No sooner could you say “oy, longer lines at airport security,” than the right-wing blare machine was accusing President Obama of being a “powder puff” and soft on terror.
Brian Kilmeade said on Fox & Friends that the administration “won’t even acknowledge that we’re in the war on terror or that a terror strike could occur.” According to Media Matters, which debunks these delusional vituperations, Rush Limbaugh’s substitute host, Mark Steyn, claimed, “Obama’s ‘Islamo-schmoozing’ has had the effect of increasing terrorist attacks against the United States.” Dick Cheney charged that Obama was “pretending” there was no war against terrorism and was thus jeopardizing the safety of Americans. And Michael Goodwin wrote in the New York Post that Obama “is a war president who defiantly shuns the mantle. So be it. The Oval Office and the choices are his. And so is the responsibility. If America gets hit again, it’s on him. All of it.” Goodwin then claimed that after 9/11 there were no more successful terrorist attacks on the United States. That is false.
Steyn also argued, “Obama’s priority when it comes to dealing with terrorists is to make sure they’re not in Guantánamo.” He then falsely claimed that “70 or so” released Guantánamo detainees “are suspected or known to have returned to terrorist activity since their release.” Newt Gingrich echoed this accusation on The O’Reilly Factor: “The Obama administration continues to release terrorists back into the world.” When Bill O’Reilly, of all people, has to correct such misinformation – “But Bush did that. Bush released those two guys. That was under the Bush administration” – you know you might have a real whopper circulating.
So here’s a quiz. (All information based on that bastion of the liberal media, The Wall Street Journal, citing a report from the Defense Department.) Who released, and when, the following former Guantanamo detainees?
Ibrahim Shair Sen, who was arrested in Van, Turkey, and indicted as a leader of al Qaeda cells in that country.
A) Obama, yesterday
B) Bush, 2003
Abdullah Saleh Ali al-Ajmi, who conducted suicide bombing in Mosul, Iraq.
A) Obama, yesterday
B) Bush, 2005
Said Mohammed Alim Shah, who kidnapped two Chinese engineers, claimed responsibility for a bombing at an Islamabad hotel, directed a suicide attack in Pakistan, and blew himself up to avoid capture by Pakistani forces.
A) Obama, yesterday
B) Bush, 2004
(Saving the best for last) Mohammed Ateeq Owaid al Awfi al-Harbi and partner-in-crime Said Ali al-Shihri, now leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which claimed responsibility for the failed bombing attempt over Detroit.
A) Obama, Christmas Eve
B) Bush, 2007
If you answered “B” to all of the above, you are correct. If you answered A, you are watching, like, way too much Fox news. (We now await Fox blaming Obama for bad weather.) Imagine, just imagine, if the record above was actually held by Bill Clinton, let alone Obama.
Of course, the real problem that the Bush and Obama administrations have faced is the utter failure by intelligence agencies to connect the dots. As Thomas Kean, a co-chair of the 9/11 commission, and its senior counsel John Farmer noted in The New York Times, the 9/11 commission was stunned to learn that the FAA had no idea that the State Department maintained a terrorist watch list. The current “no fly” list consists of about 4,000 people. As we all know now, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was not on it, despite his own father’s efforts to warn CIA officials about his son’s increased radicalism (and to actually share his son’s rabid text messages with them).
Anyone who saw Obama’s stern and angry press conference denouncing “a systemic failure” and his demands for accountability can’t think he is any more of a “powder puff” than Bush was. Our under-achieving intelligence system, our still-inadequate airport security system, and how we as a country protect ourselves against this hydra-headed network that is al Qaeda are not partisan problems. Most people in the country gave Bush the benefit of the doubt after 9/11. It is a mark of how craven – and indeed, unpatriotic – the right wing is that they will not do the same for our current president.
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Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and a senior editor at In These Times. She is the author of In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead.