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May 4, 2010

Exclusive: Protecting the Home Front is Job #1

Presidential Policy: Does It Make the Grade?, James Carafano, PhD

The administration received some serious reminders last week that safeguarding the home front remains an important part of the job. For starters, the White House struggled with the massive oil spill in the Gulf Coast. The AP reported, “With no remedy in sight, President Barack Obama warned Sunday of a ‘massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster’ as a badly damaged oil well a mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico spewed a widening and deadly slick toward delicate wetlands and wildlife. He said it could take many days to stop.”
Some critics had begun to label the administration response as “Obama’s Katrina.” That seems like a partisan and unfair criticism as blatantly wrong as many of the barbs flung at Bush after Katrina. In fact, most of the federal response falls under the leadership of the Coast Guard part of the Department of Homeland Security, which is doing as well as expected under the circumstances (just as it did during Katrina). If anything, there is a small bit of vindication for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano who was criticized for testimony before Congress when she talked about the department’s responsibilities for dealing with “manmade disasters.” This incident was exactly the kind of crisis she had in mind.
Over the weekend, the White House got a second reminder of why it is important to be vigilant here at home when police defused a truck bomb in New York City’s Time Square. Heritage homeland security analyst, Jena Baker McNeill posted a long report and analysis on the incident to the Heritage blog, “the Foundry.”
New York Governor David Paterson has recently stated that this attempted car bombing was in fact “an act of terrorism.”
Both the timing (Saturday night) and location (Times Square) suggest the bomb was intended to do a lot of damage – in fact the gas tanks inside the car were intended to magnify the explosion. Fortunately, those in Times Square were safe when several citizens alerted authorities that there was smoke coming from the automobile. This type of “see something, say something” is a vital tool of public safety – lives and property were saved as a result of these reports.
While there is in fact a report from MEMRI of a Taliban leader claiming responsibility for the attack on a website, there is still a significant investigation remaining – it is important to wait and see what law enforcement authorities discover before leading to conclusions on attribution. No city in America is perhaps better able to deal with these types of threats than NYC. And since the bomb did not go off, there will likely be a lot of physical evidence such as fingerprints that will allow for a robust investigation by authorities.
If reports are correct and this is indeed an act of terrorism, this would make at least 31 unsuccessful plots on U.S. soil since 9/11.
Both these incidents should be stern reminders to the administration to remain on its toes. This is particularly true in regards to thwarting terrorist attacks. There is a growing list of enemies that might take America on. Meanwhile, the increasing reluctance of the White House to identify Islamist terrorist groups as the main source of danger (an issue discussed in detail at a recent event held at Heritage) is also a concern.
This week the administration’s grade for national security is “B” for “be better be prepared for the future.” Contributing Editor James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is a leading expert in defense affaires, intelligence, military operations and strategy, and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation.




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