Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 30, 2009
WAR: No B+ For Obama

ObamaThe New York Daily News under the management of Mort Zuckerman is a fairly reliable weathervane of a particular stripe of moderate, Northeastern Democrat opinion, broadly liberal in inclination but more cold-eyed and hawkish when it comes to crime, national security, and in particular the threat of Islamic extremism to the U.S. and Israel - your basic Ed Koch-type Democrat (this is not an exclusively Jewish phenomenon, although in New York that's who the leading voices are). Typically, the News gave fawning and totally excessive coverage of every historic move of the historic new historic presidency of Barack Obama during the high watermark of his Administration, from November 2008 through late January 2009; at one point either Obama or his wife was on the front page every day for more than three weeks.

So, it's significant - in the way moderate-conservative outlets' turning on George W. Bush between mid-2005 and early 2006 was significant - that the News today has a blisteringly harsh assessment of Obama's sluggish public response to the attempted destruction of a U.S.-bound flight by a fanatic wearing bomb-laden underwear apparently designed by Al Qaeda bomb-makers in Yemen, especially given the revelation that U.S. intelligence had been warned by the Nigerian bomb-wearer's father that he was in cahoots with Islamist extremists. The News' assessment, which was featured with the front page headline "Get a Grip":

The moment demanded inspiring, decisive presidential leadership.

America waited four days for a glimmer.

President Obama's initial response Monday was too long in coming, too cool in delivery and too removed from the extreme gravity of the plot....

Before his first remarks on Monday, Obama had left a vacuum, and into that 76-hour empty space rushed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose ineptitude made a mockery of her position and threw millions of fliers into continuing states of confusion.

What the public was left with was a never-to-be-repeated case study in crisis mismanagement. It's time to get a grip, Mr. President.

Napolitano's "the system worked" comment is perhaps the perfect symbol of this tone-deaf response, given that this particular attack was essentially thwarted by the passengers, not by the government. This is, of course, in contrast to how swift and vivid Obama's statements can be when he wants to make partisan hay from the news, as with his same-day statement declaring himself "shocked and outraged" at the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller. The News' assessment of the substance of Obama's response is no cheerier:

Obama's description of Abdulmutallab as an "isolated extremist" was remarkable and disturbing. This radicalized young Nigerian is nothing of the sort. He operated, in fact, as an Al Qaeda-recruited, Al Qaeda-supplied, Al Qaeda-directed foot soldier - as, to put it directly, an enemy combatant, and not as the criminal "suspect" of Obama's description.

In similarly distant fashion, the President ordered up a "review" of how Abdulmutallab smuggled explosives onto the jet and a "review" of how he slipped through the government's various terror watch lists despite signals of clear and present danger.

The Telegraph has a more detailed rundown of how the intelligence on Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab didn't prevent him from boarding the plane with a bomb in his pants, and how Obama's response continues a disturbing pattern:

There has been a pattern developing with the Obama administration trying to minimise terrorist attacks. We saw it with Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad, a Muslim convert who murdered a US Army recruit in Little Rock, Arkansas in June. We saw it with Major Nidal Malik Hassan, a Muslim with Palestinian roots who slaughtered 13 at Fort Hood, Texas last month. In both cases, there were Yemen connections. Obama began to take the same approach with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

As the News notes, the security problems that led to this attack include laxity at the TSA and a too-easy hand in releasing Gitmo detainees (such as the Yemeni bomb-makers who were released to a Saudi "art therapy" program), both of which have roots in the Bush Administration's periodic capitulations to political correctness and (in the TSA's case) the disastrous "leadership" of Norman Mineta. But the News also notes that Obama can't well avoid responsibility for Bush policies he inherited and chose to expand, rather than repair. He's particularly put on the spot by liberal California Democrat Dianne Feinstein's call for a halt to releases of further GTMO detainees to Yemen.

There will be no B+ for this effort.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:53 AM | War 2007-12 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

"The moment demanded inspiring, decisive presidential leadership."

No, not really. I wonder what would have pleased the NY Post. It's true that Obama, on the day of the event, immediately could have issued a statement condemning it. Maybe that would have had a more favorable political effect, but it would not have accomplished much in terms of US security. Besides, I'd rather have him wait a few days more information was in. Too much is being made of his delay in making statement, apart from Napolitano's gaffe.

The more relevant question is what Obama is going to do about it. In terms of US security procedures, the most serious issue is why this guy wasn't on a no-fly list. He should have been given the CIA's information. Someone's head should roll.

Posted by: MVH at December 30, 2009 2:15 PM

It's important to note that this is not the NY Post, it's the Daily News. There's a huge difference.

I guess I agree that it isn't very important to me that Obama come out immediately on this. But it does look funny next to things he does feel he needs to speak up about immediately, as is noted.

Government is really really bad at this sort of thing--safety and security and quick response. They're hopeless because they really don't have any skin in the game. Why would we turn over the responsibility for our health to another massive beaurocracy? Will heads roll if the government loses my CAT scan?

Posted by: spongeworthy at December 30, 2009 2:47 PM

bureaucracy.

Posted by: spongeworthy at December 30, 2009 2:48 PM

Napolitano's comments were just stupid and they corrected them. Yes, Obama could have come out sooner regarding this. And somebody's head should roll for the fact that the guy's own father dropped a dime on him and yet he still got on an airplane headed here. All that said, the major problem is...... we are treating the terrorist like a criminal. because of that we are now not able to interogate him and find out who his handlers were, where he was trained, what if anything he knows about future attacks. I would rather no attacks , no casulaties and Obama being praised than attacks, dead Americans and Obama losing any hope for re-election.

Posted by: dch at December 30, 2009 2:59 PM

Is "beaurocracy" a secret agency of Southern Belles that has a watch list for attractive men?

Posted by: jim at December 30, 2009 3:20 PM

Oh, I agree that the problem is the substance of Obama's policies, not the symbolism. But one of the basic rules of politics is, people will forgive bad symbolism if they trust you on the substance. Nobody ever doubted that Bush was deadly serious about terrorism. But people doubted his response to Katrina, so they gave him hell over the symbols of that response.

As the Telegraph piece notes, there's a pattern in Obama's responses that's telling of the substance.

Posted by: Crank at December 30, 2009 3:49 PM

"As the Telegraph piece notes, there's a pattern in Obama's responses that's telling of the substance."

I disagree with the Telegraph piece. The pattern is rather easily explained by the fact that Obama, apart from his political differences, does not have the same decision-making style as Bush, for better or worse. He takes his time with decisions. The case of a US citizen murdering another doesn't take too long to condemn - the facts are obvious. When the facts/solutions aren't obvious - Ft. Hood, troops to Afghanistan, this recent terrorist attempt -he takes more time. That does not mean there is not any substance or that he cares any less about security.

"But one of the basic rules of politics is, people will forgive bad symbolism if they trust you on the substance."

And this is one of the consequences of his decision-making style. But as you say, it's a matter of trust rather than a matter of substance. People who are looking for a quicker response will tend not trust someone who takes more time, but that doesn't mean there is no substance. In my view, there is no "tell" here.

Posted by: MVH at December 30, 2009 4:30 PM

I just want the American people to be safe and the fight taken to Al Quaeda. The core duty of being President is maintaining order and safety. I go by the WTC every day on the bus to work and I don't want anything like that ever happening again.

Posted by: dch at December 30, 2009 5:07 PM

Is "beaurocracy" a secret agency of Southern Belles that has a watch list for attractive men?

How I hated them. They haunt my dreams.

Posted by: spongeworthy at December 31, 2009 9:12 AM

err, it took Bush six days to comment on Richard Reid.
If someone at the lowest levels does not do their job the whole system fails. We have to fix the problem at the root. All the information was there, just a few lazy people people caused the system to fail. But it is far easier to bash the people at the top than to fix the real problem or offer solutions.

Posted by: javaman at January 1, 2010 4:12 PM

No one could have predicted* that starting 2 wars in areas of the world we know nothing about in order to move the Treasury into the hands of the defense contractors who fund the elections of our national politicians wouldn't make us a lick safer.

* Conservative phrase which roughly means "anyone with 2 brain cells to rub together could have predicted".

Posted by: Berto at January 4, 2010 11:30 PM
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