The jihadi pinprick terror campaign that debuted last autumn has exposed some very large holes in this country's security system.
Nidal Hasan did everything but walk around Fort Hood with "kill infidels" tattooed on his forehead. He continually expressed support for the jihadis, disparaged U.S. anti-terror efforts, and attempted to proselytize his patients. He was in contact with the al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, who had been chased from the U.S. to Yemen. Yet he was not questioned, discharged from the service, or even put under observation.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was turned in to American security by his own father. He was on a general "watch" list. He was known to have set out for Yemen, an al-Qaeda hotbed (to meet the very same Anwar al-Awlaki, among others. Just coincidence, I'm sure.). At the same time, intelligence intercepts learned of a "Nigerian" about to carry out an operation. He fit the established guidelines for a potential terrorist -- payment in cash, one-way ticket, no baggage -- to a tee. American security knew he was on the plane and were looking forward to having a chat with him once he landed. Yet he passed two distinct checkpoints without even being looked at twice.
After literally setting his pants on fire, Abdulmutallab was at last bagged and confronted by the FBI. He talked like an Oprah guest for nearly an hour, at which point he was taken in for surgery. Afterward, a second team spoke to him. Their first action was to give him his Miranda rights, at which point he clammed up. No further effort was made to interrogate him.
All these questions have been widely raised, without obtaining much in the way of concrete answers. Now we have the official report on Fort Hood and testimony from the administration's principal national security figures on the Detroit bombing. And we still don't have any answers.
The Fort Hood report may as well have been illustrated with a smiley face in an officer's cap. It failed to mention Hasan by name, contained absolutely nothing about his obsession with Islam, and its recommendations amounted to no more than unspecified changes in personnel policies. A document this limp doesn't even reach the level of an insult to the dead. The hearings, on the other hand, did get around to asking actual questions about the Detroit attack. How did Abdulmutallab get on Flight 253? Janet Napalitano didn't know. Dennis C. Blair didn't know either. The same with the FBI's Robert S. Mueller III. Apart from Dennis Blair's "duh!" moment, which will no doubt be endlessly imitated in days to come, that was as far as the hearings went. As for the truncated interrogation, Blair was puzzled as to why the new "High Value Interrogation Group" (HIG) had failed to question Abdulmutallab. Only after the hearings were finished was it revealed that the HIG, announced last spring, has not yet been organized or even funded. And Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence, had no idea that this was the case. It's at this point that somebody else gets to hit Blair in the head.
There we have the current state of our war on terror, or the "collective response to international contingencies" or whatever it's now being called. It's as if nobody's paying attention, no oversight is occurring, and everything is just sort of meandering along at its own pace. This is exactly what you'd expect if nobody were actually in charge, if the man on top didn't care what was going on, and if he had transmitted that attitude to all the organizational layers below.
...Which, I submit, is exactly what has happened.
Let's start with the boss, Mr. I-Don't-Quit himself. Obama has a record of dumping things that can't help him. If it's not immediately useful and demonstrably harmless, he will not have anything at all to do with it, no matter how important an issue it might be. This is nothing new -- remember all those "present" votes back in Illinois.
Consider the matter of abortion. Obama ran as the white knight of abortion rights. Things were going to change as soon as he took office. Much of his rhetoric involved support for FOCA, the Freedom of Choice Act, which enshrined abortion as a constitutional right on the same level as the rights of free speech and worship and overturned all limitations on its practice (even to the requirement that an abortionist has to be an M.D.). Obama promised that FOCA would be "the first thing I'll sign".
And he did start out hot and heavy by overturning the "Mexico City policy," in which the U.S. curtailed funding of abortions in foreign countries; appointing Kathleen Sibelius, the second-most pro-abortion politician in the U.S., as health secretary; ordering a "review" of the conscience clause, which allowed religious medical personnel to opt out of abortion procedures; and ordering all restrictions on use of embryonic stem cells (ESCs) to be lifted. But this created serious resistance -- the first Obama experienced in his term -- from the Catholic Church, which went so far as to threaten to close its hospitals (a full third of the American hospital system) if he continued down the same path.
Matters came to a head over Obama's commencement speech at Notre Dame, which generalized the uproar from the Church hierarchy to millions of the faithful. While the speech went off without a hitch, Obama considered the merits of battling an institution some two thousand years old and founded by a real messiah, and quietly backed off. No more was heard about FOCA and the conscience clause. The new ESC regulations were merely a return to the status quo under the Clintons, and not the full industrialization of abortion that Obama's backers were expecting. Obama's only reference to abortion since then occurred last week, when on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade he praised the decision in much the same language he might use for the pickle industry during National Pickle Week. Abortion went bad and threatened B. Obama. So abortion had to go.
The same process is now taking place with health care reform. Now that the effort has gone sour, Obama is gingerly pushing it away as he might do with a ticking bomb. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi may well still be gung-ho, but the chief is AWOL.
To turn back to the War on Terror, what can that do for Obama? Absolutely nothing, while its potential to hurt him is infinite. The anti-terror campaign -- or rather, the left-wing reaction to it, eagerly aped as always by media and the bureaucracy -- nearly destroyed the Bush administration. Recall the reaction to the overseas telecommunications wiretaps, the financial surveillance program, the rendition program, and "waterboarding," just to mention a few critical elements. Each was necessary and justifiable. Each was portrayed in the blackest manner possible -- wiretapping as a Big Brother effort aimed at American citizens, waterboarding as torture, and so forth. The fact that the Bush administration was successful in preventing any one of dozens of major attacks on the U.S. was lost, as it was meant to be.
Obama has been burned over the slipping of the schedule for closing Guantánamo and the lack of progress in Afghanistan. Why should he let himself in for more?
In addition, the left has guaranteed that no credit will accrue for anti-terror efforts even if they're totally successful. If Obama were to ride into Washington tomorrow with the corpse of Osama bin Laden roped to the back of his horse, he would immediately be assailed by his hard-left base. Code Pink would wail and tear their hair. Michael Moore would begin filming a documentary featuring ObL's grandchildren weeping for grandpa, and Oliver Stone would release Osama, proving that he was a victim of Exxon, the Trilateral Commission, and the Rockefellers, with Obama being played by Ving Rhames with head shaved and crazy-man makeup.
Amid the current climate, you just can't win in engaging terrorism. Obama has acknowledged this and decided not to play. This attitude has obviously percolated through the command structure, if the Abdulmutallab hearings are any indication. It has had plenty of time to work its way down to the middle levels as well. The entire effort is now set on cruise control, with nobody sticking their necks out, nobody calling attention to themselves, nobody putting themselves on the line. We saw the results last fall.
The operational levels have started making decisions on their own, following the lead of their head offices, according to established and well-understood bureaucratic rules.
Major Hasan is out of control, his mind lost over radical Islam. Well, diversity is good. Everybody says so. So we leave him alone. What harm can he do?
Whoa, look at this kid here. Just out of Yemen, running with jihadis...but wait. His dad used to be a Nigerian finance minister. We're not touching that one, not even sending it upstairs. Better lose it in all the other paperwork...
What are you guys doing? You're talking to the kid already? You can't do that. What do think this is, the Bush era? Look, we got a lawyer here for him. We'll Mirandize him and get the hell out. Let Justice handle it...
Nobody's responsible, and nobody will ever answer for any of it any more than they did at the hearings. Nobody ordered these actions because nobody had to. They just happened, thanks to human nature. When the leadership opts out, when no one is in command, things just naturally fall to the level of least effort. Execution becomes secondary, sloppiness takes over, and people begin referring to what's in their job descriptions.
And as for our enemies...the best method of anticipating their possible actions is to put yourself in their position and, without mirror-imaging or wish-fulfillment, ask what you'd do if you were a convinced Islamist fanatic. That tells us that the jihadis, having looked at each other in wild surmise, have checked to see that it's not simply an infidel trick and, thanking Allah, are even now putting together as many operations as they can shove through the gaping holes eroded in our defenses.
Recently, somebody abandoned a van just off Times Square, about the right size for a dirty bomb. The Feds were contacted, and apparently they blew the matter off for two full days. But somebody had the presence of mind to call the NYPD, who immediately checked the van, declared it safe, and got it out of there.
That's the shape of things to come. This will be our year of living dangerously. The good news? There will be plenty of heads to knock by the end of it. J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.