Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

December 27, 2009

SENDING A SIGNAL.... If you've been following the news the past couple of days, you've no doubt seen plenty of coverage of the attempted terrorism aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253. And while you've also probably seen some political figures rush to get on television -- God help anyone caught between Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) and a camera -- President Obama has remained largely scarce. Indeed, yesterday, the president went golfing.

Marc Ambinder noted yesterday that there's a deliberate White House strategy underway.

Here's the theory: a two-bit mook is sent by Al Qaeda to do a dastardly deed. He winds up neutering himself. Literally.

Authorities respond appropriately; the President (as this president is want to do) presides over the federal response. His senior aides speak for him, letting reporters know that he's videoconferencing regularly, that he's ordering a review of terrorist watch lists, that he's discoursing with his Secretary of Homeland Security.

But an in-person Obama statement isn't needed; Indeed, a message expressing command, control, outrage and anger might elevate the importance of the deed, would generate panic (because Obama usually DOESN'T talk about the specifics of cases like this, and so him deciding to do so would cue the American people to respond in a way that exacerbates the situation. [...]

Let the authorities do their work. Don't presume; don't panic the country; don't chest-thump, prejudge, interfere, politicize (in an international sense), don't give Al Qaeda (or whomever) a symbolic victory; resist the urge to open the old playbook and run a familiar play.

In the Bush/Cheney era, we know officials read from a far different script. Incidents like these became opportunities to exploit. Top officials -- Bush, Cheney, Rice, Ashcroft, Ridge -- would fan out and start hitting the talking points. There'd be talk about invading Yemen. Maybe the Bush gang would get a bump in the polls, maybe Dems and administration critics would hold their fire for a few days. If they didn't, the White House could take comfort in knowing that critics would be accused of "aiding and abetting" terrorists by attacking the Commander in Chief in the wake of a crisis.

Obama and his team obviously prefer a far more mature, strategic approach. It's about projecting a sense of calm and control. It's about choosing not to elevate some lunatic thug who set himself on fire.

Indeed, notice the pattern throughout the year. The Obama administration has taken out Saleh al-Somali, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, and Baitullah Mehsud, while taking suspected terrorists Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi into custody before they could launch potential attacks.

In each case, there were no high-profile press conferences, no public chest-thumping, no desire to politicize the counter-terrorism successes. Indeed, most of the country probably never heard a word about any of these developments.

It's about competent and effective leadership, and it's what the country was sorely lacking up until 11 months ago.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

Bookmark and Share

Yes, and it's that lack of "chest thumping" that has the American Morons calling into C-SPAN, complaining about the president who "hates America", who "appologizes for America", who, channeling Limbaugh, say the Commander in Chief has no balls. . .

Face it, folks, the populace likes and understands the simple bravado of GWB's "Dead or Alive".

Nuance is for pointy headed intellectuals, like John Kerry. Who, as we speak, is planning a visit to Tehran. . .

Posted by: DAY on December 27, 2009 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry to threadjack, but I've been reading this on wingnut sites lately:

"...the United States Supreme Court, in a one-line ruling, declared that torture is an “ordinary, expected consequence of military detention”, and stated that anyone who is arbitrarily declared a “suspected enemy combatant” by President Obama or his designated officials is “no longer a person.”"

Is there any truth to this?

Posted by: Red on December 27, 2009 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Let's also remember that a portion of potential voters does not believe anything happens until they see it on Fox News and they will be highly motivated to vote against this president and his party because he did not trumpet his success where they could see and understand them.

At the same time, too many on the other side will take the presidents many successes for granted because they expected too much after eight years of incompetence.

Put together, right wingers who don't get it and left wingers who had unrealistic expectations will combine to unseat enough Democrats that what little legislative work gets done now will grind to a halt for the rest of Obama's presidency.

Posted by: Shaun the Sheep on December 27, 2009 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

-the populace likes and understands the simple bravado of GWB's "Dead or Alive"-
Like a pigeon whose roost has been blocked , flying into the new wall for days , until something more pleasant accidently interrupts the next bump .
-lunatic thug who set himself on fire-
The populist right wing reaction to the "President who is not white" .
The manicured rights polished pose lamenting the unenthusiastic embrace of the disastrous , thus successful , policies set by a raygun city on a hill mentality . Reaching its lunatic apex with a death tax for the public , by the idiot son of inherited privilege .
He he he

Posted by: FRP on December 27, 2009 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah - and it it did not stop NBC news from being "Fair and Balanced" this morning from presenting the wingnut opposing view that this somehow is Obama's fault because he is soft on terror, even though the Terrrist went through two screenings at foreign airports and the TSA had nothing to do with it. They stated, and I am not making this up, that there could be political fallout from the incident. Oh that librul media at it again. I mean really I'm expecting a full court interview with Peter Hoekstra
so he can expound his insanity.

Posted by: johnr on December 27, 2009 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

Just to play the Devil's Advocate here - the events as described are not inconsistent with an exploding lithium battery in a PC, iPod or other portable electronic device.

Posted by: Ten Bears on December 27, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

This terrorism episode reminds me of yet another disappointment we suffered from the actions of the administration I helped elect.

After hearing passionate arguments from the Obama Administration, the Supreme Court acquiesced to the president’s fervent request and, in a one-line ruling, let stand a lower court decision that declared torture an ordinary, expected consequence of military detention, while introducing a shocking new precedent for all future courts to follow: anyone who is arbitrarily declared a “suspected enemy combatant” by the president or his designated minions is no longer a “person.” They will simply cease to exist as a legal entity. They will have no inherent rights, no human rights, no legal standing whatsoever — save whatever modicum of process the government arbitrarily deigns to grant them from time to time, with its ever-shifting tribunals and show trials.


Posted by: DevilDog on December 27, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

The kick-ass story longed for by the recent CSPANer calls in took place where it should - in flight 253!

Our current president is doing the right thing here, and the morons among us can't see through emotional belief to the fact of the matter.

Instead of Rep. King's and Rep. Hoekstra's response where a near panic is sought through fear imagery, our president has shown the terrorists of the world they will be dealt with and the passengers aboard flight 253 showed potential terrorists citizens of the West will not sit around and wait for dastardly acts to be done to us. We will kick the ass of such a person!

What started on flight 93 continued in the skies above Detroit. Why can't the far-right show more bravery, instead of the fearmongering cowardice they were taught to exhibit by the last Administration? Anyone who spins this act of heroism in the skies, and the subsequent response of the U.S. government as anything other than a event with positive results is not for us, but rather against us! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on December 27, 2009 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

The right wing will be all up in arms because a month ago, after an FBI agent read to Obama a briefing titled, "Abdulmutallab determined to strike in the US," Obama waved the agent away, saying, "Alright, you've covered your ass."

Posted by: hells littlest angel on December 27, 2009 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

Please, "as this president is WONT to do." And no apostrophe.

Posted by: Bruce on December 27, 2009 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

President Obama has remained largely scarce.

Now there's a handy phrase. Put that on auto-complete.

Posted by: Dale on December 27, 2009 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

The Part That Scares Me

...(selfishly, of course) is what effect this will have on the already over the top TSA screenings at airports. I've got tickets for an early January flight, and am wondering what else will be forbidden/mandatory.

I read that already, international airlines coming into the US are cracking down:

  • Passengers will remain in their seats during the last hour of flight. No trips to the bathrooms.

  • Passengers will put everything into the overhead bins for the last hour of flight. No pillows, blankets, books, etc. will be allowed in people's laps during the final hour.

  • Obviously, more strenuous luggage inspection (both checked and carryon), and more of it, before it gets onto the aircraft.

What else? A US corporate security spokesman was talking about requiring better pre-flight scanning technology - that "under the clothing" imaging or better - which has freaked out so many women. I'm concerned about the "overhead bin" requirement - does that mean you can't stow anything under your seat anymore, too?

And perhaps TSA will even roll back the rolled-back requirement for RealID IDs, making drivers licenses from 36 states an inadequate form of identification. Sure, the attempted bomber was a foreign national - but if foreign nationals can get drivers' licenses in 36 states, why risk it?

Posted by: Zandru on December 27, 2009 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK


I thought Obama was "overexposed"?

I'm having trouble keeping Wingnut talking points straight.

Posted by: Unabogie on December 27, 2009 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

This attack wasn't an Al Quaeda plot.. this was a lone wolf with perhaps some Al Quaeda ties. Al Quaeda plots tend to involve simultaneous attacks. Thankfully, this was a bumbling lone bomber.

Posted by: Andy on December 27, 2009 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Wingnuts like King are just using whatever comes their way to create negative messaging. If Obama got all puffed up and started belching out agressive rhetoric a la Cheney, republicans would criticize that.

Dont' underestimate the intelligence of the US public. I don't think they believed the color-coded homeland security alerts that cropped up before elections in the bush era.

I suspect that polls will show the public satisfied with Obama's response and able to put this event in context.

Posted by: ceenik on December 27, 2009 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry to threadjack, but I've been reading this on wingnut sites lately: "...the United States Supreme Court, in a one-line ruling, declared that torture is an “ordinary, expected consequence of military detention”, and stated that anyone who is arbitrarily declared a “suspected enemy combatant” by President Obama or his designated officials is “no longer a person.” . . . Is there any truth to this?

No. Among other glaring evidences of rumor, there is no such thing as a one-line Supreme Court ruling.

This is, however, pretty much the Addington-Woo version of how torture and detainees should be defined. So, someone has a seriously bad case of projecting.

Posted by: Midland on December 27, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Posted upthread on a later Steve post (yes, I read them backwards):

I knew I remembered something from when I was a kid...


No-one blamed Eisenhower (nor should they have).
They didn't stop selling in-flight life insurance at airports.
They didn't start inspecting bags.
They caught the guy, tried him and executed him, and kept proceeding on the assumption that individuals wacko enough to blow up an aircraft full of people made up an infinitesimally small segment of the population. Which was true then, and is true now.

Under the pants-wetter's logic, no-one should drive anymore in the US. After all, 40,000 people are killed every year in auto accidents. How many, exactly, died in terrorist attacks on airplanes in the US in the last year? How many?

Posted by: efgoldman on December 27, 2009 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

I thought Obama was "overexposed"?
I'm having trouble keeping Wingnut talking points straight.
Posted by: Unabogie

You sure are. Wingnuts do think he's doing too much. Progressives think he's the man who wasn't there.

Posted by: Dale on December 27, 2009 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

I'm just glad they neutralized the Ivana Trump terrorist threat.

Posted by: Dale on December 27, 2009 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

And what do we get as a "response" to this dastardly deed?

The geniuses at Heimat Securitate have decided that passengers on flights to the US can only have one carry-on bag, that they cannot access said bag for the last 90 minutes of the flight, and cannot get out of their seats during the final 60 minutes of the flight.

And this would have stopped the most recent idiot how? He had the "package" in his package the whole time, he never had to access anything or move anywhere.

Braindead bimbo moron Janet Napolitano tells us "the system worked" because they knew he was there but didn't have the evidence to stop him - this when he was on TWO SECURITY LISTS and his own father reported him to the US Embassy in Nigeria to tell them he was a terrorist threat?

What does it take with these idiots?

And then of course, these minimum wage (and overpaid at that rate) otherwise-unemployables can defend the USA by searching my wife and her 85-year old deep-in-Alzheimer's mother and disassembling the old lady's wheelchair because they were such obvious "threats."

Janet Napolitano is operating at about three levels above her Peter Principle highest achievement point - but that makes her no different from the rest of the blithering idiots like Larry Summers and the rest of the crew who created the problems they're supposed to be "solving."

I always feel so safe, with people like Napolitano coming along and telling me "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

With Fools & Buffoons, Inc., the Can't Investigate Anything Co, and the Department of Terminally Stupid Assholes running things, no wonder some idiot who is on two lists and who has been turned in by his father as a terrorist can get on an airplane with a bomb.

Posted by: TCinLA on December 27, 2009 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the actual (low-budget) strategy, I think: find a Nigerian wacko who wants to be a martyr; tell him he's working for al Qaeda; send him out to test the waters and to bait the U.S. into opening yet another front in the anti-terrorism wars, exhausting the country's resources and increasing the disbelief of its citizens in the reality of the threat. Then WHAMMO!

Posted by: Nanuq on December 27, 2009 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK

It is comforting to know we have mature adults in the White House who don't exploit terrorism at ever opportunity for political points, although I suspect many Americans respond to that kind of bravado. I thought it made us look weak, like a bunch of frightened children. It also empowered the terrorists by making them look almighty and powerful, instead of like the thugs they are.

Posted by: gwalters on December 28, 2009 at 7:45 AM | PERMALINK


Posted by: Mari on July 15, 2010 at 7:52 AM | PERMALINK



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly