President Obama certainly does not deserve all the blame for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s successful boarding of Northwest Flight 253. Even had Obama come into office with a burning passion for enhancing airport security and crushing al Qaeda, how much could he have accomplished since his inauguration? The fact is, the bureaucracy put into place by the Bush administration is an unwieldy mess. Abdulmutallab probably would have slipped through had George W. Bush arrested all members of the Electoral College and appointed himself to a third term solely for the purpose of continuing to fight the War on Terrror.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday: “Spy Agencies Failed To Collate Clues on Terror.” The same headline could have come from the Times in December of 2001. The Times reported that the National Security Agency intercepted communications from al Qaeda operatives in Yemen in which they discussed a plot to deploy a Nigerian in a terror attack against the United States, but “analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington did not synthesize the eavesdropping intelligence with information gathered in November when the father of the would-be bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, visited the United States Embassy in Nigeria to express concerns about his son’s radicalization.”
Obama can hardly be the single reason our intelligence agencies failed to “connect the dots,” as the saying went in the months immediately following 9/11.
And yet one has to wonder whether those dots might have had a better chance of being connected had Obama been more dedicated to the fight.
The president has memorized the right phrases when it comes to talking tough on terror. But it has been clear from Day 1 that his heart is not in this fight. Does anyone imagine that Obama wakes each morning and thinks to himself, “How can I defeat bin Laden today?” Not a chance. Does anyone doubt that he wakes each morning and wonders how he can bring health care reform one step closer to passage?
Obama is incredibly swift to comment on domestic policy. He never misses an opportunity to personally promote his domestic agenda, and he won’t let a moment go by without responding to an attack. He took the initiative to set the domestic agenda and he works tirelessly to dominate the debate on it.
And yet when it comes to foreign policy, especially the war against terrorists, he is almost shy. It took him a quarter of a year to formulate a plan for Afghanistan after his hand-picked general recommended a course of action. It took him 48 hours to authorize the use of deadly force against Somali pirates holding an American sea captain hostage. And it took him three days to comment on the attempted bombing of Flight 253.
Those delays suggest a lack of clarity in Obama’s thinking about military and intelligence matters. That is, they suggest that he has no ready response, no policy positions internalized after years of careful thought. Instead, he has to wing it. He has to listen to his experts and form entirely new opinions within his head because he has never thought about these things before.
Speaking to the National Counterterrorism Center in October, Obama said, “I can promise you this. I pledge to do everything in my power as president to keep America safe. And I pledge to give all of you the tools and support you need to get the job done, around the world and here at home. And I pledge to stay focused on that mission — just as you stay focused on your mission.”
Has there been any indication that Obama has stayed focused on that mission? He has begun the process of closing Guantanamo Bay’s prison and trying al Qaeda members in civilian courts. He has twice changed strategies in Afghanistan. But what signs have there been that he is dedicating his time to pressing hard against al Qaeda?
What percentage of his working hours since last January has the effort to thwart al Qaeda occupied? Twelve? Eight? Two? How many hours has he spent traveling the country campaigning for his health care reform efforts vs. planning and overseeing our operations against terrorist who plot all day every day to kill Americans?
Obama is not focused on “that mission.” He can’t even bear to call it a war. To him, it’s an overseas contingency operation.
Obama is not interested in this war. But al Qaeda is interested in nothing else. As dedicated as our intelligence, military and national security professionals are, that is a discrepancy that does not tip the scales in our favor on a battle-by-battle basis.