By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
"Belief that the bad guys are winning the War on Terror is now at its highest level in over two years," pollster Scott Rasmussen reported Wednesday, and nearly half of U.S. voters now say "America is not safer than it was before 9/11."
This shift in opinion, while dramatic, is hardly surprising.
The botched Christmas Day terror assault on a U.S. airliner has a lot of politicians pointing fingers and even more scrambling for cover. The American people are once again rethinking what the appropriate approach to the war on terror should be. And President Barack Obama and his team are headed for the barricades, with presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs throwing up one of the first with his plea that this issue should not be "a tug-of-war between the two political parties."
He wants the politicians in Washington to "resolve in the New Year to make protecting our nation a nonpartisan issue."
While laughable on its face—Gibbs and Obama made national security an uber-partisan issue during the 2008 presidential contest—it's a serious indication that the White House is concerned the blame for the most recent terror attempt will fall on their doorstep, something Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's declaration on CNN that "the system worked" is not helping to prevent.
To digress for a moment, there is some debate about what Napolitano actually meant by her statement. She later tried to explain her words were taken out of context—even though she said them in the middle of a live interview—but the damage was done. Much of the tough-sounding talk coming from the president in the midst of his Hawaiian vacation is actually an exercise in damage control, trying to blunt the impact of Napolitano's rather obvious gaffe.
In fact it is more likely that, rather than speaking out of context, Napolitano gave us a window to what she was really thinking, something like: "Look, the plane wasn't blown up and nobody—with the exception of the bomber and the foreigner who saved everyone—got hurt. So what are you all complaining about when you should be talking about how terrific we are and what a great job I'm doing?"
To return to the main point, the Democrats have been aggressive in their efforts to place the blame on the GOP despite Gibbs's plea for nonpartisanship. One Republican who is currently in the crosshairs is Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who has had a hold on the nomination of Erroll Southers to be the new head of the Transportation Security Administration for the past three months.
According to this logic, without Southers in place, the TSA is leaderless, no one is in command and no one is making the critical decisions necessary to keeping the country safe and we have all been left terribly vulnerable—not just for the three months DeMint has had his hold in place but for the nine months it took the Obama White House to find Southers and nominate him to the post.
Senate Democrats want Southers confirmed without debate and without a recorded vote, which sounds a little suspicious and which is why, apparently, DeMint objects to moving ahead. If Gibbs was actually serious about his desire for a nonpartisan approach he would call off the attack dogs baying and howling in DeMint's direction—but he hasn't. If the nation's resolve and ability to fight terror has been weakened of late, there is another reason.
More than half the American people, 55 percent, believe the United States and its allies were winning the war on terror when Barack Obama took office almost a year ago. Now, Rasmussen says, that number has dropped to just 36 percent, which reflects the decline in the confidence the American people have that the Obama administration can do the job of winning it.
Obama has, at most every opportunity, downgraded the U.S. response to terror. His administration has changed and softened the language of the issue, casting the "war on terror" phrase into the ashcan. He's bringing terrorist detainees into the United States for imprisonment and trial, closing the facility at Guantanamo Bay and ordering them tried as though they were common criminals rather than one-time armed and dangerous enemy combatants. And his approach to our enemies has been for us all to understand one another and to come and reason together.
Obama, while not necessarily weak, is clearly weaker than his predecessor was. And the American people are beginning to understand it.