Commentary Magazine

Obama's Year of Living Blamelessly

Barack Obama has figured out what went wrong with Homeland Security this past Christmas: George W. Bush: "It’s becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have,”  Obama said Wednesday.

When you’re president of the United States, you can’t pass the buck to your superior. In response to this frustration, President Obama has developed what systems people like to call a "workaround": He passes the buck to his predecessor. A lot.

He started blaming Bush during the presidential campaign, which was natural enough. Here is candidate Obama on Iran, for example: "It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.” But after becoming president, Obama just kept on going. On climate change: "After eight years in which there was resistance to even acknowledging the problem, I think my administration has been very clear that we intend to be a leader on this issue internationally.” On trying terror suspects: “The decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable.” And now, on the failed Christmas Day terror attack.

Here’s a prediction: Obama will find that he’s gone to the Blame Bush well one too many times. With the Christmas Day fiasco something has “become clear,” alright. But it’s not the failings of George W. Bush.  James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation notes, “Since 2001, there have been 28 failed terrorist attacks against the United States. That averages out to about three foiled attempts per year. That was until this year. This year there were six failed attempts that make 2009 a banner year — the most in one year.”  Unprecedented, as Obama likes to say. A historic first, as his supporters are fond of putting it. Well, you might say, that doesn’t mean that the Obama administration has necessarily opened us up to more attacks, right? Isn’t it fair to say that it has stopped more attacks? Not exactly. Here are further groundbreaking results from Obama’s first year as buck-passer in chief:

Additionally, in 2009, not every terrorist attack was stopped. In November, Nidal Malik Hasan gunned down a dozen of his fellow soldiers and shot up a score more — despite the fact that there were red flags galore that he was someone to worry about. Others were recruited here to attack over there, including five young men from northern Virginia who shipped-off to Pakistan; youth from Minneapolis enticed to fight Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate; and David Coleman Headley, who allegedly helped plan the Mumbai attacks and other potential strikes. 

If, on September 12, 2001, you were asked to describe what a preposterously unconcerned America might look like eight years hence, you’d never have come up with the orgy of moral preening and America-shame that is the Obama national-security contraption. I’m not in the habit of quoting Maureen Down approvingly, but she’s on to something when she asks,  

If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?

John Yoo, presumably. Or, for the more audacious members of Obama’s fan base, Dick Cheney. The administration has replaced the question of how to protect America with the question of how to redeem America. Closing Guantanamo Bay was quite literally the President’s first order of business–tied with shaming the intelligence community over its terrorist interrogations; whereas keeping terrorists out of the country is literally the last thing the administration will concern itself with this year.

That the issue is being addressed at all is only the result of a terrorist having come within a hair’s breadth of achieving the first mass fatality in the U.S. since 9/11. When Nidal Hasan killed a dozen Americans at Fort Hood in November, recall that the T-word was verboten at the White House and the President told us not to “jump to conclusions.” Funny that Obama himself has jumped to a rather dubious conclusion about would-be Christmas bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Speaking Monday, Obama described Abdulmutallab as an "isolated extremist." Good to know.

Somehow, those loathsome “last eight years” are looking a lot less loathsome. President Obama may want to stop invoking them lest they spurn fresh comparisons. After all, this last one year doesn’t quite measure up in fighting terrorism and areas beyond. Obama may have “turned the page” on Bush’s Iran policy, but he got hit with a surprise plot twist: a more intransigent, bellicose Iranian regime immune to the president’s outstretched hand. Meanwhile, Iran’s democratic protesters proved that Bush’s policy of liberating Iran’s neighbor from totalitarian rule served to inspire Iranians and weaken Tehran. Since mocking Bush for “resistance to even acknowledging the problem” of climate change, Obama has made himself into an ineffective spectacle by failing to force skeptical governments to budge on an issue that’s looking more like a false alarm every day. Obama excoriated Bush’s “ad hoc legal approach” to enemy combatants only to get tied up in his own Justice Department’s ad hoc failures on Gitmo. Add to Obama’s list of unprecedented developments our newly strained relations with allies France, England, Israel, Poland, and the Czech Republic and you’ll find it impossible to get worked up over Bush’s cowboy unilateralism.

In November of 2008, Bret Stephens observed in the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Obama will get, and deserves, a period of political grace. Let’s say a year. After that, it will become increasingly difficult to attribute whatever mistakes he makes to the legacy of his predecessor. American liberalism, such as it is, is finally being put to the test that fate has denied it these last many decades. Succeed or fail, this time there can be no excuses.” Here’s a suggested New Year’s resolution for President Obama: start reading the Journal.


About the Author

Abe Greenwald is the senior editor of COMMENTARY and writes regularly for our blog.

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