A double standard on Obama and terrorism?

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Obama is being bitterly criticised for the lapses that preceded the attempted bombing, and for his administration's bungling response. But George W. Bush didn't receive this kind of criticism over the shoebomber affair in December 2001, Democrats point out. Republicans are playing politics, and a double standard is at work, say Obama's defenders.

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 Sept. 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.

Well of course Republicans are playing politics--which is deplorable, and something that Democrats would never do. But in my circle--I mix with all kinds--it isn't just Republicans who were incredulous at the still-growing catalogue of errors, and awe-struck by Janet Napolitano's initial view that the system had worked.

The first Napolitano statement is surely the main reason why everybody is piling on more this time. (Her subsequent clarification didn't help much either: no point in saying you were quoted out of context when you obviously weren't.) Another difference is that we found out much faster than in the Richard Reid case just how many mistakes were made. And a third thing is the elapsed time: after eight years of enduring the misery of supposedly improved airport security, we read that (a) a man like Abdulmutallab can still walk on to a plane, and (b) that the response will be to take away all blankets and reading material for the last hour of future flights.

Maureen Dowd--not a Republican, so far as I know--summed up this feeling very well.

If we can't catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn't check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?

We are headed toward the moment when screeners will watch watch-listers sashay through while we have to come to the airport in hospital gowns, flapping open in the back.

I wonder if it was a good idea to mention that flapping gown thing. Napolitano might be reading.


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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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