Monday, January 4, 2010

Bomb plot thrusts Obama into political storm

President Barack Obama is weathering a political storm over last month’s suspected al Qaeda plot to bomb a Detroit-bound plane, particularly from Republicans who say he dropped the ball on security while pursuing healthcare and climate reforms. But how much substance there is behind the allegations may depend on who’s talking.

Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina told NBC’s Today show that he believes Obama just woke up to the gravity of the al Qaeda threat.

“A lot of us have been concerned over the last year that the president did seem to downplay the threat of terror. He doesn’t use the word anymore. He hesitates to say that there is a war on terror,” DeMint said.

“But in the last few days, he seems to have come around to the idea that there are people in Yemen and other places who are intent on hurting Americans,” the lawmaker added.

A completely different picture comes from Bob Woodward, the Pulitzer-winning journalist who chronicled Republican George W. Bush’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The new administration is taking a very aggressive stance on these matters and perhaps even more than the Bush administration, doing more about the al Qaeda sanctuaries in places like Yemen,” Woodward told ABC’s Good Morning America. That view comes from reporting Woodward says he is doing for a new book on the Obama White House.

Meanwhile, DeMint says he wants to eliminate politics from the security debate. That means not blaming Obama or members of the president’s team for security lapses, at least not for now. It also means retaining his hold on the Senate confirmation of Erroll Southers, Obama’s nominee for the Transportation Security Administration. DeMint blocked that nomination out of concern that Southers would unionize the TSA.

“What I’ve asked for is just some debate and a recorded vote,” he told NBC. “This is all about politics and not security. What I want is a few hours of debate on Mr. Southers to help focus the nation back on security and get this politics, particularly union politics, out of our security apparatus.”

TSA’s job is to protect all modes of transportation, not just air travel. That breadth of responsibility could be important now that the Detroit bomb plot has put all the focus on airport security.

“Al Qaeda has capabilities to do other things. How about trains? How about buses?” Woodward said. “You can’t fight the last terrorist attack.”

Photo Credit: Reuters/Hugh Gentry (Obama)

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