- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Since it’s an ill wind that blows nobody good, even downwind from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his deadly skivvies, we may owe a profound debt of gratitude to the Detroit underwear bomber.

He’s the instrument, maybe, of Barack Obama getting a little religion, and if so it’s not the stuff of Arabia, but real, heartfelt attitude-changing religion. The president has apparently decided that Islamic terror is real, and aimed straight at America. He’s even calling terror “terror” (just like George W. Bush).

This was no doubt difficult for the messiah from Hyde Park, who arrived in Washington persuaded that “terrorism” was a figment of George W.’s benighted imagination, that misunderstandings between America and the Muslim world were all the fault of America. A few apologies, a bended knee, a deep head-banging bow to an Arab king would demonstrate that Americans understand at last what chauvinist pigs and imperialist dogs those founding fathers really were — Englishmen all, with their ignorant ideas about American “exceptionalism” and the idea that free men bow to none but the Almighty.

The president upset a lot of Americans with his Absolutely Grand Amalgamated and Contrite Apology Tour of the Middle East, promising to pluck the tailfeathers of the American eagle and show Americans how to behave to the standards of the Old (and the Very Old) World. This naturally pleased his liberal cult, accustomed through the decades of blaming America first for everything bad. We gloomily concluded that Jimmy Carter is back in the White House.

Then Northwest Airlines Flight 253 began its final approach to Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab reached into his underwear for the ultimate Islamist weapon, and proceeded to honor Allah in his own way. But the “system” — a system consisting of a courageous Dutchman and three airline stewardesses — worked. The plot was foiled, the Dutchman leaped into action, and the deadly BVDs were quickly subdued.

America cheered, but President Obama was his usual cool, detached, no-drama self. He interrupted his Hawaii vacation long enough only to promise that everything would be done to foil “alleged” misbehavior, and the “suspect,” whom the world had seen being subdued in a black and white photograph, would answer to civilian law. The flying Dutchman was the hero of the hour, but it’s not clear whether anyone read the terrorist his Miranda rights.

Over the next few hours, Mr. Obama was carefully squeamish when talking about the underwear bomber, prefacing his descriptions with the weasel words “alleged” and “suspect,” clothing him in the jargon of the police blotter. Mr. Obama, who understands the precise meanings of words, is not always so squeamish. He leaped quickly to denounce the Cambridge cop who arrested his friend Henry Louis Gates, and when outrage followed his decision to try the infamous Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as a civilian in New York, rather than as the enemy combatant he is, he and his attorney general, Eric Holder, promised that KSM would die after a fair trial. Judge Roy Bean was never more adamant that he would string up a horse thief west of the Pecos after the inconvenient but necessary ritual of “a fair trial.”

Presidents have never before been so reticent on occasions of national peril. FDR knew no better than to say it straight and plain in the wake of Pearl Harbor. He could have, but didn’t, tell Congress and the nation that “… yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941, a date that will live in controversial memory, the respected empire of Japan, following the dictates of Shinto, a religion of peace, allegedly attacked our naval base at Pearl Harbor …” Other revered figures of history offered no useful precedent, either. John Paul Jones, wreathed in smoke and fire on the deck of Bon Homme Richard, could have, but didn’t, rally his men with a cry that “I have not yet begun to see what kind of deal we can get.”

There were no apt examples from our friends across the sea. Winston Churchill could have, but didn’t, promise England in the grim summer of 1940 that “we shall negotiate on the seas and oceans, we shall parley to defend our island as long as there is no cost attached, we shall bargain on the beaches, we shall dicker on the landing grounds, we shall beg in the fields and streets, we shall make speeches in the hills — we shall never, ever, cease to seek better terms.”

Mr. Obama seems to have put a tentative foot on the sawdust trail that leads to redemption. He seems to understand what’s at stake, maybe, and has decided that more speechifying won’t stop the mad Muslim suspects who allegedly vow to kill us. We can always hope for change to believe in.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.