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Whose Fault Is It?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

It may not be President Obama's fault that our multibillion-dollar Homeland Security apparatus is more Keystone Kops than "24," anymore than it was President Bush's fault that city, state, and federal agencies failed to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina. The federal government is (alas) a vast ungovernable enterprise. And the bigger it gets, the less effective it will become.

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Still, the entire Democratic Party -- led by Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and Harry Reid -- swarmed over President Bush like piranhas as the waters rose in 2005. "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" entered the lexicon as one of the most ridiculed commendations in history. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's declaration that "the system worked" after every relevant Homeland Security agency drunkenly nodded cash-paying, one-way-ticket-purchasing, Yemen-visiting, no-baggage-carrying, father-warning Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab onto Flight 253 deserves, but will not receive, at least as much scorn. In 2005, Democrats expressed outrage that it had taken Bush two days to cut short his Texas vacation. "He has to get off his mountain bike and back to work," declared then Rep. Rahm Emanuel. Somehow, if a Republican were to voice the identical sentiment now, demanding that "Obama has to get off his surfboard and back to work," the establishment would declare it a grievous breach of civility and possibly racist to boot.

I hope no Republican makes such a suggestion, though, because it contributes to the childish idea that the president must govern the nation at all times from the White House -- deploying Marines, structural engineers, tax assessors, and derivatives analysts as required. Ridiculous. Any emergency orders a president must issue can be issued from Texas or Hawaii or the space shuttle for that matter.

President Obama is not wholly responsible for the pathetic incompetence of the security agencies. But their "catastrophic" (his word) failure to perform the minimum functions assigned to them should give him pause. More than most Americans, even more than most Democrats, the president is in thrall to the illusion of a skilled, paternalistic government, able to handle the fortunes of car companies, the proper running of banks and insurance companies, the more equitable and cost-effective delivery of health care, and the exact calibration of the world's climate. Could the new New Deal just get airplane safety right first?

Leaving aside the failings of the CIA, the Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security, some of this is entirely President Obama's fault. He has guaranteed that we will get far less intelligence from this terrorist than we would have under the Bush administration. Because the highly successful Clinton law enforcement model has been reintroduced to the war on terror, no sooner was the fire in Abdulmutallab's pants out than he was read his Miranda rights and provided with a taxpayer-financed public defender.

Under the terrible ancien regime, when the world hated us, and the terrorists were inspired to attack us because Guantanamo was not listed in Fodor's Guide (except, gosh, they seem not to have gotten the memo because they persist in attacking), Abdulmutallab would have been hustled down to Guantanamo to be interrogated. Yes, interrogated. Not tortured. Not waterboarded (that happened to only three detainees) but interrogated about his contacts, his experiences in Yemen, his explosives training, and so forth. If he wanted better treatment -- dessert, videos, music -- he could purchase these with cooperation.

Not now. His lawyer, Miriam Siefer (who has represented terrorists before), will advise him to stay silent. We will learn nothing of other plots Abdulmutallab might have provided leads to, and nothing of the whereabouts of his supposed mentor, American-born Yemen resident Anwar al-Awlaki -- the imam who also incited the Fort Hood killer, had contact with two of the Sept. 11 terrorists, and who has been described by Al-Arabiya as "the bin Laden of the Internet."

Speaking of Yemen, in the mad scramble to close Guantanamo by Obama's self-imposed deadline, just this month the administration released six detainees to ... Yemen, with the promise of 34 more to come. Well, didn't the Bush administration release two Yemenis to Saudi Arabia who later moved to Yemen and continued jihad? Answer: Yes. Here's another question: Why didn't the Obama administration study that failure?

And here's one more question: How does an over-grand, overreaching would-be messiah learn the humility to at least put first things first?

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