On Wednesday, national security adviser Gen. James Jones warned that we would feel "a certain shock" at revelations in a White House report on what the Obama administration is calling the "failed Christmas terrorist attack." He was referring to the breakdowns that allowed a 23-year-old Nigerian-born, al-Qaida-trained suicide terrorist to nearly bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit. But the stunning information isn’t learning "what did we know and when did we know it" leading up to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt to detonate a bomb concealed in his underwear. The greatest cause for alarm is in what has happened since.
On Thursday evening — after multiple delays — the president stood before a teleprompter in the State Dining Room of the White House to deliver brief "Remarks on Strengthening Intelligence and Aviation Security." He took no questions.
Then, in a "news blitz" that continued on and off the record for more than two hours, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, John Brennan, assistant to the president for counterterrorism, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs provided additional details on what went wrong and the "reforms and corrective steps" needed to prevent a recurrence. Though the so-called mainstream media showered the presentations with accolades, little of what was said Thursday was reassuring. Some of it was downright disingenuous.
Mr. Obama began his remarks by citing "how our government failed to connect the dots in a way that would have prevented a known terrorist from boarding a plane for America." He subsequently castigated professional intelligence analysts for "a failure to connect the dots of intelligence" and for "a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had."
This assessment ignores a very simple recognition of culpability. It is difficult, if not impossible, for analysts to "connect the dots" when they are being warned not to "jump to conclusions," as Mr. Obama cautioned following Maj. Nidal Hasan’s Nov. 5 attack at Fort Hood, in which 13 people were killed. In a remarkably deceptive omission, the president never even mentioned this travesty.
But he did boldly claim, "We will continue to work with Congress to ensure that our intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement communities have the resources they need to keep the American people safe." Yet he never has provided relevant committees of Congress the reports they requested on the Fort Hood massacre, the status of five American college students now detained in Pakistan or information on radical Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who fled to Yemen from the U.S.
After noting that we have "learned a great deal about the al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen — called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula" — the president pointed the finger of blame: "The intelligence community did not aggressively follow up on and prioritize particular streams of intelligence related to a possible attack against the homeland." He also said, "It appears that this incident was not the fault of a single individual or organization, but rather a systemic failure across organizations and agencies."
Nonetheless, he is praised by the press for paraphrasing — without attribution — Harry Truman’s axiom, saying, "The buck stops with me." Regrettably, he did not acknowledge his efforts to seek "new beginnings with Muslim communities around the world, one in which we engage on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect," and his global grand apology tour for America’s "past mistakes" has been rebuffed by "our adversaries."
Mr. Obama also is being applauded for acknowledging the obvious: "We are at war." But then he says, "We are at war against al-Qaida, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, and that is plotting to strike us again. And we will do whatever it takes to defeat them."
This assessment is misleading, is far too narrow and ignores who "our adversary" really is. Radical Islamists intent on blowing themselves and others to pieces on the ground in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Madrid, Bali, Amman and London or in the air over our cities are not part of an al-Qaida "network." There are no membership cards for radical Islamists. There is no malevolent mullah exercising central authority over who lives or dies or when some attack will or will not occur. Directing the intelligence community to construct "wire diagrams" of al-Qaida cells in a dozen or more countries won’t make us any safer.
Young men like Hasan and Abdulmutallab are under the influence of an ideology based on vicious hatred of all institutions and people not sufficiently Islamic. They will not be placated by promises of "understanding" and "respect." They and their ilk won’t be deterred by our shipping detainees from Guantanamo to Illinois or trying them in civil courts instead of treating them as enemy combatants. The Obama administration does not seem to understand this yet. That’s the real shock.