Given the recent failed airline bombing by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in Detroit on Christmas Day, a lot of folks have taken the opportunity to politicize this event and attack the Obama administration. Certainly criticism is due to the administration for this incident, but ad hominem attacks on Obama won't solve any problems. Let's get some pesky facts out of the way.
Representative Peter King (R-NY), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, believes that the Obama administration is not taking the threat of terrorism seriously enough. He thinks that because Obama wants to try terrorists in criminal courts - as opposed to military tribunals - that he is putting our nation at risk. He thinks that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano's framing the incident as a "criminal matter" and not an "act of terrorism" is worrying. Yet the response from the Obama administration is on par with that of the Bush administration's response to Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber" who tried to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes (hence why you have to go barefoot through security at airports now) on December 22, 2001. This, of course, does not faze King, who adds that Obama "seems almost awkward when he's talking about terrorism."
Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) would like the U.S. to send Abdulmutallab to Guantanamo and treat him as an enemy combatant. King seems to be in line with this thinking, requesting that Abdulmutallab be tried in a military tribunal rather than a criminal court. It's clear why they would want to do this, as the term "enemy combatant," which the Obama administration has stated will no longer be used, is a term that is outside the scope of the Geneva Conventions, which outlines the rights of prisoners of war. Add to this the fact that the term "enemy combatant" is based on skewed Supreme Court decisions (read the ABA's report on the treatment of enemy combatants, which contains a little ditty about Ex Parte Quirin), and you have a recipe for legal disaster.
But it's not just misguided politicians trying to gain political advantage via this failed terrorist act (Hoekstra, after all, invoked the incident in a recent fundraising letter). Take the New York Post. The paper took time off from covering all things Tiger Woods and had a front-page editorial slamming President Obama for not speaking out more forcefully and sooner about the attempted attack while mentioning in passing that he inherited the notoriously lackluster TSA (which is another matter, as the flight did not originate in the States), that it was actually George W. Bush who released two Yemenis from Gitmo suspected of leading the Al-Qaeda offshoot that allegedly sponsored Abdulmutallab, and that the intelligence databases created by the previous administration are of "unwieldy proportions." But other than that, Obama 100% dropped the ball.
Is the Obama administration guilty of mishandling the intelligence gathered on Abdulmutallab? Absolutely. It seems that a lack of communication between intelligence agencies or departments is to blame, and it is dismaying that over eight years after 9/11 this problem still has not been fixed. As far as Obama waiting a few days to speak, media outlets report that he received the information on Tuesday, the day he spoke out on it. I don't mind the president waiting a few days to verify the information (intelligence agencies were still trying to figure out if this was, in fact, sponsored by an Al-Qaeda offshoot) before speaking to the nation. Patience, combined with fact checking, would have prevented the War in Iraq.
And as far as the paranoia surrounding airline security and terrorism in general goes, just remember that the last two attempts to attack this country on our own soil via airliner failed miserably. Reid succeeded in only ruining his shoe and Abdulmutallab now has cajun-style testicles. Should we grow complacent? Absolutely not; the fact remains that there are people out there who want to do harm to this country and will kill innocents to get their message across. However, rules like no bathroom breaks an hour before landing, no iPods throughout the flight, no access to personal belongings during flight time, etc. seems a little overboard. If you want to improve airline security, make sure people don't bring explosives onto planes rather than assume that people can bring them on and adjust the rules accordingly. In any event, Obama has his work cut out for him; multiple problems (airline security, intelligence department communications, intelligence databases) have been identified, now fix them.
Photo - Obama speaks to the nation on Monday about the Christmas Day bombing attempt (Reuters)