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History and Accountability


As my Heritage colleague James Carafano points out, Yemen has been an al-Qaeda operational zone for quite some time. Although most news reports dutifully point out that the U.S.S. Cole bombing (which was al-Qaeda’s second attempt at bombing a military ship) took place in Aden, Yemen, on Oct. 12, 2000, what all have failed to add is that one of al-Qaeda’s first attributed bombings occurred way back on Dec. 29, 1992, at the Gold Mohur Hotel in Aden. The target of the bombing: U.S. soldiers in transit to Somalia. In Osama bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa, he even referred to the bombing as proof of America’s “weak horse” tendencies, noting: “And where was this courage of yours when two explosions made you to leave Aden in lees [sic] than twenty four hours!”

You can call the war we are in against jihadists whatever you want; but it has been going on for almost 20 years, and the fighting has taken place on at least four continents (Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America) and in 16 countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, America, Denmark, the Netherlands, Tanzania, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Iraq, Iran, and the United Kingdom). President Obama seems to think we are involved in “contingency operations” in two countries today simply because President Bush botched the first location and erred by going to the second. Without those failures, Obama suggests, we wouldn’t be fighting in foreign countries.

One of the key problems in failing to understand the nature of the threat is the futility of the whack-a-mole strategy that Obama wants to employ. Al-Qaeda pops up here, whack ’em; there, whack ’em; somewhere else, whack ’em. We whack, they move and reconstitute somewhere else. That is not a recipe for victory; rather, it is a recipe for another 17 years of whacking moles. If we want to win, we will have to go to the source of the problem, which is decades’ worth of Saudi-funded radicalism around the world that allowed bin Laden the platform to attract the disenchanted men who now spend years trying to find vulnerabilities through which to strike at us. Reasonable minds might disagree over our ability to un-ring the jihadist bell absent a fundamental reformation within Islam; but those same minds cannot disagree that until the last jihadist utters his last breath our government has an obligation to put in place measures that will keep us safe by keeping the terrorists and their weapons out of our country. With this most recent botched attack, our government failed. Period.

Finally, a word on accountability in government. Snickering aside, how does anyone expect accountability in government when those who fail suffer no real consequences? Other than Mike “Heckuva Job, Brownie” Brown, I am not aware of one federal employee who was fired due to the failures involved with the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina. What does a federal bureaucrat need to do to get fired? If we want accountability, then we need to change how federal employees in national-security fields are protected from being fired for failing to do their jobs.

So, yes, Secretary Janet Napolitano should go, but she should go because her tenure as a whole has been a wreck. From her response to the “right-wing” threat report, to the counterproductive reverses made on immigration policy, to the continued pork-barrel feeding frenzy of the homeland-security grants, to the semantic sleight of hand on “man-made disasters,” to her clueless claim that “the system worked,” she does not instill confidence in either the American public or the DHS bureaucracy. Napolitano is just plain ineffective, which is deadly. DHS is hard enough to manage already; an ineffective leader will only ensure further failures. But it shouldn’t just be token political appointees who get fired when failures occur.

We simply cannot afford any more failures — in either preventing attacks or in getting accountability out of our government.

– Matt A. Mayer is a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation and president of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions in Columbus, Ohio. He has served as counselor to the deputy secretary and acting executive director for the Office of Grants and Training in the Department of Homeland Security. He is author of Homeland Security and Federalism: Protecting America from Outside the Beltway.


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