the rest of us who think that leadership is about more than ordering up a dizzying array of bureaucratic reports after nearly 300 people come close to getting incinerated in mid-air.
Beneath Obama’s disdain for the emotional content of wartime leadership lurks, as we have seen, a stubborn reluctance to acknowledge exactly who we are up against. Marty Peretz notes:
If the president were truly sentient, he would not be content to enumerate the macrophysics of what we have done: “Our progress has been unmistakable… We’ve disrupted terrorist financing, cut off recruiting chains, inflicted major losses on al-Qaeda’s leadership, thwarted plots here in the United States, and saved countless American lives.”
But what has been the animating motive for the terrorist efforts to dispose of Americans and Europeans, Hindus and Christians, Jews and non-believers, and, of course, Muslims, albeit from antagonistic or divergent sects — infidels and heretics, really — in the religious vocabulary? It is an ideological certainty laced through the Islamic tradition and the Islamic present. . . So, in rendering the gross and the mad, we must be truthful about the essentials and about the shadings. No, it is not everybody — not by a long shot. But it is plenty. We must know whom we are fighting. Alas, if we don’t also know what we are fighting and what we are fighting for, we are fighting blind.
But this is not a president who wants to educate and inform the public about our adversaries’ motives. He prefers the perspective of a benign Muslim world that must be reassured and engaged and to which America must prove its sincerity and goodwill. He couldn’t label Major Nadal Hassan a jihadist, and he resists even in his most robust comments using the words “Islamic fundamentalist” or “Islamic jihadist.” It plainly rankles him to identify specifically who these “extremists” are and what their “far-reaching network of violence and hatred” is really all about.
And finally, much of this seems to concern a political disposition — a desire to be anti-Bush, to focus on a rather radical domestic agenda, and to husband resources (both political and economic) for the domestic proposals that animate the new president. One senses that even after a year in office, during which there have been three domestic terror attacks and two wars, he just wants to get “beyond all this.” It simply isn’t what he wants to do. He sees no political upside in it, and it isn’t how he thinks he’s going to earn a second term. Yes, his most successful and popular political decision (albeit a halting and conflicted one) in recent months was committing troops to Afghanistan. But the potential positive impact of that decision seems not to have registered. Soon after the West Point speech, he popped up on 60 Minutes to assure us that the commitment was limited and that his eye was fixed on our domestic needs.
Unfortunately we are engaged in two wars and do face a fanatical enemy. We could use a president who grasps the emotional content of wartime leadership, who understands the ideological nature of our foes, and who comprehends that no president can be successful unless he excels as commander in chief. Maybe Obama can become that president. But candidly, it will be a stretch.
In one of the more hopeful and underreported stories in recent months, we learned that for the first half of 2009 — a period of considerable economic distress in our country — crime fell by 4.4 percent nationwide, with the murder rate dropping by a staggering 10 percent, according to statistics recently released by the FBI (see links here and here). The decline in murders from one year to another is one of the more significant decreases we have ever experienced. (All four of the offenses that make up violent crime — murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — decreased nationwide. In addition to the murder rate declining by 10 percent, robbery also fell by 6.5 percent, forcible rape decreased by 3.3 percent, and aggravated assault declined by 3.2 percent.)
In disaggregating this data, we see that violent crime and aggravated assault decreased in major cities of over 1 million residents, dropping by 7 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively. Crime in America’s largest city, New York, has fallen by 11 percent from last year and by 35 percent since 2001. New York, with 461 murders through December 27, is on track for the lowest number of homicides since comprehensive record-keeping began in 1963.
In Los Angeles the murder rate for the first half of 2009 was down by almost 30 percent. In Washington, D.C., the murder rate fell by 26 percent from a comparable period last year, to its lowest in the last two decades. The first half of 2009 also witnessed a 14 percent decrease in homicides in Atlanta and a 10 percent drop in Boston. (It should be pointed out that some cities, like Baltimore and Detroit, saw their murder rate climb.)
The Washington Post summarized things well in its January 2 editorial:
The national decrease in murder began about two decades ago. In 1991, the national homicide rate hit 9.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, prompting forecasts of permanently rising street violence — then fell to 5.7 in 1999. Many wondered whether this “Great Crime Decline” could be sustained for another 10 years. The answer would appear to be yes: By 2008, the murder rate had drifted down to 5.4 per 100,000, the lowest level since 1965. And given the preliminary figures, the rate for 2009 should be lower still. Indeed, if present trends continue, America will experience a degree of public safety not known since the 1950s.
The reasons for the drop we have witnessed in violent crime since the 1990s are multiple, probably including higher incarceration rates and tougher sentencing; advances in policing (including targeting repeat offenders and high-crime areas, utilizing technology such as crime mapping and gunfire-detection systems, which allows police to rapidly respond to incidents, and identifying criminal patterns more effectively); the passing of the crack-cocaine epidemic; the aging of the population; an enormous investment in private security measures; a proliferation of surveillance cameras; more effective intervention and prevention; and more.
It is impossible to ascribe with precision the exact reasons that have led to the progress we have witnessed; they vary depending on cities and circumstances. But the moral of the story is clear enough: problems that at one time seemed intractable can yield, and yield quickly, to the right policies and to a determined citizenry. Fatalism and despair are not options. And the capacity of American ingenuity to address the challenges we face is remarkable. As Irving Kristol put it more than three decades ago, “One of the least appreciated virtues of this society is its natural recuperative powers — its capacity to change, as we say, but also its capacity to preserve itself, to adapt and survive. The strength of these powers always astonishes us, as we anticipate (even proclaim) an imminent apocalypse that somehow never comes.”
It is not terribly fashionable to focus on the progress we experience, whether it has to do with a drop in violent crime rates here at home or a more pacified situation in Iraq. We are prone to focus our attention on the problems we face and the things that are going wrong. But sometimes, to paraphrase James Boswell in The Life of Samuel Johnson, cheerfulness does break in.
This is an instructive exchange on Fox News Sunday between Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, and Chris Wallace, on the subject of treating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant. Why do this?
BRENNAN: Well, we have an array of tools that we will use, and we want to make sure we maintain flexibility as far as how we deal with these individuals.
Now, let’s get the facts on the table. He was arrested on U.S. soil on a plane on — in the Detroit airplane. He was, in fact, talking to people who were detaining him.
There were people who were arrested during the previous administration — Richard Reid, the shoe bomber; Zacarias Moussaoui; Padilla; Iyman Faris; others — all were charged and tried in criminal court and sentenced, some cases to life imprisonment.
Just because somebody is going to be put into the criminal legal process does not mean that they’re — we don’t have other opportunities to get information from them.
WALLACE: But wait, wait. Let me ask you specifically. After Abdulmutallab got lawyered up, did he stop cooperating with authorities? Did he stop talking?
BRENNAN: I’m not going to address exactly what he did before or after he was — talked with his lawyer. We got information. We continue to have opportunities to do that.
As you talk with the lawyers and you talk with the individuals, as they recognize what they’re facing as far as the charges, conviction and possible sentence, there are opportunities to continue to talk about it.
FBI has some of the best interrogators and debriefers in the world, and so I’m confident that we’re going to continue to be able to work this system and see whether or not…
WALLACE: But once he gets his Miranda rights, he doesn’t have to speak at all.
BRENNAN: He doesn’t have to, but he knows that there are certain things that are on the table, and if he wants to, in fact, engage with us in a productive manner, there are ways that he can do that.
WALLACE: But why not treat him — you certainly had the right — have — had — still have the right to treat him as an enemy combatant. Why not do that?
If he has more actionable intelligence about future attacks, and you say there’s a real possibility of that, doesn’t the president have a responsibility to do everything legal he can to get that information?
BRENNAN: And the president has that responsibility, and the Department of Justice makes these determinations about what’s the best tool to use. And in this instance, we felt as though it was the best way to address Mr. Abdulmutallab’s case.
We’ll continue to look at each of the cases individually and proceed accordingly.
WALLACE: Just briefly, what’s the downside of treating him as an enemy combatant?
BRENNAN: There’s — there are no downsides or upsides in particular cases. What we’re trying to do is to make sure we apply the right tool in the right instance. In this case, we made a determination that he should be tried in U.S. criminal court.
If you missed the coherent explanation for why they are doing this — other than the fact that the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department told them to — you are not alone. The lack of thoughtful analysis as to the national-security implications of treating Abdulmutallab as a criminal rather than as an enemy combatant is somewhat stunning. Yes, the terrorist doesn’t have to talk to us, but we have “certain things on the table.” What — we are already plea bargaining with an al-Qaeda trained terrorist? It is startling, but it is also the natural result of what comes from putting the criminal-justice model into place. Oh, he’s arrested here? So Mirandize him, call the FBI, and yes, I suppose, permit him to take the 5th. And when Brennan says that there is “no downsides or upsides in particular cases,” one has to wonder what in the world he is talking about. Of course there is a downside to allowing Abdulmutallab to clam up. Just as there would have been a downside had we allowed KSM to clam up. We lose potentially life-saving information when we stand quietly by.
The difference is that the Bush administration wasn’t willing to play Russian roulette with Americans lives or hope that detainees would eventually change their minds and co-operate. The Obama administration is. And that should be deeply disturbing to all of us.
More than a week after the bombing attempt and following two half-hearted press conferences and an ensuing avalanche of criticism, the president in his weekly address acknowledged that this was an al-Qaeda operation:
We know that he traveled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies. It appears that he joined an affiliate of al-Qaeda, and that this group–al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America.
This is not the first time this group has targeted us. In recent years, they have bombed Yemeni government facilities and Western hotels, restaurants and embassies-including our embassy in 2008, killing one American. So, as President, I’ve made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with the Yemeni government-training and equipping their security forces, sharing intelligence and working with them to strike al-Qaeda terrorists.
It is not clear why he felt compelled to bring up the issue of poverty. As this report notes, the president ”did not point out that the would-be bomber was from a very wealthy family in Nigeria.” But the president is plainly on the defensive and responding to the substance of his critics’ complaint. He recalled taking his oath of office, asserting: “On that day I also made it very clear-our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred, and that we will do whatever it takes to defeat them and defend our country, even as we uphold the values that have always distinguished America among nations.”
But as with his Oslo speech, which offered more robust language in defense of American interests, this speech then raises the question: why don’t his policies meet his belated and tougher rhetoric? And if we are on war footing, why did it take a week for Obama to even get his rhetoric in order? If Obama intends to demonstrate his resolve and seriousness in fighting a war waged on our civilization, then he might do well to re-evaluate his criminal-justice model (and the legalistic language that infected his initial remarks), which is inappropriate to the task at hand. As Andy McCarthy points out:
The criminal case is complicating the President’s ability to do his jobs as president and commander-in-chief. This morning, Obama declared flatly that Mutallab conspired with al-Qaeda in a heinous attempted terrorist attack. It was refreshing to hear the president not hedge with “alleged” this and “alleged” that. . . But, of course, defense counsel will now claim the president is hopelessly prejudicing Mutallab’s ability to get a fair trial — in Detroit or anyplace else — by smearing him in the press and eviscerating the presumption of innocence. . .
The Mutallab case is an unnecessary, insignificant distraction from the real business of protecting the United States. And it is all so unnecessary. It will be forever until we can have a trial of Mutallab, anyway: From here on out, everytime something happens in Yemen, Mutallab’s lawyers will try to use it to their litigation advantage, repeating that the president has so tied Mutallab to terrorism in Yemen that there is no prospect of a fair trial. So why not transfer him to military custody as an enemy combatant, detain and interrogate him for as long as it is useful to do so, and then, in a year or three, either charge him with war crimes in a military tribunal or, if you insist, indict him the criminal justice system?
The inherent contradiction remains for Obama: he cannot provide the image of resolute wartime leadership while pursuing a set of policies that undermines our anti-terrorism efforts. The words can change, but it is the mindset and policies that are the root of the problem.
Looks like there was good reason to hold up the TSA nominee: “The White House nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration gave Congress misleading information about incidents in which he inappropriately accessed a federal database, possibly in violation of privacy laws, documents obtained by the Washington Post show.”
Another good reason to dump Dennis Blair: “A U.S. counter-terrorism official is sharply challenging the assertion Thursday by Dennis C. Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, that the al-Qaeda terrorist network is ‘diminished.’ . . . The U.S. counter-terrorism official told Politico: ‘Blair should, at a minimum, take a mulligan on this. He seems to be suggesting here that al-Qaeda is somehow less of a threat these days. That just ain’t so. And someone should remind him that inexperienced individuals have been responsible for carrying out major attacks. That includes the muscle men on 9/11 and a number of other terrorist attacks since then.’”
A taste of ObamaCare: “The Mayo Clinic, praised by President Barack Obama as a national model for efficient health care, will stop accepting Medicare patients as of tomorrow at one of its primary-care clinics in Arizona, saying the U.S. government pays too little. . . Mayo’s move to drop Medicare patients may be copied by family doctors, some of whom have stopped accepting new patients from the program, said Lori Heim, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.”
Déjà vu all over again: “The former chairman of the 9/11 commission said that communications lapses that allowed a suspected terrorist to board a Detroit jetliner echoed the mistakes leading up to the 9/11 attacks. ‘It’s like reading the same script over again,’ said Thomas H. Kean, the 9/11 investigation’s top Republican and a former governor of New Jersey.”
A revolt is brewing against Gov.Charlie Crist’s state GOP chairman. Sure does seem as though “Charlie Crist is off his game. Way off his game, which was spectacular when it was good. . .Nowadays, Democrats have pretty much abandoned him, and hard-core GOP conservatives are flocking to Marco Rubio. Charlie’s not only lost his mo, he’s lost his mojo.”
Is David Broder kidding? “If there is anyone in the administration who embodies President Obama’s preference for quiet competence with ‘no drama,’ it is Janet Napolitano.” Well, she does seem to embody the essence of the Obama administration, but this is hardly reason for praise.
I suspect most Americans agree with Charles Krauthammer on this one: “The reason the country is uneasy about the Obama administration’s response to this attack is a distinct sense of not just incompetence but incomprehension. From the very beginning, President Obama has relentlessly tried to play down and deny the nature of the terrorist threat we continue to face. . . Any government can through laxity let someone slip through the cracks. But a government that refuses to admit that we are at war, indeed, refuses even to name the enemy — jihadist is a word banished from the Obama lexicon — turns laxity into a governing philosophy.”
The media elites didn’t make too much of this in the aftermath of the Fort Hood massacre, but now they have perked up: “The apparent ties between the Nigerian man charged with plotting to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day and a radical American-born Yemeni imam have cast a spotlight on a world of charismatic clerics who wield their Internet celebrity to indoctrinate young Muslims with extremist ideology and recruit them for al-Qaeda, American officials and counterterrorism specialists said.” But remember that the Obami are nevertheless going to give KSM a public trial so he can use his “celebrity to indoctrinate young Muslims with extremist ideology and recruit them for al-Qaeda.”
Andy McCarthy on the Obami’s priorities: “Sure, this government can’t figure out how to move someone from the terrorist database to the no-fly list, but you can rest assured they’re fixated on the real problem: bloggers who report that TSA issued a directive to increase security after the Christmas bombing attempt.”
This is how the housing crisis seems to have started: “The Obama administration’s $75 billion program to protect homeowners from foreclosure has been widely pronounced a disappointment, and some economists and real estate experts now contend it has done more harm than good.Since President Obama announced the program in February, it has lowered mortgage payments on a trial basis for hundreds of thousands of people but has largely failed to provide permanent relief. Critics increasingly argue that the program, Making Home Affordable, has raised false hopes among people who simply cannot afford their homes.”
Barack Obama rode into office promising to “restore our place in the world.” Many thought this meant that Obama intended to elevate America’s profile, make us more popular and more effective, and soothe the feelings of hurt allies. But “our place in the world,” it has turned out, means a smaller place from which a less confident and assertive America simply “bears witness” as events swirl around us.
In a must-read piece, Fouad Ajami argues persuasively that Obama would rather we do less in the world and turn our attention to his quite radical plans for refashioning America. He writes of the Obama mindset:
We’re weary, the disillusioned liberalism maintains, and we’re broke, and there are those millions of Americans aching for health care and an economic lifeline. We can’t care for both Ohio and the Anbar, Peoria and Peshawar. It is either those embattled people in Iran or a rescue package for Chrysler.
The joke is on the enthralled crowds in Cairo, Ankara, Berlin and Oslo. The new American president they had fallen for had no genuine calling or attachments abroad. In their enthusiasm for Mr. Obama, and their eagerness to proclaim themselves at one with the postracial meaning of his election, they had missed his aloofness from the genuine struggles in the foreign world.
The catch in all this is that America’s retreat and equivocation neither keeps our enemies at bay nor frees the president to focus on the home front. To the contrary, our foes become emboldened and the dangers rage. As Ajami observes: “History and its furies have their logic, and they have not bent to Mr. Obama’s will. He had declared a unilateral end to the ‘war on terror,’ but the jihadists and their mentors are yet to call their war to a halt. From Yemen to Fort Hood and Detroit, the terror continues.” And while Obama is obsessed with half-a-loaf policies (e.g., surge in Afghanistan but with a deadline, sanctions in Iran but just little bitty ones) our adversaries in Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, North Korea, Syria, and elsewhere remain unimpressed, if not emboldened, by what appears to be irresolution, not “nuance,” and hesitancy, not “smart diplomacy.”
So after nearly a year, what has Obama accomplished? The world is no less dangerous, our allies (Britain, Israel, Honduras, Poland, and the Czech Republic, among others) are not cheered, and America has made it clear to human-rights activists and their oppressors that there is little this administration is willing to say (and even less it is willing to do) to advance democracy and freedom. The result? Ajami sums up: ”We’re smaller for accepting that false choice between burdens at home and burdens abroad, and the world beyond our shores is more hazardous and cynical for our retrenchment and our self-flagellation.”
Anxious conservatives keep waiting for the “Ah ha!” moment when Obama will recognize the folly of his effort to turn away from the demands of a dangerous world, will instead embrace American exceptionalism, and unabashedly assert American values and interests. Yet he continues to nibble around the edges of an effective foreign policy. He drops the more ludicrous gambits (e.g., backing Hugo Chavez’s flunky in Honduras and demanding a unilateral settlement freeze by Israel) but has yet to match action with revised rhetoric. He continues to do the least possible when the most is required. His idea of America’s place in the world seems not so majestic as some had imagined. And the world, as a result, is more dangerous, and America is less enamored and respected. Alas, it is not at all what was promised.
Time to see if the Senate Cash for Cloture deal can survive scrutiny (legal and otherwise): “Republican attorneys general in 13 states say congressional leaders must remove Nebraska’s political deal from the federal health care reform bill or face legal action, according to a letter provided to The Associated Press Wednesday. ‘We believe this provision is constitutionally flawed,’ South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster and the 12 other attorneys general wrote in the letter to be sent Wednesday night to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.”
The Obami don’t like “Islamic terrorism” or “war on terror” but they are a never-ending font of bureaucratic gibberish: “‘Pulsing it.’ ‘Pulsing the system.’ That’s the language used Tuesday by a senior Obama White House administration official to describe how the administration is scrambling to find out about the intelligence failures that led to a Nigerian suspected terrorist boarding Detroit bound Northwest Flight 253 with explosives in his underwear on Christmas Day.” Yeah, I don’t feel comforted by this either.
Sounds good in theory: “President Barack Obama on Tuesday ordered the federal government to rethink how it protects the nation’s secrets, in a move that was expected to declassify more than 400 million pages of Cold War-era documents and curb the number of government records hidden from the public.” But then why hasn’t the administration released all the Bush-era interrogation documents requested by Dick Cheney, the information on the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter case, and the data Congress has requested about the domestic-terror attacks on the Obami’s watch?
More people than ever hate ObamaCare — 58 percent, a new high in the Rasmussen poll, oppose it.
Because we haven’t had enough government bailouts? “The federal government said Wednesday it will take a majority ownership stake in the troubled auto lender GMAC, providing another $3.8 billion in aid to the company, which has been unable to raise from private investors the money it needs to stanch its losses. The new aid package for GMAC, coming as most large banks are repaying the government, underscores both the problems afflicting the company and its importance to the Obama administration’s efforts to revive the auto industry.” Hmm, sounds like we’re never getting our money back.
What’s wrong with a criminal-justice approach to terrorism? “By whatever name, designating Mutallab as an enemy of the United States would have provided interrogators much greater flexibility in questioning him and given him no legal right to resist. The decision to charge Mutallab as a criminal, rather than designate him as an enemy combatant, was a momentous one that in all likelihood guarantees we will gain less intelligence about how the attack was planned, who planned it, and whether others are on the way.”
They have a point: “Members of the Allied Pilots Association, the pilots’ union at American Airlines, said Wednesday that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration didn’t do enough to warn in-air flight crews of the Christmas Day terrorist threat on a Northwest Airlines flight.” But then no one was warned, so it’s not like they were treated any differently than anyone else.
Despite the White House’s best efforts, Fox News doesn’t look as though it is going away any time soon.
Let’s hope it’s not true: “Sen. John Kerry has filed a formal request to visit Iran, Iranian news agencies reported Tuesday — news made public in the middle of the government’s bloody crackdown on dissidents that has left more than a dozen dead.” It would be frightful if the Obami foreign policy toward Iran were this incoherent.
Meanwhile, outside the Obami cocoon: “Iran is close to clinching a deal to clandestinely import 1,350 tons of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan, according to an intelligence report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. Diplomats said the assessment was heightening international concern about Tehran’s nuclear activities.”
MSNBC going into rehab? It is redoing its daytime lineup. ”MSNBC may need to prove its news commitment to viewers. With news of the attempted terrorist attack on a plane bound for Detroit breaking late on Christmas, the network stuck with pre-taped programming. CNN and Fox covered the story much more extensively.” The solution? “MSNBC will pair Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie for one hour at 9 a.m. in a newsy, nonpartisan look at the day’s upcoming events.” In MSNBC parlance, “nonpartisan” means no “Bush=Hilter” comments.
Hannah Rosenthal denies that slamming the Israeli Ambassador was out of bounds. Or it was taken out of context. (The “system worked”? No, that’s another gaffe-prone Obama flack.) In any event, she, as Shmuel Rosner points out, is picking up friends with the Israel-bashing crowd and is ”on the way to becoming their new martyr.”
Second time is the charm? “Mr. Obama has been seeking to counter criticism that he was out of touch in the aftermath of the foiled plot, which took place Friday. For the first three days, he delegated public statements to subordinates before giving a statement Monday.” It would be nice if he got it right the first time. (One wonders what the White House’s internal polling must show about the public reaction to its handling of the terror attack.)
And it certainly doesn’t look as though Abdulmutallab was an “isolated extremist”: “The Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner had his suicide mission personally blessed in Yemen by Anwar al-Awlaki, the same Muslim imam suspected of radicalizing the Fort Hood shooting suspect, a U.S. intelligence source has told the Washington Times.”
Diane Ravitch nails it: “So the crotch-bomber will be tried for a felony in a federal court, with all the rights and privileges of American citizens. So Khalid Sheik-Mohammed and his associates will be able to enlist an army of pro bono lawyers to defend their ‘constitutional rights,’ the same ones they tried to destroy, along with some 3,000 lives. So KSM and pals will get discovery proceedings, will demand a new venue, will insist that the U.S. produce witnesses to their alleged crimes, will inflict millions of dollars of unnecessary security costs on NYC (or any other host city) that might better be spent on schools. In short, the Obama administration has woven a web of confusion, rhetoric, and illogic that will entangle it for years to come, as it attempts to defuse, de-escalate and minimize the terrorist threat. The reason this strategy is politically foolish is that the terrorist threat is real.”
Meanwhile the Washington Post reports: “Former detainees of the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have led and fueled the growing assertiveness of the al-Qaeda branch that claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner, potentially complicating the Obama administration’s efforts to shut down the facility.” It almost as though releasing dangerous terrorists is only enabling a network of fanatical murderers, huh? Must the Obami insist that closing Guantanamo is still a “national security imperative”? I think we have found the “systematic failure.”
This seems right: “By staying in Hawaii, the president has sent the message that the situation really isn’t all that serious, that things can proceed just fine until he’s back. And isn’t it that kind of reasoning that emboldens our never-vacationing enemies into thinking Christmas Day is the perfect time for them to strike?”
Jamie Fly on Obama’s new expression of “deep admiration” for the Iranian protesters: “Now that the President seems so concerned about the events unfolding on Iran’s streets, perhaps someone should ask the White House whether the President believes that Sen. Kerry should even contemplate a visit to Tehran to meet with the very officials that are ordering the beatings and killings he has just condemned. The answer might tell us how far he is really willing to go to ‘bear witness.’”
Stephen Hayes observes that Obama’s comments “fell so flat,” given the lack of any “action item” other than calling for the Iranian regime to meet its international obligations. It was a “silly statement,” he says. Charles Krauthammer adds: “Meaningless words. . . This is a hinge of history. . . This is a moment in history and he is missing it.”
It isn’t easy being a Democratic incumbent in the Obama era: “Political observers should expect more retirement announcements from centrist Democrats, according to Rep. Dan Boren (Okla.), himself a centrist Democrat.”
Rep. Pete Hoekstra blasts Obama: “After eleven months in office, the president is still sending contradictory messages on national security. . . He says he wants to address the threats yet look at how he has responded to this, how he responded to Fort Hood, how he’s open to prosecuting folks in the CIA, how he’s closing Guantanamo Bay, and how he’s bringing terror suspects to New York City.”
Rory Cooper of Heritage on Obama’s reaction to the Christmas Day bombing attack: “The overwhelming negative opinion of the President’s reaction is a result of Obama’s reckless complacency over the past year. President Obama spent the past 12 months beating up on the men and women of the CIA, on the soldiers who ably run Gitmo, campaigning against the Patriot Act (even though he now recognizes its importance), making terrorism a law enforcement issue, announcing a show trial for KSM in NYC, and cutting defense appropriations in favor of sweetheart stimulus deals. The first thing he did with Abdulmutallab was to read him his rights.”
Only a day before Obama spinmeister Marc Ambinder was praising the “strategy” of having Obama hide after a terrorist attack. Now he muses: “Did Obama, attempting to make a clean break from the Bush years vis-a-vis communicating to the public about terrorism, put too much faith in DHS Secretary Napolitano to serve as the front-line communicator?” Really, the obsession with being “not Bush” is getting to be pathological — Bush talked to the public directly about terrorism so Obama shouldn’t? Good grief.
You want horrifying? Ann Althouse takes us through the entire Janet Napolitano interview. The full interview is actually worse than the “system worked” snippet. Okay, she’s not the real problem but she’s a horrid Homeland Security Secretary and really should go.
Marc Thiessen warns us: “Instead of looking for ways to release these dangerous men, we should be capturing and interrogating more of them for information on planned attacks. But that is something the U.S. no longer does. President Obama has shut down the CIA interrogation program that helped stop a series of planned attacks — and in the year since he took office, not one high-value terrorist has been interrogated by the CIA. . . The problem with this approach is that dead terrorists cannot tell their plans. According to ABC News, Abdulmutallab has told investigators there are ‘more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.’ Who are these terrorists? Where have they been deployed? We may not find out until it is too late because we launched a strike intended to kill the al-Qaeda leaders who could give us vital intelligence.”
Sobering: “A dangerous explosive allegedly concealed by Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in his underwear could have blown a hole in the side of his Detroit-bound aircraft if it had been detonated, according to two federal sources briefed on the investigation.”
Notice the language the president employs to describe an act of terrorism on the homeland:
On Christmas Day, Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit. As the plane made its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a passenger allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device on his body, setting off a fire.
Thanks to the quick and heroic actions of passengers and crew, the suspect was immediately subdued, the fire was put out, and the plane landed safely. The suspect is now in custody and has been charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft.
Allegedly. Suspect. Charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft. Would one ever guess this is anything but a routine criminal escapade? Of course not. We have Mirandized the “suspect” who is lawyered up. We can look forward to the civilian trial — if we can be so bold as to assume there is sufficient evidence to indict him — and if convicted (after a full trial complete with the defendant’s explanation of his “justification” for his “crime”) he will be incarcerated in a U.S. prison where he can share his views on Islamic fundamentalism with its entire population, to which he will have full access after objecting (as did Richard Reid) to any unusual restrictions on contact with fellow prisoners or with his comrades on the outside. Feel safer yet?
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.