White House delayed response to acts of terror warrants analysis

While Republicans have taken president Obama to task for his 3 day delay in providing a response to the attempted terrorist attack on Northwest Flight #253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, we hear MSNBC Republican hater Rachel Maddow pointing out that president George W. Bush waited six days before responding to shoe bomber Richard Reid’s December 22, 2001, botched terrorist attack on American Airlines Flight #63 from Paris to Miami. That’s a cop out. You need to do some fact finding before engaging in ready, fire, aim.

At the time of the botched effort by Richard Reid to ignite a bomb in his shoe on that American Airlines plane, president Bush was vacationing at Camp David. The president’s eventual response to the December 22nd terrorist attack came from his ranch in Crawford, Texas on December 28th. 

Senator Joe Biden, Democratic chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, appeared on Face the Nation with the opportunity to score cheap political points against an administration caught off guard by a terror attack for the third time in the space of 4 months. He made these comments:

“The ability for al Qaeda to coordinate and plan and focus on and carry out long-term devastating attacks in the United States has been badly crippled — not ended, but badly crippled. So we’re a lot better off than we were four months ago, although we’re still going to have this possibility.”

The following transcript is from the Face The Nation program of December, 23, 2001.  It contains commentary from our current Vice President Joe Biden.
SCHIEFFER: And with us now from Wilmington, Delaware, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden; down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, we have already heard from Senator Shelby, ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee.

Well, Senator Biden, you heard what–Senator Shelby got a briefing on this a little earlier this morning. You heard what he said. Fairly sobering incident there, where you had this man on this plane in Boston, apparently had some sort of explosives in his shoes. And luckily, the passengers and the flight crew were able to subdue him.

But this does not bode well, does it?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, D-Delaware: No, it doesn’t bode well. As Senator Shelby indicated, I’m–we’ve not seen the end of attempts, isolated attempts and maybe even coordinated attempts at terrorism against the United States.

But one big thing has changed, Bob: The ability for Al Qaeda to coordinate and plan and focus on and carry out long-term devastating attacks in the United States has been badly crippled–not ended, but badly crippled. So, we’re a lot better off than we were four months ago, although we’re still going to have this possibility.

As I said on your show a couple–about a month ago, nothing’s going to stop the guy who walks into a restaurant with C-2 strapped to his chest like a vest and blowing himself up. I mean, we’re going to have trouble dealing with that. Thank God we haven’t had that, but the individual willing to give his life is a very difficult thing to stop.

SCHIEFFER: Well, Senator Shelby, I was just thinking as I was listening to you a while ago, how do you say to people now, it’s safe to get on an airplane when in fact this person apparently got through the metal detectors?

Got through the metal detectors because as we’re now coming to understand, plastique, this plastic explosive, if that’s what this turns out to be, you can get through a metal detector undetected with that.

Well, I think we may have lost Senator Shelby’s ability to hear us there.

SHELBY: I can hear you.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Biden, maybe you can answer that.

BIDEN: We have the–we are focusing on the ability to be able to detect plastiques. What we have now at those…

SHELBY: I’ve been hearing all along.

BIDEN: Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll let Dick answer the question.

SCHIEFFER: Go ahead, Senator. How do we encourage people now or tell people it’s safe to fly on an aircraft when we have now learned that you can get through a metal detector apparently with plastic explosives in your shoes?

SHELBY: Bob, that’s a very good question. And it’s one that we don’t have the big answer for yet. We’ve come a long way since September 11 as far as safety, but everything is not perfect. That’s why I’ve told people all along to be on alert. I continue to fly, but I’m on alert.

BORGER: Senator Biden, I just want to switch for a moment to Afghanistan. Over the weekend President Musharraf of Pakistan was interviewed in China, and he said that he thought Osama bin Laden was probably dead somewhere in a cave. What do you make of his remarks?

BIDEN: Well, the truth is we don’t know whether he is or not. That’s why there’s Americans, at the direction of General Franks, trained for mountain training like this. They’re going cave to cave.

And secondly, as you have recently read, we have developed a bomb that is particularly devastating in tunnels, that’s a high-fuel bomb combined with air that does incredible damage. And there’s discussion now of us going back into caves already destroyed and going at them again with this new weapon that penetrates, is delayed explosion and just absolutely is devastating. In a very small area, it has the capacity not unlike a nuclear bomb without any radiation.

So I think what we’re going to find out is we’re going to go in there, it’s high risk. That’s what Franks wants, General Franks wants us doing. We’re going to find out, and then we’re going to take the cave system out so no one can use it again.

But the honest to God truth is, Gloria, nobody knows.

BORGER: Well, Senator Shelby, do you think that’s a good idea to, you know, continue to go back into these caves?

SHELBY: Well, I think that we’ve got to rout them out. We’ve got to know that Osama bin aden and his core group are not still hiding in those caves. It is dangerous, Gloria.

BORGER: What if we don’t find him, Senator?

BIDEN: We’ll find him.

SHELBY: If he’s dead–which I doubt, but he could be–if he’s been bombed or blown up, sooner or later we will know. But I believe that we will pick his trail up if he’s alive. If he’s in Pakistan or if he’s hiding somewhere, we’ll pick his trail up. And I believe we’re going to get him one way or the other.

SCHIEFFER: Well, could these statements that perhaps he’s already dead, would that be–should we say in any way that that may be because somebody doesn’t want us routing around in Pakistan to look for him?

BIDEN: Well, that’s a good point.

SHELBY: Well, Bob, you’ve got to always be weary of anything like this. I would believe that he’s dead when I see his body or see the DNA test from what’s left.

BORGER: But, Senator Biden, you want, you want to speak to that point, about perhaps President Musharraf not wanting us to go into Pakistan?

BIDEN: I think Musharraf’s (inaudible) have been pretty well proven. This is a guy who’s really gone out on the limb–necessarily, he had no choice. And the Pakistanis have really, really followed through here.

I am convinced that it’s very, very, very much in their interest. Their worst nightmare is all of a sudden three months later, Osama bin Laden being spotted in western Pakistan. That is their worst nightmare politically, internationally, with regard to us, with regard to them.

So, therefore, I think the interest, Gloria, is for them to help us get him. I mean, I don’t see any win for them in him popping up somewhere after, especially in Pakistan.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask both of you this. There’s a report in Newsweek Magazine this morning that the Pentagon is studying a plan that would basically put 50,000 troops on one side of Iraq and 50,000 American troops on the side of Iraq, and then just have them move toward the center and once and for all do away with Saddam Hussein.

Senator Shelby, do you think that’s a good idea?

SHELBY: Well, I’m going to leave that up to the policy-makers at the end of the day.

But I can say this, we have a lot of unfinished business in the world, and Iraq is where the biggest piece of it is. The fact that he’s still there 10 years later after the Gulf War has got to be more than just irksome to most of the people in the world.

As long as he’s in power, Bob, there’s going to be the threat of terrorism, there’s going to be the threat of nuclear weapons used against us by rogue states, and bioterrorism, make no mistake about that. He ought to go.

SCHIEFFER: So, you’ve got an open mind about that.

SHELBY: Absolutely.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, Senator Biden, what do you think about it?

BIDEN: Bob, if we’re going to do it, that’s the way to do it. The way not o do it is counting on Mr. Shallabi, who’s a fine guy with his group of people who are the opposition, that neither administration is funded, to somehow topple him and decapitate him–you know, the stuff you’ve hearing up to now.

I think there’s three things we have to do with regard to him. One is, we’ve got to make clear to the world that he has these weapons. We got to make the case.

Number two, we got to lay out a plan for the world as to what would happen after he left. The worst nightmare of Turkey and a lot of other countries in the region is you have Iran disintegrate. If we were to make it clear, along with the rest of the West, that we would keep that nation together, that there could be put together a government that was representative, and then he didn’t move, and then we moved by using a Gulf-kind of operation, Gulf-War operation instead of this idea, you know, paratrooping people in and decapitating him, that’s the way to go about it.

But we have a lot of unfinished business in Afghanistan, Bob–a whole lot of unfinished business in Afghanistan in terms of getting forces, not our forces, getting multinational forces in there to not only secure Kabul but be able to have commerce and intercourse function in that country, and so on. So it’s a way down the road.

SCHIEFFER: All right, I think we’ll leave it right there. Thank you very, very much both of you. Very helpful this morning.

SHELBY: Thank you.

BIDEN: Thanks an awful lot. Merry Christmas.

SCHIEFFER: I’ll be back with a final word in just a minute.
Gilbert commentary. Not to give anyone a pass for delaying a response to terrorism against Americans but you cannot simply compare three days versus six. You need to look in your rear view mirror to acknowledge that the shoe bomber incident happened only 102 days after the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Until that date and time we were not as cautious when it related to airport security.

 “After September 11th, the President acted quickly and decisively to protect the nation.  He immediately secured $40 billion in emergency funding and created the Office of Homeland Security, led by former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, to coordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy to secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks.  As the President’s national strategy developed, it became clear that a more profound change was needed to meet the challenge of protecting against the possible terrorist threats of tomorrow.  Maintaining the status quo structure, even with enhanced inter-agency cooperation, was an unacceptable risk that the nation could ill afford.  Consequently, on June 6, 2002, the President proposed creating a new cabinet-level department with the primary mission of protecting the American people and our homeland.  The Congress responded, and on November 25, 2002, the President signed into law the Homeland Security Act of 2002 creating the new department.”

As confirmed by the above text, Congress did not get our act together until after the December 22, 2001 botched attack which led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

 As such the DHS has been in operation for a full seven years when this latest attack took place. While we are still not sure where a communications lapse occurred, president Obama has been at the helm for 11 months.
For headhunter Rachel Maddow to justify the Obama delay by mentioning a six day delay by president Bush is a very weak argument indeed.

About Larry Gilbert