Government immunity

Hon. Ernest Istook Former Republican Congressman
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Accountability is still lacking over the Christmas Day airline bombing attempt.

President Obama—to his credit—publicly accepted his obvious responsibility for security lapses.  But he did not admit any personal mistakes.  He declined to discipline his team members, saying he would not “pass out blame.”  But he permitted only an internal review; others have not been given a chance to examine events in full.

All this prompted ABC News’ Brian Ross to report, “The same team in charge of the failure is now in charge of the fix.”

Discipline is a certainty only for a lowly security guard in New Jersey.  The Transportation Security Administration says the only question is “at what level of discipline” the guard will be punished for letting a man enter through the exit passageway, resulting in disruptions for thousands of fliers.

“A systemic failure has occurred,” President Obama decreed about Flight 253.  But “systemic failure” is so broad that everyone gets tarnished with a bit of responsibility and nobody gets sacked.

Hadn’t we already diagnosed a systemic failure after the Nov. 5 Fort Hood shootings when Nidal Hasan murdered 13 and wounded another 30?  We knew before Christmas that our intelligence was not connecting the dots nor taking radical Islam seriously.

White House National Security Advisor James Jones now says the Christmas Day incident was strike two.  Fort Hood on Nov. 5 was strike one, he told USA Today.  (He did not count the June killing of an Army recruiter by a Muslim fanatic in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Or the arrests of radical Islamic bombing suspects in New York, Illinois and Texas.)

Obama now announces that he wants the very system that his administration may have discontinued.  The President ordered “specific responsibility for investigating all leads on high priority threats so that these leads are pursued and acted upon aggressively.”  But former Clinton and Bush counter-terrorism director Richard Clarke told ABC News, “That is a shock because we had such a follow-up system when I was there.”

Obama’s early  response to the Christmas plot followed a theme that security problems were just another troublesome inheritance from Bush.  That theme evolved, culminating with Obama finally saying what Bush often did, namely that, “We are at war against al Qaeda.”

But adding that “the buck stops here” is not the same as a full change in this administration’s approach to terrorism, often seen as a misguided kindler and gentler approach.

As The Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano noted, “The only way to end this once and for all is to fight and win the war that the administration up to this point has treated as just another public policy problem.”

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giulani urged Obama to prove his sincerity by:

–Halting plans to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his cohorts in civilian court—which New York City estimates will cost it $216-million just to provide security.

–Keeping the detention center open at Guantanamo Bay

The administration should also stop stonewalling Congress about the Fort Hood killings, the Christmas Day attempt, and al-Qaida operations in Yemen, which they’ve done according to Congressman Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.

“Move on” seems to be the mantra of the White House.  But that does not clean up the messes and ignores needs for accountability.  The purely internal self-review by the administration may miss problems that others would detect.

Whether it involves flight security, massive over-spending, or a government takeover of health care, nobody in government should expect immunity from the voters.

Those at Fort Hood and on Northwest Flight 253 can verify that accountability is more than politics.  It can be the difference between life and death.

Ernest Istook, now recovering after 14 years in Congress, is a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation.