The Terrorist Detroit Bombing Attempt: Another Piece of Evidence of Increased Threat Caused by The Conflicted Presidency of Barack Obama

–Richard E. Vatz

On Christmas day, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted an act of stunning terrorism: blowing up a commercial plane that was heading for Detroit (Flight 253). This is an inconvenient fact, as Al Gore might have put it, for The Conflicted Presidency of President Barack Obama. Whatever security-human rights conflicts emerge, you can find this administration erring on the side of the latter: President Obama wants to: close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay; radically defang the Patriot Act; and lower the threshold for defining interrogation as “torture.” His generally high-touch foreign policy attests to his general soft reflexes as well.

How does one rhetorically reconcile such inconvenient factual outcomes as the nearly successful Christmas Day bombing with such lofty liberal values? This will be the question that will haunt the Obama Administration as its foreign policy failures leave the United States and the world more and more vulnerable to catastrophe.

As a professor of rhetorical study, I like to define what rhetoric is and how it can be applied to national discussions of issues of the day. Rhetoric is the struggle for determining what subject is on the agenda for given audiences and what interpretation or spin is attached to it. When the subject of conversation and attending evidence is established, clichés can change the subject and/or they can change the interpretation when a persuader cannot deal with the topic or evidence at hand.

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”The System Worked.”

On CNN Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Candy Crowley regarding Mr. Abdulmutallab’s attempted terrorist explosion, “And one thing I’d like to point out is that the system worked. Everybody played an important role here.” I suppose that includes Jasper Schuringa, the hero who subdued Abdulmutallab – I wonder if he knows his continuing role in the United States’ fight against terrorism. Secretary Napolitano’s comments — from which she later appeared to retrench — were the reflexive reactions of a conflicted member of The Conflicted Presidency.

Let me just list some of the imperfections in the anti-terrorist strategies manifest in this near mega-death tragedy: the perpetrator’s father’s warning regarding his son’s “radicalization” was ignored; the fact that no screening equipment had been deployed to uncover the utilized PETN explosives; the fact that Abdulmutallab’s name was listed on the National Counterterrorism Center’s terrorist data base; and the multitude of suspicious behaviors concerning his flight arrangements and corresponding lack of investigation of any of these.

Secretary Napolitano is one of the perfectly conflicted members of The Conflicted Presidency. In early 2009 Secretary Napolitano told the German news site Spiegel Online that she preferred the term “man-caused disaster” to terrorism because the latter promotes the “politics of fear.”

But it is not just she and it is not just combating terrorism which this administration does not have its heart into. The Obama presidency’s conflictedness is not an issue-specific phenomenon; it is a pattern. It is born of an attractive, articulate leader whose choices of membership in his Administration mirrors his superordinating “humane values” over security needs. He does not completely ignore security requirements; as I say, he is always conflicted. Hence, we have President Obama’s ambivalent Afghanistan policy accompanied by an exit strategy at its inception and debate as to if and when we are actually committed to leave.

The world can use some sensitive and softer thinkers, but not as president of the United States, a country at war with terrorism and a country fighting nuclear proliferation.

This act of terrorism, not directly created by Barack Obama himself, is abetted by the Obama presidency and its perspectives.

The Conflicted Presidency, well-motivated and articulate and attractive, is unsuited to combat serious threats to America.

Professor Vatz is professor of rhetoric and communication at Towson University

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