The Sunday talk shows overflowed with specious explanations for the underwear bomber incident:
Other Republicans were more measured. On CNN, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, praised Obama’s reaction to the Flight 253 attack. But he said it was clear that until Christmas, the administration was “distracted” by health care, the economy, global warming and other issues and not “focused as it should be on terrorism.”
Sheer nonsense. Is Kean implying that employees of the NSA, CIA, and the National Counterterrorism Center were distracted from their signals analysis by the fight over a single payer plan? What would it have meant in this specific case for the administration to be “focused as it should be on terrorism” in a way that was not already happening in the relevant agencies? The political operatives who manage the health care and global warming efforts have nothing to do with consular and intelligence matters. And the Obama White House was criticized for spending too much time on the Afghanistan escalation decision, which was justified exclusively in “war on terror” terms.
Everyone wants some simplistic moral from the story that will allow us to feel that the world is fully controllable if we could just get the details right. But sometimes things happen randomly without fitting into a satisfying narrative of obvious fault.
I am amazed that Obama has so quickly gone forward with national origins scrutiny at airports; I obviously misjudged his fealty to the civil libertarian left. The arguments against such commonsensical security measures are illogical:
–“Not everyone in the 14 countries is a terrorist.” True. So how does it follow that we should therefore be screening the entire universe of non-terrorists? The idea that you do a better job of security by spreading finite, inadequate investigatory resources over an entire population, rather than focusing on those subgroups from which Islamic terrorists most frequently come, is absurd. And if receiving extra screening at an airport is such an awful, demeaning fate for nationals of those 14 countries, why is it better to subject every person from every country on earth to such screening?
–“We would have missed Richard Reid under the extra scrutiny regime,” argued Senator Susan Collins. We did anyway. But the presence of an outlier does not invalidate a valid statistical portrait. No one is contemplating discarding all airport security (though I would almost be willing to take my chances than go through this mounting overkill); the only question is where to focus the new layers that we are piling on.
–“This is ‘racial profiling,’ therefore, by definition, illegitimate.” But the only people who commit Islamic terrorism are Muslims; Muslims don’t just stand a higher chance of committing Islamic terrorism, they are the only people who commit Islamic terrorism. That’s not playing the odds; it’s a tautology. The national origins screen is a proxy for Islamic faith, and the only one we have.