Commentary Magazine


Topic: political heat boils

Circle the Wagons

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.

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.

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