During the election campaign, I wrote that candidate Barack Obama appeared to be a Rip Van Winkle unaware of recent history.
I cited the fact that he had praised the prosecution of the first World Trade Center bombers as the right way to fight terrorism, forgetting that the suicide hijackers who attacked the World Trade Center the second time did not care whether they were prosecuted because they were dead.
In his speech on corrective steps to improve counterterrorism analysis and action, Obama showed that he finally is waking up to reality. Yet, many observers — from The Washington Post editorial page to some conservative columnists and pundits — have dismissed his remedies as trivial.
The critics want a dramatic move: someone to fire or a shake-up of the organizational structure. But, aside from the useless imposition of the national intelligence director on the bureaucracy, the structure President Bush put in place is sound. As Obama said, the failure to put together clues about the Northwest Flight 253 terrorist was systemic, meaning no individual was clearly at fault.
Instead, the failure revealed the need for the kind of improved focus and agility that Obama outlined in his speech. Unlike Democrats who have criticized full body imaging scanners as an invasion of privacy, Obama said the government will buy more of these scanners and will urge their deployment in foreign countries. And, for the first time, Obama unambiguously said that we are at war with al-Qaida.
Clearly, Obama is listening to John Brennan, his counterterrorism chief, who is highly regarded in the intelligence community and ran the predecessor of the National Counterterrorism Center from within the CIA. But for the first time, I sensed that Obama himself was comfortable talking about taking action against terrorists. He appeared to be genuinely committed to the reforms he is implementing.
On the other hand, when it comes to capturing and detaining terrorists, Obama continues to pursue weak policies. As I wrote in the Newsmax story "Obama Waves the White Flag in Terror Fight
," the fact that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has been given a lawyer as if he were an American citizen is outrageous. He should have been treated as an enemy combatant so that he could be interrogated freely to gather intelligence to stop future attacks.
Equally outrageous is Obama’s determination to close the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay and move prisoners to U.S. soil, thereby appeasing al-Qaida. Moreover, his administration’s decision to subject CIA officers to possible prosecution for using interrogation methods approved by the president, the Justice Department, and key members of Congress imposes a risk-averse atmosphere on the intelligence community.
Now that the U.S. almost suffered a murderous attack on his watch, Obama may reconsider some of those defeatist policies. But for now, I feel safer knowing that the president finally seems to get the threat we face.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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