At Christmas, the president seemed to have finally weathered the worst. Now, the debate about the would-be attack in Detroit clearly shows that Republicans are still right on Obama’s tail — and that could force him to make avoidable mistakes.
It all could have worked out so beautifully: Just after the Senate passed the healthcare reform bill, Obama departed for a Hawaii vacation. Right at the end of his first year in office, when he was ridiculed as the president of big promises, he finally had some concrete success to display to the world — especially success that the Republicans had fiercely opposed every step of the way.
But the President didn’t get to enjoy even one full day’s reflection on his accomplishment when the thwarted terrorist attack in Detroit shocked Americans out of their holiday reveries. At first, Obama tried to ignore the issue. He stayed out of the spotlight, leaving Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to explain to the public that there had been no breakdown in the national security apparatus.
Obama has since admitted that this was a mistake. Clearly, the CIA had been warned about Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab early on — and not by just anyone: Umar’s own father had tried to alert authorities about his son.
If there’s any reason for outrage at all, then it should be due to the fact that such a warning could just fizzle out, despite all the data U.S. authorities have been collecting on airline passengers through the years. With that said, however, the fault ends up on the government’s plate. In view of the officials’ premature conclusions, they must have been poorly informed if not downright careless.
This impression bolsters the Republicans. Despite the president’s plea that security should not be made into a partisan political issue, they immediately began complaining that Obama didn’t take national security seriously enough. Even Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo will now be revisited since two ex-Guantanamo inmates are said to have taken part in the planning of the terrorist attempt.
Obama has already made clear that the security apparatus, first and foremost, did not make use of available intelligence and that security measures had not been relaxed in any way since he took office. Additionally, external sources could reasonably argue that the apparent radicalization of Guantanamo inmates is indicative of the necessity to close the controversial prison.
All of this, however, will be of little use to the president. The partisan reaction to the Detroit terrorism attempt shows that Republicans will not hesitate to use every weapon at hand in attacking the government — and that may well cause Obama to make errors.