President Obama is vacationing in Hawaii, and hasn’t yet deigned to address the nation on the subject of the Flight 253 terrorist. Instead, he has left that task in the very unsteady hands of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who has reassured no one by saying that “the system worked.”
What’s going on here? Speculation ranges from the idea that Obama’s handlers are nixing a statement from him in order to protect Obama from any faux pas, ad-lib or otherwise; to Marc Ambinder’s risible notion that Obama’s silence is strategic, and will deny the terrorists the attention they’re hoping for. Richard Fernandez takes care of Ambinder thusly:
[Ambinder's words] come ready formed from that Washington cauldron of action, the cocktail party. In that setting the wounds are inflicted by different weapons: the disparaging glance, cutting word, calculated snub and the limpness of the handshake. These strike the telling blows…Through this prism the world looks a different place. Al-Qaeda must be crushed that the President has decided to stay in Hawaii rather than react to their nearly successful attempt to bring an airplane with nearly 300 people down on Detroit. The Islamists must be mortified that he does not even deign to notice them. They must feel downcast; oppressed by the certainty that they are so yesterday. In that universe Obama could not have smitten them more cruelly than if he had told them “don’t call me, I’ll call you”.
Ridiculous, as Fernandez goes on to say.
But what does it mean when Napolitano says “the system worked” when it most definitely did not, and when Obama cannot interrupt his golf game to make his own statement? Look at it from their point of view. The contempt in which they hold the American people assumes that the public cannot figure out on its own that this was a serious attack in which the system most definitely failed. They believe that if Napolitano tells us all is well, then we are reassured and will believe it to be true, despite the evidence before our lying eyes. Since the administration can’t figure out a way (yet) to say that they “inherited” this particular attack from President Bush, and since no one was killed, they believe the best approach is to minimize it.
After all, this was just an “attempt.” In law (and always remember that Barack Obama is a lawyer, as was Bill Clinton before him, as is Napolitano), the word “attempt” means that the criminal act did not succeed in its intended result. It doesn’t mean it was not potentially very lethal indeed.
For example, if a terrorist obtained a suitcase nuclear device designed to kill many thousands, and for some minor reason it fizzled (much like the Flight 253 bomb) when set off and therefore failed to kill anyone—legally, that chain of events becomes a mere “attempt,” subject to far smaller penalties than if a single person were murdered, even though the perpetrator did everything in his power to kill enormous numbers of people and was protected only by his own incompetence.
Obama has been strongly pushing the pre-9/11, criminal law approach to terrorism, and that’s the way the civilian criminal law would treat any such act. So, to our president, this really is a minor incident hardly worthy of notice. Move along please; nothing much to see.
A great many Americans view this quite differently. They would like to see some serious attention paid, and they’re getting the distinct impression that this administration will not be doing so at any point soon.
Wake-up call ignored.