It's Your War Now, Mr. President!

Should we be accepting of "inevitable failures"?

Mr. Obama blames the Bush administration whenever he's criticized about the economy.  The mainstream media go along with him, of course, despite British papers pointing out that Democratic fingerprints are all over the recession.  The American people will eventually catch on and figure out that he hasn't a clue about fixing the economy, but until they do, he's getting a free ride from the media.

This doesn't seem to be happening nearly as much with the TSA's failure to keep a Nigerian bomber named Abdulmutallab off Northwest Airlines flight 253.

The administration's original line was that the national security system had worked perfectly, saying "the system has worked really very, very smoothly" and that we shouldn't worry.  The media must have realized they couldn't defend that administration whopper, so they've admitted that the system failed and are discussing the turmoil of blame-spreading within the administration.

The New York Times pointed out that the National Security Agency heard Yemeni Al Qaeda leaders discussing a plot to have a Nigerian take down an airplane and spread the information to other agencies.  Analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center didn't link the intercepts to the perpetrator's father warning the American embassy in Nigeria that his son was plotting a jihad against America.

Defenders of the Center point out that the CIA had information about Mr. Abdulmutallab that they didn't share with other agencies.  The CIA's reticence is understandable - Mr. Obama and his Justice Department were recently talking about prosecuting CIA employees for torturing Al Qaeda members during the Bush administration.  What better way to persuade Mr. Obama of the error of his ways than to back off data-sharing a bit and see what happened?

Or perhaps they just messed up, we'll never know.

Government Intelligence - A Contradiction in Terms?

This is the second major intelligence failure which permitted an act of terrorism on US soil since Mr. Obama took power.  The FBI and other agencies watched the Ft. Hood shooter exchanging email with a fiery anti-American Imam in Yemen but dismissed it, partly for fear of being accused of being anti-Muslim.

Now we have the same failure to connect the dots and promote Mr. Abdulmutallab to the "No Fly" list - a warning from his father, his studying Islamic law, Al Qaeda talking about a Nigerian taking down an airplane, and so on.

We've spent billions and billions of dollars putting together systems to collect and analyze such information.  Why isn't it being used effectively?

Consider the obstacles that Mr. Obama has put in the way of making our security apparatus work:

  • Back when he was a Senator, he and his Democrat colleagues heaped criticism on the Bush administration for collecting information from telephone calls.  They claimed over and over that the Constitution was being violated.
  • The Democrats threatened legal action against telephone companies which shared information with the Bush administration.  That's a fine way to persuade people to cooperate with the government!
  • Mr. Obama's Justice Department spoke of prosecuting the lawyers who advised the Bush administration that waterboarding was legal.  Under his administration, interrogators will err on the side of caution and we won't get the information we need.
  • Two prominent Muslims were appointed to high positions in the Department of Homeland Security.  That's an excellent way to signal that it would be unwise for security agencies to say anything negative about anyone who happens to be a Muslim.
  • R. James Wollesy, former director of the CIA, states that that the bomber's name was left off the "No Fly" list for political reasons.  "You can see why the agencies were cautious of fighting an entrenched institutional culture that's wary of adding names to the no-fly list."
  • Mr. Obama has repeatedly said that the lawyer-based criminal justice system can handle acts of war against us, despite voluminous evidence to the contrary.  Lawyers are extremely skilled at slowing the process and at keeping their clients from telling us anything.
  • Wired reports that the TSA threatened to get a blogger fired for posting a TSA screening directive.  They also trashed his hard drive while imaging it.  If their computer skills are so rudimentary that they can't properly image a hard drive, it's no surprise that the TSA can't maintain the "No Fly" list.
  • The Obama administration is creating a legal climate in which a captured Al Qaeda agent could sue the soldiers who captured him on the field of battle!
  • Mr. Obama's still talking about closing Guantanamo and letting many of the captives go despite the fact that many of those who were released earlier have moved to, you guessed it, Yemen, and have gone back to war against us.  Why should our people risk their lives to arrest bad guys only to watch them be set free?

Mr. Obama's also engaged in world-class hypocrisy.  The Times reports that he called for an end to partisan sniping, quoting him as saying, "Instead of succumbing to partisanship and division, let's summon the unity that this moment demands," he said. "Let's work together, with a seriousness of purpose, to do what must be done to keep our country safe."

That's a noble and proper sentiment, but it's a little late for Mr. Obama to express it.  It used to be said that American politics stopped at the waters' edge - regardless of party and position, Americans banded together in matters relating to foreign policy.  We don't recall Republicans attacking Franklin Roosevelt for incompetence or unconstitutional harshness in fighting Nazi Germany, nor Republicans condemning Woodrow Wilson for making war on the Kaiser.

The Democrats discarded this sensible principle during the Bush administration, heaping all kinds of partisan criticism on Mr. Bush's efforts to prevent a repeat of 9-11.  Mr. Obama was one of Mr. Bush's chief critics.

Now that he's suffered through not one, but two intelligence lapses, Mr. Obama wants cooperation in spite of his own efforts and his party's unceasing efforts to poison the water?  Fat chance!

Learning From Experience

There's one hopeful sign - Mr. Obama granted a href="" target="_blank">wavier from his anti-lobbying rules so that John O. Brennan, the deputy national security adviser for homeland security and counter-terrorism, could take charge of the investigation of what went wrong.  Having worked for private industry, Mr. Brennan is one of those dreaded businessmen on whom Mr. Obama has heaped so much scorn, but he happens to be the person best qualified to track down the problem.

The Obama administration has included notably fewer people with business experience than past administrations, partly because Mr. Obama doesn't know anybody who isn't wedded, directly or indirectly, to government handouts.  This new-found pragmatism may bode well.

Maybe he ought to involve other businesses.  As the Times put it:

Still, it is incredible, and frightening, that the government cannot do at least as good a job at swiftly updating and correlating information as Google.

A Misdirected Cover-Up

The New York Times is still trying to cover for Mr. Obama, of course.  They couldn't ignore this act of terrorism as they ignored Climategate, but they're hoping to deflect criticism by pointing out that human-based institutions always mess up and bemoaning the fact that Americans seem to expect perfection from their government:

... there was a realistic sense that human institutions are necessarily flawed.  History is not knowable or controllable.  People should be grateful for whatever assistance that government can provide and had better do what they can to be responsible for their own fates[emphasis added]

That mature attitude seems to have largely vanished.  Now we seem to expect perfection from government and then throw temper tantrums when it is not achieved.  We seem to be in the position of young adolescents - who believe mommy and daddy can take care of everything, and then grow angry and cynical when it becomes clear they can't.

Their regret that Americans have lost their sense of the inevitable fallibility of government institutions and their plea for the public to cut Mr. Obama a little slack would be more credible if the Times hadn't led the anvil chorus of criticism of the Bush administration.  Now that their hero's messing up, the Times wants us to be patient.  Feh!

Resilient societies have a level-headed understanding of the risks inherent in this kind of warfare[emphasis added]

Wow.  Wasn't it the Times who kept telling us that Iraq had been lost and that we'd better bail out?  Where was their understanding of the risks inherent in this kind of warfare during the Bush administration?

But, of course, this is not how the country has reacted over the past week.  There have been outraged calls for Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security to resign, as if changing the leader of the bureaucracy would fix the flaws inherent in the bureaucracy[emphasis added]

"Flaws inherent in the bureaucracy."  Truer words were never spoken, but where was the Times' understanding of the flaws inherent in the bureaucracy when they were cheering on the government's takeover of the health care system and the financial system?

Most of the media seems to have recognized that aircraft security is Mr. Obama's problem; the Times' covering for him took the form of misdirection rather than denying that he and his administration fouled up.  It isn't working; you can only cover up incompetence and failure for so long.  Reality has a way of making itself plain sooner or later.

We have some advice for President Obama: just as you said, the time for political posturing is past.  Islamofacists are out to get us.  They don't deal in "man-caused disasters;" their weapon of choice is terrorism and we might as well admit it.

It is a war on terror - or more precisely, a fight against Islamic barbarism -  and it's your war.  If you don't fight it, the electorate will hold you accountable.

But hey!  We've recently discovered that there weren't just two party crashers at the White House state dinner last Nov. 24, there were three!  The third unauthorized guest passed the security check, joined a group of invitees at their hotel and rode the government-supplied bus to the White House.  If our bureaucrats can't protect the White House, after all, how can we expect them to protect airplanes?

Maybe American voters will follow the Times suggestion, realize that all government activities are inherently flawed, cut Mr. Obama some slack, and confine themselves to wondering why he is wasting such unimaginably vast amounts of their money on inevitable failure.

Then again, maybe they won't.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments
I would think everyone would understand that any institution will make some mistakes. Detaining a person for a day that doesn't need to be is making a mistake. Not catching a person that acts completely alone without any governmental agency knowing about it is a mistake.

Errors like this can be simple mistakes.

With as many warnings as the government had about this plot in general and this person in specific I find it impossible to just say 'oops.'

I do not expect perfection, I do expect competence.
January 8, 2010 9:32 AM
The NY Times has summarized what was reported of the intelligence failures leading up to the attack:
January 8, 2010 7:57 PM
This article points out something interesting, which reflects badly of Mr Bush: if the CIA knew but neglected to inform Obama, then they are derelict in their duty: if they blaim being prosecuted for torturing prisoners, well, sadism is not a recognised leisure activity, nor is it conducive to the conduct of a moral and and civilized country.
The CIA members should be fired for insubordination; if they're guilty of assault and battery, they should go to jail.
And if Bush approved their conduct, he should go with them.
If he didn't, he should go anyway for acting so out of touch with Americans that they thought Obama would be a better president..
The legacy of Bush: arrogance, disrespect for the American people that Obama was better than any Republican, and crimes such as initiating war, assault and cover-ups, being a hater.
A bitter taste for such idiocy.
And I suppose the party of more-is-less government approves of the CIA's incompetence?

January 8, 2010 8:24 PM
Actually, I called for the CIA to be shut down and the money saved.

It would be great to have a spy service - if it worked. A spy service that you can't trust is worse than none at all. Time to scrap it and, if necessary, start over fresh.
January 8, 2010 10:28 PM
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