Left, Right War Over Terror: Merry Xmas

(AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Say this much for our warring tribes: They're not going to let a silly notion like holiday spirit interfere with their predilection for political blood sport.

Even before the authorities had concluded their investigation into the Christmas Day airplane bombing attempt by Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, a Nigerian man who claimed to be acting on orders from al Qaeda, left and right were busy sniping in a predictable kabuki-like pattern of feigned outrage and finger-pointing. Goodbye 2009, hello 2010 - you'll never know the difference.

The latest episode flared after Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich. made in the Detroit Free Press that the Obama administration should "connect the dots" following the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit.

No doubt Hoekstra was grabbing for the limelight and guilty of shameless grandstanding. He is a politician after all and perhaps, as Washington Monthly's Steve Benen suggests, he was motivated by his gubernatorial ambitions to insinuate himself into the story. Then again Hoekstra is the top Republican on the House Select Intelligence Committee, not to mention that he represents the terror target's back yard. From the article:

"People have got to start connecting the dots here and maybe this is the thing that will connect the dots for the Obama administration," said Hoekstra.

Noting that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan – the Army officer who is accused of killing more than a dozen people at Fort Hood, Texas, last month – was allegedly linked to a radical cleric now in Yemen, Hoekstra said this latest incident could be "one more indication" that the al-Qaida branch there is planning attacks.

Hoekstra was referring of course to Anwar Al-'Awlaki, the radical Yemeni sheikh, who was a confidante of Major Nidal Hasan, the army psychiatrist charged in last November's deadly shootings at Fort Hood. Hoekstra offered his opinion before being briefed, so chalk it up right now to conditional speculation, however informed or uninformed it may be. Still, it hardly rates up there with the loony bin ravings of some of his fellow Congressmen, like this year's MVP Michelle Bachmann, she of the Democrats are ripping the guts out of freedom" fame (among other memorable quotes.

But the liberal-left had a conniption. Benen called Hoekstra a "world-class buffoon" while Alan Colmes and ThinkProgress accused Hoekstra of attempting to politicize the story. That may or may not prove to be but isn't it early to jump to that conclusion? U.S. intelligence agencies obviously are going to scour the ground looking for links Abdul Mutallab may have had with Islamist terror groups. Suggesting that the president "connect the dots" isn't the same as trying to paint this as Obama's "The Pet Goat" moment. Has the divide grown so wide that the notion of giving the other guy the benefit of the doubt is now just for wusses?

And just to show that no good deed goes unpunished, conservative bloggers fired back with a counter-volley. Ed Morrissey made the case for the plausibility of an indirect connection to a wider terror conspiracy. William Jacobson, a Cornell professor who blogs at Legal Insurrection, followed up with the (quite reasonable) argument that "Al-Qaeda activities in Yemen are a problem, and this incident may prove that those activities have the ability to reach our shores as in the Fort Hood shooting." For good measure, though, he couldn't resist kicking sand at the Democrats: "Perhaps if more people had spoken up during the Clinton years against the policy of creating walls between intelligence services and law enforcement, and treating terrorism as a mere law enforcement problem, we could have prevented the 9/11 attacks."

There are lots of problems with that ungenerous appraisal - not the least being the existence of a blockbuster memo sent to George Bush in August 2001 warning him that al Qaeda was out to attack the United States. Would history have turned out differently had he - or Condi Rice - bothered to take action on that intelligence? Impossible to know. Besides, I don't want to follow down that rabbit hole. It's already too crowded.


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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.

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