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PRUDEN: There’s no penalty for sleeping on the job

- The Washington Times - Friday, January 8, 2010

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

If it's true, as Dr. Johnson famously told us it was, that the prospect of hanging focuses the mind in a wonderful way, maybe the prospect of facing angry voters sharpens a politician's instincts (if not necessarily his mind).

After first treating the Detroit panty bomber as if it were merely an amusing story ("an isolated incident") that an airline passenger could dine out on for a few days, President Obama is giving a good imitation now of a man getting a late education. Maybe the education will take. It's too soon to say. He said late Thursday that he won't fire anybody. "Ultimately, the buck stops with me. When the system fails, it's my responsibility."

Smooth talk is easy for Mr. Obama, and he often confuses words with deeds. He's taking responsibility for what happened aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on final approach over Detroit, but it's not clear what that means. He's not likely to fire himself (perhaps to spare us Joe Biden). So nobody pays a price for some serious sleeping on the job. Sleeping on the job is serious, but not that serious.

The president and his Democrats are closing ranks behind top national security officials who are begging to be thrown into the street with their briefcases and keys to the executive washroom. The solution they prescribe is to build the intelligence bureaucracies a little bigger and thicker, layering incompetence with impotence, giving a little relief to the intelligence minions "who have worked so hard." Some no doubt have, but where were the intelligence analysts who saw nothing suspicious when the panty bomber bought his one-way ticket to the U.S.A. with cash, leaving a subtropical city bound for icy Detroit with no luggage?

The State Department, warned by the terrorist's father that he had fallen in with evil companions and was up to no good, finally did its best work Thursday, revoking the visa of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. If he is released for more jihad, he won't be able to return to the United States without a new visa. This sounds like a bad joke, but it isn't. That's how the Foggy Bottom fudge factory works.

But it's not just the folks in Foggy Bottom. Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, decided not to cut his skiing vacation to return to work when he heard about the panty bomber's aborted attempt to blow up another airliner. "People have been grumbling that he didn't let a little terrorism interrupt his vacation," someone at the counterterrorism center told the New York Daily News. A spokesman for the center wouldn't say exactly when Mr. Leiter returned to work, but it was apparently several days later. The snow wasn't so good on the slopes, the hot buttered rum had curdled and cooled, and there was no longer any good reason to stay around.

Mr. Obama, who was said to have used "unusually blunt language" when he called in a group of government officials to scold them for what went wrong, disclosed that U.S. intelligence officials knew that al Qaeda in Yemen "aspired to attack the U.S. homeland." The intelligence "community" just "failed to connect the dots." In all fairness, maybe dots are hard to see in the snow.

Janet Napolitano was not on a ski slope, so we don't know whether she saw dots. She says the "system worked," and she may have been talking about the courageous Dutchman and the stewardesses who subdued and stripped the panty bomber. In Janet's "system," everyone gets to sit next to a flying Dutchman. Napolitano earlier had chided those who insist on calling the war on terror "the war on terror." But that's so early 21st century, so George W. Bush. She renamed terrorism "man-made disasters."

Mzz Napolitano, something of a man-made disaster herself, is naturally collecting a coterie of defenders inside the Beltway. But not everyone is falling in line. David Broder of The Washington Post, the dour, sober-sided "dean of the Beltway pundits," put his tongue in cheek to deliver a devastating satire of the lady's performance.

"It came as no surprise to anyone who knows her that [Mzz] Napolitano handled the incident and its aftermath with aplomb," he wrote. "In the years I have known her, she has managed every challenge ... with the same calm command that she showed in this instance. If there is anyone in the administration who embodies President Obama's preference for quiet competence with 'no drama,' it is Janet Napolitano."

David Broder, of all people, aspiring to be Jonathan Swift or Evelyn Waugh. Who knew?

Take note, Mr. President: When the Democrats lose David Broder, they're deep in man-made disaster.

&#8226 Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.