Yesterday’s address by President Obama on the Christmas Day plot was filled with lots of “well-duh” information that Americans already knew. The fact that the government failed to do its job isn’t much of a revelation. But the one message that was clearly communicated to the American public, in both yesterday’s speech and other White House press junkets, is that President Obama thinks the “system”—the one used to stop terrorists in the United States is flawed. Translation: the Bush Administration’s counterterrorism efforts didn’t work, aren’t we lucky that the Obama Administration is here to save the day and really fix things.
Well let’s deconstruct that argument a little bit. If the system itself was flawed—why has U.S. law enforcement (at times working with other nations) prevented at least 26 terror plots since 9/11? (There have been at least 28 foiled, but 2 were the result of sheer luck) Why were we successful in stopping a very similar plot in 2006, where terrorists planned to use liquid explosives to blow up 10 planes at once? In that instance, U.K. authorities discovered valuable information, shared it with the U.S., and the U.S. made sure that necessary authorities knew about and stopped it.
The reality is that the system itself isn’t broken. It is that folks inside the Executive Branch did not use the system appropriately. The legislation is there to allow intelligence and law enforcement folks to share information. The necessary organizational structure is there. We have a Director of National Intelligence, a National Counterterrorism Center, a CIA director, DHS Secretary, and a litany of other leaders tasked with the job of making sure the left hand talks to the right hand. The resources are there—Congress has never shied away from giving money for homeland security. Eight years of hard work has given us a system that if used the right way will in fact be successful at stopping terrorists from attacking Americans.
What isn’t there is leadership. And that begins squarely at the White House. Stopping terrorist attacks requires senior leaders, including the President to take responsibility for the national security missions that are an integral part of running the country. It takes a mentality that looks to find solutions rather than excuses. And it requires initiatives that will trickle down to the intelligence analyst or law enforcement officer on the ground.
Americans don’t care whether President Obama thinks the system worked or not. What they care about is what he is going to do to stop terrorists from killing Americans. Blaming Bush isn’t going to stop that from happening—its time Obama takes ownership.