The similarities between failed airplane bombers Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab are striking. Each Al Qaeda convert was radicalized in London. Reid and Abdulmutallab were each subdued by fellow passengers after their explosive devices failed to detonate. The two men struck just as the President of the United States was starting his vacation for the Christmas holiday. In each case, the President spoke publicly about the incident only days later. And the Nigerian, just like Reid before him, will face criminal charges in an American civilian courtroom.
The only difference? Richard Reid hid a bomb in his shoe, while Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab packed his in his underwear. Oh, and the Democratic President Barack Obama has faced a firestorm of criticism from his political opponents and the media alike while Republican George W. Bush's silence during his extended holiday in 2001 was greeted with yawns.
Bush's Non-Response. While President Obama did not speak to the American people for three days after the Flight 253 incident, George W. Bush did not surface to address the December 22, 2001 attempted shoe bombing until six days after it occurred. Even then, as Huffington Post's Sam Stein recounted, "it was only in passing."
And that hardly caused a ripple. As the Boston Globe noted two days later on December 24, 2001:
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said that President Bush continued to monitor the situation and receive updates at Camp David. Bush has not issued any statements about the incident.
On Christmas Day 2001, the Houston Chronicle reported:
Hardly a creature was stirring at the White House yesterday as President Bush celebrated the Christmas holiday with tamales and family at Camp David...
Preparing for the big meal, the president hit the gym earlier in the day, where he worked out with family members.
Spokesman Scott Stanzel said he also received his daily intelligence briefings and called nine men and women in the military stationed overseas.
What a difference eight years - and a Democrat in the White House - makes.
"And there are people who think that the president is not quite yet comfortable first in the arena, the foreign policy arena, and point out that, in fact, when the president was a candidate, as you remember Russia invaded Georgia and it took a couple days for then candidate Obama to make a statement about it, whereas John McCain was out early and made an issue of the fact that candidate Obama had not come out and talked. So a lot of people thinking he could have used his presidential power for reassurance in the last 24 hours."
Yesterday, ABC News proclaimed, "Some Say Obama Did Not React Quickly Enough After Flight 253 Incident."
"Look, they woke him up immediately to tell him he won the Nobel Prize but couldn't bother to interrupt his vacation for three hours to tell him a terrorist tried to bring down a plane on Christmas Day. And the President waits 72 hours before we hear from him, and it's over 72 hours from the time of the incident to the time that the President spoke today, and then the President said some things that are simply not true."
Trial in Civilian Court. Ignoring the Bush Justice Department's handling of the Richard Reid prosecution, the Republican water carriers who were there for it called for Flight 253 bomber Abdulmutallab to face a military tribunal instead. They seem to have simply erased Donald Rumsfeld's December 27, 2001 proclamation, "That's a matter that's in the hands of the law enforcement people and not the Department of Defense."
Despite the wealth of information the young Nigerian is already providing American investigators, Fox News reported that "Rep. Peter King of New York said Tuesday it will be more difficult for authorities to get useful information from the suspect if he is given the legal rights afforded to defendants in civilian courts, including the right to a lawyer."
King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, was joined on Tuesday by former Bush DHS Secretary Tom Ridge. Appearing on the Larry King Show, Ridge declared:
"He's a terrorist, and I don't think he deserves the full range of protections of our criminal justice system embodied in the Constitution of the United States.
I take a look at this individual who has been charged criminally, does that mean he gets his Miranda warnings? Does that mean the only information we're gonna get from him is if he volunteers it?"
Of course, Ridge was there when Richard Reid was tried and convicted. Despite the fact that President Bush signed off on military commissions in November 2001 a month before the failed shoe bombing, the administration used a civilian court to put Reid behind bars for 60 years.
Yemen and the Gitmo Recidivists. Within hours of the Northwest Airlines bombing attempt, the media was helping the GOP in its effort to keep the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay open for business. On Saturday, Politico warned the Obama administration, "Xmas Bomb Bid Complicates Gitmo Plan." Three days later, the AP echoed, "Yemeni Link to Airline Plot Complicates Gitmo Plan." On the 29th, Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman wrote a letter to President Obama asking that he halt any transfer of six Yemeni detainees being held in Guantanamo Bay.
Their trepidation is well-founded, given the revelations that two Yemeni Al Qaeda figures released from Gitmo by the Bush administration in 2007 may have been key figures in the planning of the Christmas bombing. But as with the thoroughly debunked claims about the "Gitmo 30" and other tales of Al Qaeda recidivism real or imagined, the failures of the Bush-Cheney administration become Barack Obama's fault for Republicans and the press alike.
Just ask Dick Cheney. His ongoing campaign to undermine President Obama is once again front page news, this time courtesy of Politico:
"As I've watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won't be at war."
According to Dick Cheney's revisionist history, we're only at war if the airline suicide bomber in question is wearing explosives in his underwear.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)