Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S. official

No Good Choices for the White House

The White House is torn these days — focus on the economy (and thereby highlight its own failures) or shift to foreign policy (though its “smart diplomacy” is proving to be anything but)? There is no good choice. If this report is accurate, the Obami appear to have given up on the economy:

This week’s foreign-policy initiatives are of Mr. Obama’s own choosing. But they also show a realization that there is little he can do to boost the economy ahead of the November elections, said William Galston, a domestic-policy adviser to President Bill Clinton. “President Obama for the most part has decided just to be president and do the president’s job for the rest of this year,” Mr. Galston said. “That doesn’t mean he won’t be raising money for candidates, won’t be doing some politicking. … But it seems to me at this point the president is taking a long view, perhaps because he has precious few alternatives.”

But in the foreign policy realm, the vision is anything but “long view.” Obama tends to view foreign policy moves as short term, politically minded gambits. Iraq is a campaign promise kept rather than an achievement or an ongoing commitment. The peace talks are a face-saving gesture so that Obama’s Middle East policy doesn’t go up in flames. But more candid White House aides confess that those talks may very well trigger real flames:

U.S. officials said they worried that a new round of violence in the Palestinian territories could erupt if the freeze isn’t extended. “We might end up preparing for a catastrophe instead of a prolonged peace process,” said one U.S. official engaged in the talks.

Mr. Obama has cited a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal as one of his chief foreign-policy aims. He has said that he believed such an agreement could be achieved within a year, and that it would have far wider implications for stability in the Middle East.

That, however, is fantasyland stuff.

It would be delightful if Obama actually took the long view — real entitlement reform, attacking the debt, ensuring that the world is not threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran, sticking with Iraq so it emerges (as South Korea did) as a reliable democratic ally. But Obama shows little sign of that. His tenure has been marked by hyper-partisanship, irresponsible spending, unreasoned and unwise foreign policy maneuvers, and a lack of responsiveness to the voters. This is why there are, nine weeks from Election Day, no good choices. You can’t undo 18 months of damage in 63 days.

The White House is torn these days — focus on the economy (and thereby highlight its own failures) or shift to foreign policy (though its “smart diplomacy” is proving to be anything but)? There is no good choice. If this report is accurate, the Obami appear to have given up on the economy:

This week’s foreign-policy initiatives are of Mr. Obama’s own choosing. But they also show a realization that there is little he can do to boost the economy ahead of the November elections, said William Galston, a domestic-policy adviser to President Bill Clinton. “President Obama for the most part has decided just to be president and do the president’s job for the rest of this year,” Mr. Galston said. “That doesn’t mean he won’t be raising money for candidates, won’t be doing some politicking. … But it seems to me at this point the president is taking a long view, perhaps because he has precious few alternatives.”

But in the foreign policy realm, the vision is anything but “long view.” Obama tends to view foreign policy moves as short term, politically minded gambits. Iraq is a campaign promise kept rather than an achievement or an ongoing commitment. The peace talks are a face-saving gesture so that Obama’s Middle East policy doesn’t go up in flames. But more candid White House aides confess that those talks may very well trigger real flames:

U.S. officials said they worried that a new round of violence in the Palestinian territories could erupt if the freeze isn’t extended. “We might end up preparing for a catastrophe instead of a prolonged peace process,” said one U.S. official engaged in the talks.

Mr. Obama has cited a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal as one of his chief foreign-policy aims. He has said that he believed such an agreement could be achieved within a year, and that it would have far wider implications for stability in the Middle East.

That, however, is fantasyland stuff.

It would be delightful if Obama actually took the long view — real entitlement reform, attacking the debt, ensuring that the world is not threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran, sticking with Iraq so it emerges (as South Korea did) as a reliable democratic ally. But Obama shows little sign of that. His tenure has been marked by hyper-partisanship, irresponsible spending, unreasoned and unwise foreign policy maneuvers, and a lack of responsiveness to the voters. This is why there are, nine weeks from Election Day, no good choices. You can’t undo 18 months of damage in 63 days.

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How’s Syrian Engagement Going?

No matter how many trips John Kerry makes to Syria (could it be because he makes so many trips?), we haven’t been able to extract a smidgen of cooperation from the Syrian despot or weaken the bond between Iran and Syria. Here’s the latest:

Syria defied Western pressure on Sunday over its support for the militant group Hezbollah and said it would not act as a policeman for Israel to prevent weapons from reaching the Lebanese Shi’ite movement.

“Did Israel ever stop arming itself, did it stop instigating violence or making military maneuvers,” Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said after meeting his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle. “Why are arms forbidden to Arabs and allowed to Israel?”

The answer is because Israel is a democracy that does not foment terrorism, saddle up to aggressive regimes, or brutalize its own people. But that’s not the sort of  answer any U.S. official is going to give these days. And it is further evidence that engagement has given the Syrians not pause but encouragement to defy the U.S. We are perceived as weak, desperate, unreliable, and in retreat in the region.

It seems that no amount of evidence — not defiance by Syria in this latest incident, not Scud sales, not chummy press conferences with Assad and Ahmadinejad in perfect harmony, not the continued trampling of human rights — will convince the Obama brain trust that our current policy is horribly misguided. They have their own game plan, and they aren’t about to let reality get in the way.

No matter how many trips John Kerry makes to Syria (could it be because he makes so many trips?), we haven’t been able to extract a smidgen of cooperation from the Syrian despot or weaken the bond between Iran and Syria. Here’s the latest:

Syria defied Western pressure on Sunday over its support for the militant group Hezbollah and said it would not act as a policeman for Israel to prevent weapons from reaching the Lebanese Shi’ite movement.

“Did Israel ever stop arming itself, did it stop instigating violence or making military maneuvers,” Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said after meeting his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle. “Why are arms forbidden to Arabs and allowed to Israel?”

The answer is because Israel is a democracy that does not foment terrorism, saddle up to aggressive regimes, or brutalize its own people. But that’s not the sort of  answer any U.S. official is going to give these days. And it is further evidence that engagement has given the Syrians not pause but encouragement to defy the U.S. We are perceived as weak, desperate, unreliable, and in retreat in the region.

It seems that no amount of evidence — not defiance by Syria in this latest incident, not Scud sales, not chummy press conferences with Assad and Ahmadinejad in perfect harmony, not the continued trampling of human rights — will convince the Obama brain trust that our current policy is horribly misguided. They have their own game plan, and they aren’t about to let reality get in the way.

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Iran Engagement Lives

The Washington Post reports:

In a highly unusual move, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki hosted a dinner Thursday for the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council, including a senior U.S. diplomat, at the Iranian mission’s sumptuous Fifth Avenue townhouse in New York, according to Security Council diplomats. … The United States was represented at the dinner, but not by its top diplomat, Susan E. Rice. Alejandro D. Wolff, the second-ranking ambassador at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, attended instead.

The administration hastens to add that this doesn’t signal that we are backing away from sanctions (albeit the itty-bitty ones we are negotiating), and we should, I suppose, be thankful that Rice herself didn’t attend. But the administration can’t help but reveal its muddled approach: “The United States maintained that its presence at the dinner should not be interpreted as a sign that it is backing away from sanctions. ‘This is a dual-track strategy of engagement on one hand and pressure on the other,’ the U.S. official said.” The result is, of course, a mixed message — and an ineffective policy. We can’t commit to regime change — for that might anger the mullahs or smear the Green Movement. We can’t pass crippling sanctions, because that would cause too much pain and impair our ability to resume engagement.

So we seek halfhearted sanctions that have no hope of success, as we signal — plead, in fact — for the Iranians to return to the bargaining table, where they can resume the stalling tactics that have bought them months and months of time to pursue their nuclear program. The notion that we should isolate Iran, engage in a full-court press to make it a pariah state, and push for, at the very least, petroleum sanctions is alien to this administration. We shouldn’t then worry about a dinner party. We should worry that the administration has given up on preventing the mullahs from getting the bomb.

The Washington Post reports:

In a highly unusual move, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki hosted a dinner Thursday for the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council, including a senior U.S. diplomat, at the Iranian mission’s sumptuous Fifth Avenue townhouse in New York, according to Security Council diplomats. … The United States was represented at the dinner, but not by its top diplomat, Susan E. Rice. Alejandro D. Wolff, the second-ranking ambassador at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, attended instead.

The administration hastens to add that this doesn’t signal that we are backing away from sanctions (albeit the itty-bitty ones we are negotiating), and we should, I suppose, be thankful that Rice herself didn’t attend. But the administration can’t help but reveal its muddled approach: “The United States maintained that its presence at the dinner should not be interpreted as a sign that it is backing away from sanctions. ‘This is a dual-track strategy of engagement on one hand and pressure on the other,’ the U.S. official said.” The result is, of course, a mixed message — and an ineffective policy. We can’t commit to regime change — for that might anger the mullahs or smear the Green Movement. We can’t pass crippling sanctions, because that would cause too much pain and impair our ability to resume engagement.

So we seek halfhearted sanctions that have no hope of success, as we signal — plead, in fact — for the Iranians to return to the bargaining table, where they can resume the stalling tactics that have bought them months and months of time to pursue their nuclear program. The notion that we should isolate Iran, engage in a full-court press to make it a pariah state, and push for, at the very least, petroleum sanctions is alien to this administration. We shouldn’t then worry about a dinner party. We should worry that the administration has given up on preventing the mullahs from getting the bomb.

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RE: The Times Square Terror Attack

We learn today that the administration believes the Times Square car-bombing attempt was “coordinated by more than one person in a plot with international links.” The Washington Post reports:

The disclosure, while tentative, came as the White House intensified its focus on the Saturday incident in New York City, in which explosives inside a Nissan Pathfinder were set ablaze but failed to detonate at the tourist-crowded corner of Broadway and 45th Street.

Emerging from a series of briefings, several officials said it was premature to rule out any motive but said the sweeping, multi-state investigation was turning up new clues.

Separately, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also characterized the incident for the first time as an attempted act of terrorism. “I would say that was intended to terrorize, and I would say that whomever did that would be categorized as a terrorist,” Gibbs said, sharpening the administration’s tone.

Another U.S. official, recounting a conversation with intelligence officials, said, “Don’t be surprised if you find a foreign nexus. … They’re looking at some tell-tale signs and they’re saying it’s pointing in that direction.”

A couple of points are worth noting. First, if accurate, this is the fourth significant jihadist attack since Obama took office. (In case you’ve lost track, there was the Little Rock recruiting shooting, the Fort Hood massacre, and the Christmas bombing — all before this latest event.) If Obama’s array of not-Bush national-security policies were supposed to make us safer, they haven’t.

Second, at least the administration managed to get out the word “terrorist” within a reasonable period of time, and we are told that the president, not on vacation this time, was informed Saturday night. White House message: he’s not out to lunch this time. Finally, I think we can consider the notion of a public trial for KSM in New York or any major city — hopefully any Article III trial — to be finally kaput. The reality — we are a nation at war — at some point overwhelms even the most ideologically driven administration.

We learn today that the administration believes the Times Square car-bombing attempt was “coordinated by more than one person in a plot with international links.” The Washington Post reports:

The disclosure, while tentative, came as the White House intensified its focus on the Saturday incident in New York City, in which explosives inside a Nissan Pathfinder were set ablaze but failed to detonate at the tourist-crowded corner of Broadway and 45th Street.

Emerging from a series of briefings, several officials said it was premature to rule out any motive but said the sweeping, multi-state investigation was turning up new clues.

Separately, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also characterized the incident for the first time as an attempted act of terrorism. “I would say that was intended to terrorize, and I would say that whomever did that would be categorized as a terrorist,” Gibbs said, sharpening the administration’s tone.

Another U.S. official, recounting a conversation with intelligence officials, said, “Don’t be surprised if you find a foreign nexus. … They’re looking at some tell-tale signs and they’re saying it’s pointing in that direction.”

A couple of points are worth noting. First, if accurate, this is the fourth significant jihadist attack since Obama took office. (In case you’ve lost track, there was the Little Rock recruiting shooting, the Fort Hood massacre, and the Christmas bombing — all before this latest event.) If Obama’s array of not-Bush national-security policies were supposed to make us safer, they haven’t.

Second, at least the administration managed to get out the word “terrorist” within a reasonable period of time, and we are told that the president, not on vacation this time, was informed Saturday night. White House message: he’s not out to lunch this time. Finally, I think we can consider the notion of a public trial for KSM in New York or any major city — hopefully any Article III trial — to be finally kaput. The reality — we are a nation at war — at some point overwhelms even the most ideologically driven administration.

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Another Obami Foreign-Policy Debacle

With the Obami, one never knows whether to chalk up a slam at an ally as incompetence or venality. Although with this crew, we often see both at work, especially when it comes to Israel. A prime example occurred yesterday. This report explains:

A U.S. official denied on Friday that Washington had consented to a U.N. Security Council statement to reporters voicing concern about the fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinians.

Gabon’s U.N. Ambassador Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet, president of the Security Council for March, read the nonbinding remarks on behalf the 15 council members after a closed-door discussion of the violent clashes.

“The members of the Security Council expressed their concern at the current tense situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including east Jerusalem,” Issoze-Ngondet said.

And the report dryly notes:

A U.S. official, however, told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the American delegation had not agreed with the statement and said it was adopted due to what the official described as “procedural confusion.”

It was not immediately clear what the “confusion” was.

Several council diplomats familiar with the negotiations on the statement, however, told Reuters that the U.S. delegation made no attempt to raise any objections to the final version of the text, which they said was adopted by consensus.

Confused? Well, what we do know is that this sort of thing virtually never happens with Israel-bashing UN resolutions.  (“Historically, the U.S. delegation has a tendency to block Security Council statements condemning Israel.”) Not just a tendency: a former foreign-policy official knowledgeable in this sort of thing tells me, “If it is a mistake, it is one that NEVER happened in 8 years of Clinton and 8 years of Bush.”

So was this a shot at Israel, an attempt to make clear just who is in charge before the arrival in Israel of Joe Biden?  (Biden’s appearance is more insulting than it might otherwise be, given that the president has chosen to send his hapless minion in contrast to his earlier personal appearance in the “Muslim World” at Cairo. But then again, perhaps Biden might hew to actual history rather than his boss’s fractured version.) Maybe someone on the NSC team then lost nerve, realizing how it would be perceived in Jerusalem, and thought it better to put out an after-the-fact sniveling explanation seeking to slink away from the UN statement — one that should never have seen the light of day. Still, perhaps this is just the Keystone Kops at work, and no harm was meant.

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t really matter all that much which explanation is correct. Both our allies and adversaries have come to regard the Obami as unreliable and, yes, confused. Some aggrieved allies attribute hostility to the Obami’s moves — after all, there have been enough swipes at erstwhile friends to discern a pattern. But one thing we know — this gang has not “re-established our place in the world.” One pines for the days when we had far more adept –“smarter” – diplomats.

.

With the Obami, one never knows whether to chalk up a slam at an ally as incompetence or venality. Although with this crew, we often see both at work, especially when it comes to Israel. A prime example occurred yesterday. This report explains:

A U.S. official denied on Friday that Washington had consented to a U.N. Security Council statement to reporters voicing concern about the fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinians.

Gabon’s U.N. Ambassador Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet, president of the Security Council for March, read the nonbinding remarks on behalf the 15 council members after a closed-door discussion of the violent clashes.

“The members of the Security Council expressed their concern at the current tense situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including east Jerusalem,” Issoze-Ngondet said.

And the report dryly notes:

A U.S. official, however, told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the American delegation had not agreed with the statement and said it was adopted due to what the official described as “procedural confusion.”

It was not immediately clear what the “confusion” was.

Several council diplomats familiar with the negotiations on the statement, however, told Reuters that the U.S. delegation made no attempt to raise any objections to the final version of the text, which they said was adopted by consensus.

Confused? Well, what we do know is that this sort of thing virtually never happens with Israel-bashing UN resolutions.  (“Historically, the U.S. delegation has a tendency to block Security Council statements condemning Israel.”) Not just a tendency: a former foreign-policy official knowledgeable in this sort of thing tells me, “If it is a mistake, it is one that NEVER happened in 8 years of Clinton and 8 years of Bush.”

So was this a shot at Israel, an attempt to make clear just who is in charge before the arrival in Israel of Joe Biden?  (Biden’s appearance is more insulting than it might otherwise be, given that the president has chosen to send his hapless minion in contrast to his earlier personal appearance in the “Muslim World” at Cairo. But then again, perhaps Biden might hew to actual history rather than his boss’s fractured version.) Maybe someone on the NSC team then lost nerve, realizing how it would be perceived in Jerusalem, and thought it better to put out an after-the-fact sniveling explanation seeking to slink away from the UN statement — one that should never have seen the light of day. Still, perhaps this is just the Keystone Kops at work, and no harm was meant.

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t really matter all that much which explanation is correct. Both our allies and adversaries have come to regard the Obami as unreliable and, yes, confused. Some aggrieved allies attribute hostility to the Obami’s moves — after all, there have been enough swipes at erstwhile friends to discern a pattern. But one thing we know — this gang has not “re-established our place in the world.” One pines for the days when we had far more adept –“smarter” – diplomats.

.

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Not Giving up Yet on Iranian Engagement

Good news: the Obama administration is getting ready to impose sanctions on Iran. Bad news: they are doing so in a half-hearted fashion without giving up the pipe dream of re-engaging a barbaric regime murdering its own people. No, really. They don’t want to topple the regime nor inflict much damage, just target those “elements” they think are the really bad guys. The Washington Post reports:

“We have never been attracted to the idea of trying to get the whole world to cordon off their economy,” said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “We have to be deft at this, because it matters how the Iranian people interpret their isolation — whether they fault the regime or are fooled into thinking we are to blame.”

As a result, top officials show little apparent interest in legislation racing through Congress that would punish companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran. “Sanctions would not be an alternative to engagement,” another senior official said. “Our intention is to keep the door open.”

It is unclear how, exactly, we are going to target only the Revolutionary Guard, for example. And heaven forbid we should appear to aid the protestors. (“But officials insist that sanctions would not be linked to the protests. ‘It is only coincidental that at the same time we reached the deadline, the Iranian government has a bloody crackdown,’ said a third U.S. official. ‘It has only served to highlight the nature of the regime.'”) What is important is that we avoid being too harsh, too effective, or inflict too much damage because then the regime wouldn’t want to come back to the bargaining table:

Administration officials have not given up hope that the deal can be revived — they are encouraging Turkish efforts to bridge the gap — but they say the apparent turmoil it generated within the Iranian leadership is a useful side benefit of engagement. The effort to engage “has had an unsettling effect on people in the regime,” one official said. “It has made it more difficult to demonize the United States and say it has been the root of all evil.”

(Notice the defensive fixation that we must justify our own actions to the Iranian people, who are risking life and limb against a regime they know all to well is evil.) And in defending the engagement strategy, unnamed officials claim they’ve been making progress with China. Well, not exactly progress. The Chinese just “understand the argument but don’t have the sense of urgency that other countries have.” All that bowing and scraping for nothing, it seems.

If this seems ludicrous and full of the same otherwordly thinking that originally spurred the engagement gambit and frittered away a year (while the mullahs proceeded with their nuclear program), you are right. Whatever mumbo-jumbo they are talking about, it is not “crippling sanctions.” The mullahs will be delighted to know there are no serious consequences for their behavior. They will no doubt proceed full speed ahead with their nuclear plans. And for those who imagined that Obama would be tougher and smarter? Well, it was just their imagination.

Good news: the Obama administration is getting ready to impose sanctions on Iran. Bad news: they are doing so in a half-hearted fashion without giving up the pipe dream of re-engaging a barbaric regime murdering its own people. No, really. They don’t want to topple the regime nor inflict much damage, just target those “elements” they think are the really bad guys. The Washington Post reports:

“We have never been attracted to the idea of trying to get the whole world to cordon off their economy,” said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “We have to be deft at this, because it matters how the Iranian people interpret their isolation — whether they fault the regime or are fooled into thinking we are to blame.”

As a result, top officials show little apparent interest in legislation racing through Congress that would punish companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran. “Sanctions would not be an alternative to engagement,” another senior official said. “Our intention is to keep the door open.”

It is unclear how, exactly, we are going to target only the Revolutionary Guard, for example. And heaven forbid we should appear to aid the protestors. (“But officials insist that sanctions would not be linked to the protests. ‘It is only coincidental that at the same time we reached the deadline, the Iranian government has a bloody crackdown,’ said a third U.S. official. ‘It has only served to highlight the nature of the regime.'”) What is important is that we avoid being too harsh, too effective, or inflict too much damage because then the regime wouldn’t want to come back to the bargaining table:

Administration officials have not given up hope that the deal can be revived — they are encouraging Turkish efforts to bridge the gap — but they say the apparent turmoil it generated within the Iranian leadership is a useful side benefit of engagement. The effort to engage “has had an unsettling effect on people in the regime,” one official said. “It has made it more difficult to demonize the United States and say it has been the root of all evil.”

(Notice the defensive fixation that we must justify our own actions to the Iranian people, who are risking life and limb against a regime they know all to well is evil.) And in defending the engagement strategy, unnamed officials claim they’ve been making progress with China. Well, not exactly progress. The Chinese just “understand the argument but don’t have the sense of urgency that other countries have.” All that bowing and scraping for nothing, it seems.

If this seems ludicrous and full of the same otherwordly thinking that originally spurred the engagement gambit and frittered away a year (while the mullahs proceeded with their nuclear program), you are right. Whatever mumbo-jumbo they are talking about, it is not “crippling sanctions.” The mullahs will be delighted to know there are no serious consequences for their behavior. They will no doubt proceed full speed ahead with their nuclear plans. And for those who imagined that Obama would be tougher and smarter? Well, it was just their imagination.

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A Systematic Failure, Certainly

Four days after an al-Qaeda-supported Islamic terrorist nearly butchered 278 people, two days after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said “the system worked,” and a day after a slovenly and disengaged performance in which Obama told us that the Christmas Day bomber was really an “isolated extremist,” Obama emerged once again to assure us that, well, okay, we had a “catastrophic breach” of security and a “systematic failure.”

As more details trickle out, we learn that the bomber was likely aided by al-Qaeda and inspired by the same imam who was Major Nadal Hassan’s e-mail pal. Not isolated at all, was he. And now we learn just how catastrophic was the failure:

The father of terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab met with the Central Intelligence Agency at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, and told of his son’s likely radicalization, according to the CIA.The initial meeting Nov. 19 led to a broader gathering of multiple U.S. agencies the next day, including representatives of the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and the CIA, in which the information was shared, a U.S. official said.

With no hint of irony, some hapless official tells us (on background, of course) that “it is unclear whether intelligence officials in Washington effectively collected and analyzed all the relevant information gathered in Nigeria, pointing toward a possible lapse that could have helped prevent Mr. Abdulmutallab getting on the plane he attempted to bomb.” Let me take a stab at that one: they didn’t effectively collect and analyze all the relevant information because Abdulmutallab got on the plane and almost incinerated hundreds of people. So what were Napolitano and the president talking about up until now? Were they trying to flim-flam us or were they grossly and inexcusably unprepared and ill-informed?

This is a scandal of the first order. On this one there is no George W. Bush to blame. There is only the president and his tragically clueless administration. Unlike the  pre-9/11 bits of data, which never wound up in the right hands, in this case we had a specific bomber, a specific tip, and the imam was literally in our gun-sights (reports say he escaped the predator attack). And the intelligence community was given it all on a silver platter. This is the quintessential failure to connect dots. Had the detonator not failed or an alert passenger not intervened, we would have had not a catastrophic failure but a catastrophe.

Two suggestions for the president: end the vacation and fire some people. And if he wants to show that he isn’t cowering from an increasingly infuriated public, he would do well to hold a press conference and answer each and every question put to him. If he chooses not to, the scandal may turn into Obama’s political hurricane, akin to Katrina. Perhaps it already has.

Four days after an al-Qaeda-supported Islamic terrorist nearly butchered 278 people, two days after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said “the system worked,” and a day after a slovenly and disengaged performance in which Obama told us that the Christmas Day bomber was really an “isolated extremist,” Obama emerged once again to assure us that, well, okay, we had a “catastrophic breach” of security and a “systematic failure.”

As more details trickle out, we learn that the bomber was likely aided by al-Qaeda and inspired by the same imam who was Major Nadal Hassan’s e-mail pal. Not isolated at all, was he. And now we learn just how catastrophic was the failure:

The father of terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab met with the Central Intelligence Agency at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, and told of his son’s likely radicalization, according to the CIA.The initial meeting Nov. 19 led to a broader gathering of multiple U.S. agencies the next day, including representatives of the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and the CIA, in which the information was shared, a U.S. official said.

With no hint of irony, some hapless official tells us (on background, of course) that “it is unclear whether intelligence officials in Washington effectively collected and analyzed all the relevant information gathered in Nigeria, pointing toward a possible lapse that could have helped prevent Mr. Abdulmutallab getting on the plane he attempted to bomb.” Let me take a stab at that one: they didn’t effectively collect and analyze all the relevant information because Abdulmutallab got on the plane and almost incinerated hundreds of people. So what were Napolitano and the president talking about up until now? Were they trying to flim-flam us or were they grossly and inexcusably unprepared and ill-informed?

This is a scandal of the first order. On this one there is no George W. Bush to blame. There is only the president and his tragically clueless administration. Unlike the  pre-9/11 bits of data, which never wound up in the right hands, in this case we had a specific bomber, a specific tip, and the imam was literally in our gun-sights (reports say he escaped the predator attack). And the intelligence community was given it all on a silver platter. This is the quintessential failure to connect dots. Had the detonator not failed or an alert passenger not intervened, we would have had not a catastrophic failure but a catastrophe.

Two suggestions for the president: end the vacation and fire some people. And if he wants to show that he isn’t cowering from an increasingly infuriated public, he would do well to hold a press conference and answer each and every question put to him. If he chooses not to, the scandal may turn into Obama’s political hurricane, akin to Katrina. Perhaps it already has.

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