WASHINGTON -- A couple of weeks ago on Oprah Winfrey's "White House Christmas Special," our first postmodern president, Barack Obama, gave himself a "good, solid B-plus" for his performance over the past 11 months. Then he added that if his health care reform passes, he will grant himself an A-. This is false humility. Actually, he is so proud of the government's impending nationalization of health care that when it comes, he will grant himself an A, possibly an A-plus.
Right now, however, he is under fire for his inert response to that Nigerian terror suspect's attempt to blow up nearly 300 passengers on a commercial jet as it landed in Detroit. He issued his arctic response after a round of golf and en route to his next presidential event, a tennis game.
Also, the criticism is mounting owing to the incompetence of his entire Homeland Security bureaucracy and the bureaucracies of his multilayered intelligence community. All failed repeatedly to recognize the threat that this terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab posed. UFA's father, a prominent Nigerian, had warned our CIA about his son's growing radicalism and possible indoctrination into jihadist terror in Yemen. With intolerable slowness, the CIA handed over its information to the Director of National Intelligence's National Counterterrorism Center. What the Counterterrorism Center did with the information is unclear. Possibly, it reached the president's National Security Council within the White House.
Then, too, none of the agencies that are supporting our Homeland Security efforts was able to stop UFA from entering the country. He had been denied a British visa. Yet if our security experts knew about it, they did not take action against UFA. He was on a "watch list," but that information never got to any airport security people who might have stopped him from flying into the United States. He had purchased his ticket with cash, and it was only a one-way ticket -- two suspicious acts that should have alerted seasoned American security officers. Finally, he brought no baggage. No baggage, a one-way ticket, and one purchased not by credit card but by cash -- all very suspicious acts.
What is more, he passed through surveillance technology that could not pick up the existence of a bomb in his underpants. Apparently, there were not even bomb-sniffing dogs at the airport gates he passed through.
"One thing I'd like to point out is that," Janet Napolitano, the president's head of Homeland Security, observed on CNN two days after UFA was arrested, "the system worked." Actually, the system is a hopeless complex of bureaucracies that still fail to coordinate with one another, despite the lessons of 9/11. Four days after UFA's attempt to blow up Northwest Flight 253 as it landed in Detroit, President Obama finally got it right when he said, "A systemic failure has occurred, and I consider that totally unacceptable."
Nonetheless, the president is about to give himself an A- for his first-year performance, for he finally has slapped together a complex of bureaucracies even more elaborate than the complex of bureaucracies that just failed to nab one miscreant as he flew across the world with a bomb in his underpants and a multitude of red flags flapping around his journey. The president's health care monstrosity is an even more unwieldy government effort than Homeland Security. Its goals are more various and vaguer. Its protocols are already in chaos.
The lesson that the president should have learned from last week's "systemic failure" is that government is a very imperfect instrument. A government that takes over 16 percent of our economy promising to bring us good health at a reasonable cost is an instrument doomed to failure and at a catastrophic cost.