Harry Truman kept on his desk a sign that read "The Buck Stops Here."
As President Obama gathers with his national security team Tuesday to ensure that, as he put it last week, "there is accountability at every level" for the latest in a rising tide of terrorist attacks inside the United States, he must accept responsibility for his own role in the growing danger.
I am not suggesting that Mr. Obama was directly complicit in the failure to keep Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab and his explosive-laden underwear off Northwest 253 on Christmas Day. As is often the case with these things, there were lots of red flags "in the system" about this would-be terrorist that should have kept him off that plane. Such "dots" are easily connected with hindsight, after the attack is launched. The trick is for people well south of the President to act on them beforehand.
The fact that the trick was not performed in this instance or, for that matter, in connection with the penultimate attack — the one perpetrated by Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood last November — does indeed constitute, in President Obama's words, a "systemic failure." It is entirely appropriate to try to find out who dropped which ball, less to assign blame than in the hope of preventing a repeat.
One thing is already obvious, though. What Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano famously called "the system" has been trying with increasing difficulty to prevent terrorism here at home within impossible policy and programmatic constraints. Mr. Obama must take a measure of responsibility for those constraints.
The most important of these has been the systematic and deliberate dumbing down of U.S. government efforts to understand, characterize and, therefore, act against the enemy. For example, terms like "man-caused disasters," "oversees contingency operations," and "isolated extremists" have been coined to obscure, rather than illuminate, the fact that we are under assault by Muslims who adhere to the supremacist program and ideology that authoritative Islam calls Shariah.
Adherents to Shariah are explicitly obliged to engage in holy war, or "jihad." Mohammed showed that the preferred way to wage jihad is through terrifying violence. Only where violent jihad would be impracticable or counterproductive does Shariah grant its followers the latitude to engage in jihad in nonviolent and stealthy ways.
While the tactics may differ, the goal, however, is absolutely the same: the submission of the non-Muslim world to Islam and, ultimately, the triumph of a global Islamic theocracy.
The "systemic failure" of Christmas Day and before that at Fort Hood arose because, at least until now, government personnel have been effectively proscribed from addressing the threat in these terms. They have not been allowed to call it what it is or to give prioritized attention (read "profiling") to those who adhere to this seditious program.
Needless to say, with few exceptions, officials have been discouraged from resisting demands for various accommodations and preferential treatment for the Shariah faithful, let alone from trying to shut down their operations in America (Shariah-adherent mosques, penetration of Wall Street, Muslim Brotherhood front organizations, and even jihadist training camps).
Moreover, few in the military, intelligence, or law enforcement communities have missed what has happened under this administration (and, in fairness, under the previous one) to patriots like the joint chiefs of staff's erstwhile Shariah specialist, Steven Coughlin, or an FBI special agent with deep expertise in counterterrorism and jihad, John Guandolo. For courageously challenging the official orthodoxy on the ideological wellspring of the threats we face, namely Shariah, they lost their jobs.
Not surprisingly, those who have, in Mr. Coughlin's words, "a professional duty to know" the nature of the enemy and its threat doctrine have generally been unwilling to jeopardize their careers and reputations by accurately understanding and depicting such things. As long as our protectors rightly fear being treated as "racists," "bigots," and "Islamophobes" — not just by the Muslim Brotherhood types, but by their own government — we are assuredly condemned to more systemic failures.
If Mr. Obama really means to hold "every level accountable," then he must make clear that he is prepared to fix the contributing factors for which he has been responsible. The best way to proceed may be to take a page from the playbook of two of his other predecessors.
During the presidency of Gerald Ford, the then-Director of Central Intelligence (and future President) George H.W. Bush was bedeviled by concerns that "the system" was not accurately understanding the magnitude of the threat posed by the last great totalitarian ideology: Soviet communism.
Mr. Bush took the unprecedented step of commissioning an outside group of highly skilled and known skeptics to provide him with a second opinion informed by full access to all the relevant classified data and analyses. This so-called "Team B" provided a far more accurate assessment, one that ultimately informed the measures President Ronald Reagan took to destroy the Soviet Union.
Unfortunately, we don't have several decades to find and fix the systemic failures afflicting American policy toward today's ideological menace, Shariah. Convening and heeding a Team B made up of the likes of Messrs. Coughlin and Guandolo would give President Obama a chance to defeat today's enemies — and avoid the buck that will otherwise ultimately and unavoidably stop at his desk: the needless loss of large numbers of American lives at the hands of jihadists bent on our destruction.
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is President of the Center for Security Policy, a columnist for the Washington Times and host of the nationally syndicated program, Secure Freedom Radio.
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