An Absentee And Complacent President

Posted on Tue 12/29/2009 by

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By Rory Cooper

By now, you’ve heard the news.  On Christmas Day, a 23-year-old Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow a full Northwest Airlines jet out of the air above Detroit. The only events that stopped this from happening were courageous passengers and a faulty explosive device. If either one of these two events had not taken place, nearly 300 passengers and crew would be dead, and immeasurable collateral damage would have occurred on the ground in Michigan. What you did not hear between this attempted attack on our nation and 3:00 pm EST today, was President Obama’s voice. Over 72 hours; almost three days later.

During this time period, the world also witnessed something equally distressing. Thousands of Iranians took to the streets demanding a regime-change in their own country. Of course, the current Iranian regime is not only trying to fast track its way towards a nuclear weapon, but also is the major benefactor of the attacks our troops face in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a brutal regime with no regards for the safety of its own people, yet alone ours. Freedom fighters are dying in the streets hearing the sounds of gunfire, tear gas and chaos. What they have not heard is the sound of President Obama’s voice. Not until 3:00 pm today, and even then, it was just a whisper.

And what was the President doing since Friday morning? He played a round of golf. He went to the gym. He played a game of basketball. He went to the beach. He went out to dinner with friends. He picked up a new game, tennis. All very acceptable and time-consuming pursuits on an event-free vacation. Nobody begrudges a young father spending time with his family over the holidays.

But the Office of the President bears some extra responsibility and yes, burden. As former White House Deputy Press Secretary Scott Stanzel astutely points out, this was a president who was woken from sleep at 6:00 am to learn he had won the Nobel Peace Prize but wasn’t even informed of this attack on our homeland for over two hours. And if anyone knows the President’s priorities, it is his closest advisors.

President Obama recognized the burden of his office when he delayed his departure to Hawaii so he could be in Washington for a Christmas Eve vote on health care reform. Mind you, this vote did not make reform law, it merely passed one bill into a conference with another. In the grand scheme of this legislation, it was an event he could’ve watched on television, but he knew his presence in DC, and the temporary delay of his vacation plans, would add that emotional support his caucus needed. So where was the emotional support our nation needed, and Iranian citizens needed, this weekend?

Apparently on background, White House officials explained that President Obama did not want to panic the travelling public nor add credibility to the terrorist’s propaganda effort. A noble yet misguided gesture, even if true. The attack occurred. By the time the President spoke, the nation knew the terrorist’s name, his background, his father’s background, a sect of Al Qaeda had already claimed responsibility (the validity to that claim uncertain), and we knew every detail of what physically occurred aboard flight 253.  There was little mystery to panic over except whether another attack was imminent. And if President Obama was actually concerned about the spread of Al Qaeda propaganda, he would not be giving Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a show trial in New York City, when the end result — regardless of conviction – is indefinite detention.  A trial Abdulmutallab is likely to recieve as well.

And while President Obama was enjoying the sun, sea and sand of Hawaii’s beaches, which were closed to military personnel so he could have private access, what words of encouragement was he sending the voices of change in Iran? America has always been a beacon of hope for oppressed people, and citizens begging to break the bonds of authoritarian rule. But not this weekend, and not this summer. While President Obama has “engaged” Iran this year, the people’s fight has been bloodied and the race towards nuclear arms has quickened. And today he repeated the refrain that we “bear witness” to their struggle. The Iranian people are surely looking for more encouraging words than that, especially since this is practically the same statement he gave on June 20.

Being the president is not an easy job.  The man deserves a vacation.  Just as President George Bush did when he went to Crawford, Texas or Ronald Reagan to California or Bill Clinton to Martha’s Vineyard.  President Bush on these “vacations” found time to visit with nearly twenty heads of state in Crawford, and in 2002 he wired his ranch so secure video conferencing with intelligence officials could take place.  In other words, Crawford, TX was indeed the Western White House.  Hawaii and Martha’s Vineyard has so far not given President Obama that same ability to project leadership.

Of course, this past year, the President has not given Americans any further proof that he takes the War on Terrorism seriously, or the role of American leadership. Engaging usually meant apologizing. War on Terror became a Contingency Operation. Military tribunals became constitutional rights for non-American enemy combatants. The CIA became a convenient target rather than a critical weapon. When protesters died in the streets of Tehran, he was silent.

President Obama is not to blame that a terrorist tried to murder innocent civilians in America on Christmas Day. Al Qaeda only has one political agenda, to kill Americans, Republican or Democrat. The sooner the President learns that simply being Barack Obama isn’t enough to deter attacks, give freedom fighters confidence or calm the nerves of an anxious nation, the better. Today, the President said his administration will “not rest” until he finds all those responsible for the attack on our nation. Starting…now.

Rory Cooper contributes posts at The Foundry and he is the Director of Strategic Communications at The Heritage Foundation

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