In the days that followed a foiled attempt to blow up Northwest Flight 253, the
Obama White House clearly thought that it could bluff its way past the near
Two days after the event, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano contended
that "the system worked." The next day, in prepared remarks, President Obama
referred to suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as an "isolated extremist" despite
his apparent ties to al-Qaida in Yemen. Later, Obama counterterrorism adviser John
Brennan asserted that there was "no smoking gun" that should have prevented
Abdulmutallab's entry into America when everyone knew his father went to a U.S.
Embassy in Nigeria to warn officials about his son's radicalization.
On Thursday, however, Obama hit the right note. In releasing a swift review of what
went wrong and suggesting corrective actions, Obama did something President George
W. Bush usually failed to do he appeared ready to sort through the weeds and dig
through mistakes to correct problems quickly.
Obama's change of language was noteworthy; he acknowledged that "a known terrorist"
should not have been allowed to board a Detroit-bound plane. He announced, "We are
at war with al-Qaida."
To win a war, you have to know your enemy. Thus, it's important that the
administration stopped downplaying any link between Abdulmutallab and al-Qaida in
the Arabian Peninsula member Anwar al-Awlaki, who also has been tied with accused
Fort Hood killer Maj. Nidal Hasan. The White House review stipulated that the U.S.
government "had sufficient information to have uncovered . and potentially disrupt"
the planned Christmas attack, but failed.
At a press conference, Brennan said, "I told the president today, I let him down. I
told him I will do better." Actually, Brennan let the American people down. Some
critics are calling for Obama to fire someone be it an anonymous intelligence
official or someone big enough to be on the Sunday talk shows as canning someone,
they argue, would demonstrate that the president truly believes in accountability.
That's the sort of thing that is easy to say from the outside, where it is not
necessary to acknowledge that many of these same operatives also may have stopped
If I had to place a bet, I'd put my money on Napolitano being the first big-name
casualty in the Obama administration. But really, what would Obama gain by firing
her now? His reward would be a week of stories hitting him for hiring her, followed
by a week of stories on potential picks a few of whom would be pilloried and
destroyed followed by grueling confirmation hearings, during which the next, er,
victim might or might not survive attacks from the left and right.
In the meantime, Obama has shown himself willing to swing with the pendulum on the
issue of Guantanamo detainees. When Obama was a mere senator, it was easy for him to
take potshots at President George W. Bush and to promise to shutter the prison at
Guantanamo Bay. But now, as president, Obama has to preside over the consequences of
his free-the-detainees rhetoric.
ABC News' Brian Ross reported that two of the men behind the Christmas Day bombing
plot were detainees who had been released from Gitmo. The recidivism rate for the
530 released detainees has risen to 20 percent, and the remaining 198 are deemed
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is against Gitmo, but that did not stop her from
calling on Obama to halt the release of some 90 Yemeni detainees. Sunday, Brennan
said the government would release Yemeni detainees, but on Tuesday, Obama changed
Earlier this week, Obama called Guantanamo Bay "a tremendous recruiting tool for
al-Qaida." It turns out, releasing Gitmo detainees is a tremendous recruiting tool