Daily Archives: January 8, 2010

How America can rise again. Jim Fallows, Atlantic

Only Muslims can stop Muslim terror. Leslie Gelb, Daily Beast

Why there’s still hope for Yemen. Ellen Knickmeyer, Foreign Policy

Apple vs Google. Farhad Manjoo, Slate.

Mixed reviews for Obama’s latest statement on the Christmas Day bomber. He is getting high marks for being so candid about the scope of the failure and for saying he takes responsibility, but also some accusations of complacency over his reluctance to fire anybody.

He does deserve praise for describing the mistakes so frankly. I can’t imagine George W. Bush being anything like so forthright–or, for that matter, any other political leader.

But the scope of the lapses was wider than one had supposed. The intelligence agencies not only knew a lot about the bomber, they also knew that al Qaeda in Yemen “sought to strike the United States and that they were recruiting operatives to do so [my emphasis]“. This is why Obama’s first directive demanded “that our intelligence community immediately begin assigning specific responsibility for investigating all leads on high-priority threats so that these leads are pursued and acted upon aggressively — not just most of the time, but all of the time.”

This was not already in place? Responsibility for investigating “leads on high-priority threats” was not already clear?

As for “taking responsibility”, that is all very well, but what does it mean, really, if the mistakes are deemed nobody’s fault and there are no consequences? In the sense he intended, this is obviously Obama’s responsibility. Who else’s could it be? I think Kori Schake is right to criticise commentators for giving him so much credit just for saying so.

Obama says he is holding “the system” accountable, rather than his officials, but that’s just waffle. Should somebody have been fired? Scapegoating is the easy way out, and it’s impressive that Obama resists it. But I think Michael Leiter crossed the line as head of the co-ordinating agency, and taking vacation immediately after the attack should have clinched it. It would have, maybe, if John Brennan, White House counter-terror adviser had not, in another lapse of judgment, encouraged him to go. I wonder if Obama decided he would have to fire both or neither, and firing both would have looked like an over-reaction.

That did not stop Leiter resigning on his own account.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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