The Christmas day plot was the Obama administration’s first close encounter with a domestic terror spectacular. Its handling of the scare left something to be desired. Many of the complaints made against the president were unfair, and some were ridiculous – but Mr Obama’s team gave critics good material.
The episode followed a now-familiar pattern. The administration’s response was mostly pragmatic and defensible. But it also looked improvised and hesitant, and at odds with previous White House messaging. Healthcare reform and the response to the financial crisis fit this same template. The Christmas day plot was déjà vu all over again.
Officials made crass mistakes in the immediate aftermath of the attack. When Janet Napolitano, secretary for homeland security, said that the “system worked” – errors in collating information about the alleged bomber, including his father’s reports to a US embassy, were already known – the administration was instantly in trouble. Then it turned out that the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, created after 9/11 to get the country’s countless security agencies working more closely together, went on holiday shortly after the attack. The president was away too, and initially stayed silent. The need to reverse these mistakes weighed on the administration and distorted the subsequent response.
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