By Julia Piscitelli, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
If Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the 23-year-old Nigerian who allegedly attempted to detonate a bomb on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day) was trying to gain a huge audience, al Qaeda needs a new communications strategy. Although most Americans eventually heard about the attempted bombing (probably somewhere between Christmas dinner and the third argument of the evening between cousins who only see each other once a year), it didn't get nearly the initial attention that it would normally have received. In fact, this incident has some eerie similarities to Richard Reid's attempt to detonate a shoe bomb on Dec. 22, 2001. The attacks were carried out over the holiday season when most in the mainstream press were traveling or on vacation. Another similarity was that both presidents were away from the White House. In 2001, President Bush was at Camp David when the attacks occurred. It wasn't until Bush was at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, six days later, that he finally addressed the nation regarding the incident. President Obama was with his family in Hawaii when the 2009 incident occurred. But at least he addressed the nation within three days. But that's where the similarities stop, because 2010 is an election year, folks.
Generally, partisanship takes a backseat immediately after a national security-related incident. In 2001, the Patriot Act was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support (98-1 in the Senate and 357-66 in the House). Oh, how times have changed. GOP leaders have decided to use the attempted Christmas Day attack by al Qaeda to launch their 2010 Senate and House campaigns. House Republican leader John Boehner issued a four-paragraph statement on December 30 regarding the incident. All four paragraphs attacked the Obama administration. Of course, since Boehner was home for the holidays, he released his statement on his Twitter page. Senior White House adviser David Axelrod said in an interview Wednesday that Democrats did not attack former President George W. Bush in the days following Reid's attempted attack. "It's a contrast--I think back to when Richard Reid did his deal. You didn't see leading Democrats out there condemning the [Bush] administration," Axelrod said. "We all have a desire to see the strongest possible security. There are those who want to solve the problem and there are those who want to exploit it." Boehner is not alone. Republicans were lining up like after-Christmas shoppers to take unsubstantiated cheap shots at the White House and the federal agencies charged with protecting our national security.
The immediate chastising and finger-pointing by our leaders doesn't help the thousands of hard-working men and women employed by our nation's law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Those officers and agents labor to prevent these attacks from happening. Every agency was likely examining how Abdulmutallab slipped through the intelligence gaps before all of the Flight 253 passengers were off of the plane. And to criticize how seriously President Obama takes our national security is simply blind and idiotic. Since Obama has taken office, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has doubled. One month ago, Obama announced that he was sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. As Americans, it's not just our right to question and challenge our leaders, it's our responsibility. But there is an appropriate time and place for that. And if you are going to question that leadership, you had better make sure you have your facts straight. In a time of crisis, Americans need to see our elected leaders united behind one cause--the well-being of American citizens.