Has Cheney forgotten 9/11?
The one halfway-good memory from those awful days immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks was the spirit of national unity it triggered. As I wrote at the time, nothing focuses the mind like the knowledge that there's somebody out to kill you simply for being American.
"We are a nation comprised of many tribes," I wrote. "But times like these test how truly united we can be behind a common purpose as one American people."
I'd say that spirit lasted for maybe a good heartwarming week or two before we fell back into partisan bickering.
President Barack Obama is not getting nearly that much time after the fortunately fumbled Christmas bombing on board a jetliner by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who shall henceforth and forever be known as the underwear bomber for the delicate location of his explosives.
Grabbing the fear-mongering prize, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R.-Mich.) fired off a fundraising letter to denounce Obama "and his left-wing cronies" for "decisions that should frighten us all." After that, it is with unintended humor that Hoekstra notes, "There should be no partisan rancor when it comes to keeping our citizens safe." Right. None whatsoever.
Rep. Peter King (R.-N.Y.) chimed in with complaints that Abdulmutallab was not put before a military tribunal, perhaps to be interrogated more thoroughly. Yet the Bush administration sent a very similar case, so-called shoe bomber Richard Reid, to civilian courts.
The case of Reid, who tried to bring down a jetliner by detonating his own shoes, is instructive as we evaluate the remarks of former Vice President Cheney. Reviving his Grumpy Old Man act in a statement to Politico, Cheney said Obama "seems to think if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won't be at war."
Low-key response? That's gratitude for you. Cheney gives Obama no credit for how closely the new president's military actions and policies mirror those of the administration he replaced -- even when actions like his troop buildup in Afghanistan have outraged much of his left-progressive base.
President George W. Bush was on vacation during the shoe-bombing attempt, as Obama was during the attempted underwear bombing. Bush took six days to respond to Reid's attempt. The Obama White House issued a background statement on Christmas calling the underwear bomb incident an "attempted terrorist attack," which was more specific than Team Bush's early statements.
Cheney also failed to mention how one key figure in al-Qaida's Yemen movement, which has claimed responsibility for the attempted underwear bombing, was released from Guantanamo by the Bush-Cheney administration.
Cheney fumes about Obama's avoidance of Bush's cherished term "war on terror," as if there was no problem with Bush-Cheney's obsession with war metaphors. In fact, "terror" is a tactic, not the enemy. Fighting terrorists calls for a smart combination of military, counterintelligence and international police work, whether the cases end up in civilian courts or military tribunals.
Instead of partisan bickering about whether Team Obama says "war" often enough, Americans should be focusing on what President Obama correctly called a "systemic failure" of our defenses against terrorism.
The failures that allowed Abdulmutallab to board that plane despite numerous warning signs are similar to the military's internal failures that led to the recent killing of 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, allegedly by an Army officer who corresponded with a radical American cleric in Yemen.
Among the lessons the attempted Christmas bombing reveal:
We still need to teach our intelligence agencies to talk to one another. Bush's Department of Homeland Security was designed to streamline the ability of various agencies to track terrorists in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. It still isn't working.
Our search-and-scan security checkpoints at airports keep guarding against earlier terrorist methods, while the terrorists keep coming up with new ones. The shoe bomber led to our having to remove our shoes at airports. What now? Will we have to remove our underwear?
Finally, our leaders need to level with the public. Obama's Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made a big mistake by declaring too soon that "the system worked," when it obviously had not.
Like Bush's saying "Brownie, you're doing a heck of job" after Hurricane Katrina or Sen. John McCain saying "the fundamentals are strong" while our economy collapsed, Napolitano tried to reassure the public but ended up making us angry. Instead of pretending that a system is working when it really isn't, good leaders enlist help from all sides to work better.