Clueless. It’s the word that best describes the Obama administration’s first year in office. They’ve proven themselves clueless about creating jobs; clueless about handling growing nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea; and now, most devastatingly, clueless about protecting Americans from terrorist attacks on our own soil. And with nearly one year under the belts, they can’t keep blaming the Bush administration for everything that goes awry.
It is hard to imagine a more incompetent handling of the thwarted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. jetliner. First, the commander in chief was too busy enjoying his vacation in Hawaii to do much more than issue platitudinous assurances that he was "actively monitoring" the incident, while dispersing White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to the weekend talk shows to downplay the significance of the event.
When the news media began uncovering evidence that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was exactly who he claimed to be when taken into custody -- a terrorist tied to an al-Qaida network in Yemen -- the administration began backtracking on its earlier statements that the incident was not part of a larger terrorist plot and that "the system worked." But it took the president three days to appear before the American public to insist on a thorough investigation. By that time, everyone knew that the would-be suicide bomber’s own father had alerted U.S. intelligence officials of his son’s threat to American security. But the warnings didn’t keep Abdulmutallab off a jetliner headed to the United States.
Even the words the president used in his press conference Dec. 28 suggest how clueless he is. He described Abdulmutallab as a "passenger (who) allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device," repeatedly referring to Abdulmutallab in his comments as a "suspect." These are the weasel words we use when talking about ordinary criminals, which is no accident. The Obama administration’s anti-terrorism philosophy is to treat terrorist attacks like criminal actions, not acts of war.
The Obama administration’s response to the deadly terrorist attack at Fort Hood in November was exactly the same. For days after Nidal Hasan gunned down his fellow soldiers at the Texas Army installation, killing 13 and injuring dozens, the administration tried to portray Hasan as a troubled lone wolf whose actions had nothing to do with his increasingly radicalized Islamic faith. But as news organizations revealed that the FBI had been monitoring Hasan and that he had been in contact with a known radical imam in Yemen, the insanity explanation looked increasingly lame. Now the administration is engaged in a review of why so many clues to Hasan's terrorist intentions went ignored.
The Obama administration’s cluelessness has reached the point that even the president’s admirers have to admit something is drastically wrong. The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus, one of President Obama’s most fawning fans, wrote this week: "The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn inside his underwear. And at the Obama administration's initial, everything's-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction." And Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, now wants to stop the administration from releasing Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, in light of growing evidence of al-Qaida's active presence there.
Many of us who criticized Barack Obama’s candidacy did so because we felt he was too inexperienced to be president. His first year in office has done nothing to allay those fears. He has put together a team of White House operatives who politicize every crisis. Their first concern seems to be to protect the president from blame, not to protect the American people from harm, whether it be from failed economic policies or terrorist attacks.
And the president seems unable to go much beyond reading a script. He shows little actual leadership, whether in crafting a health care plan or devising a coherent foreign policy, preferring to delegate to others duties that he should assume. He turned over responsibility for the stimulus plan and totally revamping of U.S. health care to Democrats in Congress, with predictably unsatisfactory results. Meanwhile, his policy of engagement with enemies like Iran and North Korea has simply emboldened them to pursue their nuclear aims at a faster pace.
Americans have given President Obama an extended honeymoon, but their love affair with a man who showed much promise, if not actual accomplishment, is cooling down. The latest Rasmussen presidential tracking numbers show the president at only 47 percent approval. Unless President Obama dramatically changes course, 2010 will be the year when most Americans begin thinking about divorce.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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