When Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to receive more than 50 percent of the popular vote in 32 years, much of the world rejoiced. All that bellicose rhetoric from George W. Bush about fighting “evil” was replaced by the lofty eloquence of the new president with a new tone who promised to extend America’s hand to its enemies “if you will unclench your fist.” Nine months into his presidency, he even received the Nobel Peace Prize.
But while President Obama is hands down a better speaker than President Bush, the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Flight 253 near Detroit raises legitimate questions about whether we are as safe today as we were a year ago.
I’m not referring to the 23-year old Nigerian terrorist getting on a Northwest Airlines flight with lethal chemicals strapped inside his underwear after paying cash for a one-way ticket to America and no checked luggage. This was an obvious security breach, but it originated in Amsterdam.
Nor am I referring to American officials overseas brushing off the warnings of the terrorist’s father earlier this year about his son’s intent to attack American targets. That was bureaucratic ineptitude.
Nor am I referring to Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano initially announcing that “the system worked,” when in fact it had failed on almost every level.
What I am referring to is that the terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmullatab, is sitting in a Detroit jail, lawyered up and not talking to American authorities. He has reportedly refused to even submit a DNA sample.
Why is this man in civilian rather than military custody?
Umar, a Nigerian, trained at an al-Qaida terrorist camp in Yemen, was equipped by them there and was apparently following their orders to attack that particular plane. He is a not a criminal suspect. He is foreign enemy combatant.
Just last weekend the president reminded reporters that on his first day as president “I made it very clear our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred, and that we will do whatever it takes to defeat them. …”
Is this how you win a “war,” by treating one of their agents like someone caught smuggling drugs into the country? Back in World War II a German U-Boat dropped off eight Nazi spies near Long Island with explosives and plans to blow up American plants and factories. They were caught, tried by a military commission and found guilty. Six were executed less than 60 days later, their sentences personally approved by President Roosevelt, and upheld by the Supreme Court.
That is how a nation acts when it is at war.
But President Obama’s first instinct is to play down the significance of terrorist actions, as if doing so somehow minimizes their importance. His first remarks about Umar were that he was an “isolated extremist.” Why did he say that? There was no reason for him to know this was true at the time he said it. One gets the feeling that he wanted it to be true.
When a radical Muslim army officer opened fire on fellow soldiers at Fort Hood last November, Obama suggested that he might have “cracked” from the “stress” of being in the military. No, not quite. When someone shouts “Allahu Akbar!” while pouring gunfire into young American troops on their way to battle Islamic extremists overseas, that’s not “goin’ postal.” That’s terrorism. That’s jihad. It was a calculated, planned terrorist attack.
We use the word “war” often as a metaphor in American politics: the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on crime, etc. But this is not a figurative war. This is a war with an overseas enemy trying to kill American civilians here in America. A REAL WAR. I honestly don’t think he gets it.
John Carlson hosts a daily radio program, “The Commentators,” with KOMO 4’s Ken Schram each weekday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.