I watched President Obama detail his administration’s review of missed signals in the Christmas Day bomb attempt, and one thought was inescapable: Imagine President Bush doing the same thing after 9/11. I know, you can’t. I couldn’t either. In almost eight years, he never did.
Almost no contrast between Bush and Obama is as stark. In May 2002 National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice complained that “no one could have imagined” al-Qaida using airplanes as weapons — when, in fact, the U.S., and the Bush administration, had been warned of such planning many times. It took an act of Congress to establish the 9/11 Commission, and Rice continued her butt-covering campaign testifying under oath, insisting that she, personally, had never been briefed on an airplanes-as-weapons plot. President Bush, meanwhile, was so dodgy he insisted on appearing before the 9/11 Commission with Vice President Dick Cheney.
By contrast, Obama stood up and described the many missed opportunities to identify, detain and question Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab less than two weeks after the near-tragedy, but concluded: “I’m less interested in passing out blame than in learning and correcting mistakes. The buck stops with me.”
While Obama declared “we are at war” with al-Qaida so many times even Dick Cheney may have to finally stop lying about it, I was most impressed with the resolve and calm at the end of his remarks, when he pledged, “We will not succumb to a siege mentality … we will not hand terrorists that victory.” I hope Obama means that, and stops embracing counterproductive Bush-era surveillance and interrogation policies that, while a candidate, Obama promised to halt. The news that the president will reappoint Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel — Republicans have tried to block Johnsen’s appointment largely because of her opposition to torture and other Bush-era rights abuses — is a good sign on that front.