On New Year’s Eve, the White House received the preliminary assessment from federal agencies detailing the shortfalls of a terrorist bomber got on a plane bound for Detroit. The president admitted the government had more than enough information to justify keeping Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab off the aircraft. Obama concluded the system failed.
Here is what the president did not explain: This is the same system that stopped the London-based terrorist plot in 2006. On that occasion, intelligence connected the dots; counterterrorism agents penetrated the conspiracy; Homeland Security developed countermeasures; and with international partners the U.S. took down the terrorists before any bomber got near a plane.
Obama had the same system at his disposal as the last president. One built between 2002 and 2008 in the aftermath of the first wave of terrorist attacks– 9/11; the anthrax letters; and Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. A system that President Bush drove day-in and day-out, 24-7-365 to find and stop terrorist threats before they got off the ground. That’s why the 2006 plot and 26 other plots since 9/11 (21 under the Bush presidency) were found out and stopped. What Obama did not explain is how it worked for the last president, but failed for him.
Systems will never be perfect. The enemy keeps changing its tactics—innovating, improvising, adopting. There will also always be gaps, miscues, and mistakes. That’s the nature of how government works. There is no better antidote for these problems than leadership from the top. A leader that establishes the priority; sets the right tone; demands results; and then follows-up.
Faulting the administration for a lack of leadership is not meant as a partisan criticism. Scoring political points won’t make us safe. The terrorists don’t care if they kill Republicans or Democrats or the West Wing is held by the left-wing or the right-wing. Nobody wants the White House to fail in this mission. Nor are finger-pointing or snipping and point-scoring much helpful. The President needs to look forward not back. Start over. Make winning the war against terrorism the top priority of his administration and act like a war president day in and day out.
And, if the president acts like a president; America needs to support him. Politics no longer stop at the water’s edge. They stop at our doorstep. We need the spirit shown on the anniversary of 9/11 in 2008 when two presidential candidates stood side-by-side and put politics aside for the day.