The New York Times has a must-read report on how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab became radicalised. The second sentence from this extract is particularly striking:
In recent days, officials in Washington and London have said they are focusing on the possibility that his London years, including his possible contacts with radical Muslim groups in Britain, were decisive in turning him toward Islamic extremism. That view, if confirmed, would offer a stark reaffirmation that Britain, the United States’ closest ally, continues to pose a major threat to American security.
Towards the end of the report you'll find some explicit suggestions as to where and by whom UFA became indoctrinated (including a possible link to Major Hasan), information that probably won't be reported here because of our libel laws.
That Umar Sparky-Pants was an engineering student is no surprise. Slate has an excellent piece by Benjamin Popper on recent research showing that a disproportionate number of terrorists have engineering degrees:
Gambetta and Hertog write about a particular mind-set among engineers that disdains ambiguity and compromise. They might be more passionate about bringing order to their society and see the rigid, religious law put forward in radical Islam as the best way of achieving those goals. In online postings, Abdulmutallab expressed concern over the conflict between his secular lifestyle and more extreme religious views. "How should one put the balance right?" he wrote.
Terrorist organizations seem to have recognized this proclivity—in Abdulmutallab, obviously, but also among engineers in general. A 2005 report from British intelligence noted that Islamic extremists were frequenting college campuses, looking for "inquisitive" students who might be susceptible to their message. In particular, the report noted, they targeted engineers.
Despite the valiant efforts of Senator Max Baucus to construct a bipartisan healthcare bill, he ultimately failed to get any Republicans to come aboard, something he clearly regrets bitterly. He has an interesting story to tell - but unfortunately he tells it whilst slurring. Is he drunk? We don't know for sure. But we do know nobody's talking about what he actually said.
Politico's Josh Gerstein makes a very sensible and welcome comparison:
Eight years ago, a terrorist bomber’s attempt to blow up a transatlantic airliner was thwarted by a group of passengers, an incident that revealed some gaping holes in airline security just a few months after the attacks of September 11. But it was six days before President George W. Bush, then on vacation, made any public remarks about the so-called “shoe bomber,” Richard Reid, and there were virtually no complaints from the press or any opposition Democrats that his response was sluggish or inadequate.
That stands in sharp contrast to the withering criticism President Barack Obama has received from Republicans and some in the press for his reaction to Friday’s incident on a Northwest Airlines flight heading for Detroit.
Perhaps the news cycle has speeded up somewhat since then. Also, perhaps Bush had earned himself such "credit" in the arena of taking-terrorism-seriously after 9/11/01 that he didn't need to react to the next incident so quickly, whereas (apparently) Obama has yet to gain his war-on-terror stripes. What's missing from that perspective, however, is something Obama is trying to re-introduce - an awareness of AQ and their (potential) followers as a target audience. The bigger fuss the president makes over a failed terrorist attempt, the bigger they look.
Ambinder has another excellent post on the politics of the Abdul Sparky-Pants incident - this time on why Obama chose to play golf yesterday, as per his pre-arranged schedule, rather than holding a press conference or flying back to the White House:
Six geese a-laying. Hmm, that's so weird because I was just telling someone that I could use some MORE FUCKING BIRDS. Do you have any idea how much shit six geese generate in a single day? Literally, pounds. Pounds of green, grassy turds. And in case you're curious, all six of them have been a-laying since they got here. There are no less than seventy-five enormous eggs in my apartment right now. And as a side note, I just tried to make an omelet out of one of them and almost ralphed. Very gamy.
What's most inexplicable about yesterday's scare is that the guy carried explosives and a liquid-filled syringe on to a transatlantic plane - when most of us get stripped of Soltan Factor 8 - despite being on a no-fly list.
Ambinder has the most interesting take on the political ramifications:
I am sure that, in the minds of Obama's top counterterrorism officials, they are trying to figure out whether it is worth putting a name to what might be three loosely connected events. Is it sufficient to say that Zazi, Hasan and this Nigerian are all part of the same circle, the same fundamental structure? Do they represent a phase change in the nature of terrorism? These are harder questions to answer and pose harder questions to solve than the questions of who, what, when, where and how. We'll fix the security flaw, or patch it up as best we can. What the Obama administration lacks now is a theory of terrorism. Maybe one doesn't exist in the real world; maybe the Bush administration's theory of terrorism exacerbated the problem. It is this administration's challenge to explain how their approach keeps us safer, and then to demonstrate that their approach keeps us safer.
Ross Douthat writes one of his familiar on-the-one-hand-on-the-other columns about Obama's first year. Along the way he makes a good point: Obama, like Reagan, is attempting to introduce his "base" to the realities and compromises of governing, but unlike Reagan, he's doing so without having built up credits and credibility with them over the preceding decades - a lack that leaves him walking a tightrope without a safety net. It will take an enormous amount of political skill not to fall off.
Douthat also acknowledges the salient truth about year one:
Between the stimulus package, the pending health care bill and a new raft of financial regulations, Obama will soon be able to claim more major legislative accomplishments than any Democrat since Lyndon Johnson.
Nate Silver - quite possibly the sanest, smartest, most lucid voice in the whole political blogosphere - has been taking on those on the left who argue that it's better to trash this imperfect healthcare bill than pass it, and suffering a hot blast of unreason for his troubles. It's one thing to disagree, but his antagonists simply aren''t interested in an honest argument. It's a bit like trying to reason with the hard core of the GOP:
One of the reasons I consider myself to be a progressive/liberal/whatever is because, more often than not, I've found progressives to be on the "right" side of the argument. They're more empirical, more "scientific", less dogmatic, less sophistic, less demagogic, less anti-intellectual -- not always by any means but at least some majority of the time. After tangling with the kill-billers, however, I'm beginning to have my doubts.
For some people, the dopamine-kick of crying "betrayal" is simply irresistible.
(But still they come at him - Silver valiantly takes his battle into the comments section.)