Monday, January 4, 2010

Obama critics accuse him of reluctance to talk of 'terror'

LARA MARLOWE in WashingtonThe president is trying to pretend that the US is not at war, says Dick Cheney

WHAT’S IN a name? President Barack Obama’s domestic opponents fault him for what they claim is his reluctance to use the words “terrorist” and “war on terror” in relation to the November killings of 13 US service members at Fort Hood, Texas, and a failed attempt to blow up Northwest Airlines flight 253 on Christmas Day.

“He seems to have a hard time saying that [the December 25th aircraft attack] was an act of terror; that Fort Hood was an act of terror, that this is a global war . . . against the US,” Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina said on CNN’s State of the Union programme.

“I was concerned that [president Obama] would not give you direct answers, particularly about whether these are acts of terror or not . . . There’s no question but that the president has downplayed the risk of terrorists since he took office.

“He is investigating the CIA [for involvement in torture] rather than build them up.”

Against a backdrop of intense politicisation of the abortive Christmas Day attack, Obama will convene his security and intelligence chiefs at the White House today.

The president has promised to address the systemic failings that caused intelligence information to be ignored. The cumbersome nature of the system – 17 intelligence agencies that report to 88 Congressional sub-committees – is one explanation for its shortcomings.

Obama has also spoken of “human” failings. Janet Napolitano, the head of homeland security, and Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, will be among those summoned to testify before Congressional committees in weeks to come. Their performance may determine their professional survival.

Thomas Kean, the Republican who chaired the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, told CNN there were similarities between US intelligence agencies’ failure to heed indications that the 9/11 attacks were going to happen and the Christmas Day episode.

“It’s the same thing – a lot of pieces of information. If they had been shared by the intelligence agencies the way they should be . . . then this guy would’ve never gotten on a plane.”

Kean said the suspected bomber Abdulmutallab “probably did us a favour” by focusing the administration’s attention on the danger of extremist attacks.

“They were focused on health care and global warming and the economy. That’s very understandable.

“Secondly, we weren’t really focused on Yemen and the terrible things that are happening there.”

DeMint said that Obama “has been completely distracted by other things”. It was he who last summer promised to turn healthcare reform into Obama’s “Waterloo”.

Republicans reproach Obama for not reiterating the words “terrorist”, “terrorism” and “war on terror” with the zeal of Israeli leaders or George W Bush, though the words terrorism, terrorist and counter-terrorism featured six times in the president’s weekly address on January 2nd last.

The former vice-president Dick Cheney said last week that Obama “is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think that if he has a low-key response . . . we won’t be at war.”

The would-be Christmas Day bomber is being held in a federal prison in Michigan, and is to appear in court on Friday.

Obama has also been criticised for the decision to try him in federal court.

“If we had treated this Christmas Day bomber as a terrorist, he would have immediately been interrogated military-style, rather than given the rights of an American and lawyers,” DeMint said.

“We probably lost valuable information. It does come down to a decision of whether or not this is an act of war, an act of terror, or just a criminal act.”

Critics on the left say the Abdulmutallab case shows the futility of pouring money and troops into Afghanistan when a 23-year-old with explosives hidden in his underwear poses a greater threat to the lives of Americans.

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