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President Gerald Ford speaks with the press corps (including Helen Thomas to his left) in 1976. (Ford's chief of staff Dick Cheney is at the far left of the photo.)
Thank God for Helen Thomas, the only person to show any courage at the White House press briefing after President Barack Obama gave a flaccid account of the intelligence screw-up that almost downed an airliner on Christmas Day 2009.
After Obama briefly addressed L'Affaire Abdulmutallab and wrote "must do better" on the report cards of the national security schoolboys responsible for the near catastrophe, the President turned the stage over to counter-terrorism guru John Brennan and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Thomas recognized the John & Janet filibuster for what it was, as her catatonic press colleagues took their customary dictation and asked their predictable questions. Instead, Thomas posed an adult query that spotlighted the futility of government plans to counter terrorism with more high-tech gizmos and more intrusions on the liberties and privacy of the traveling public. It took [then] 89-year old veteran correspondent Helen Thomas to break through the vapid remarks about rechanneling "intelligence streams," fixing "no-fly" lists, deploying "behavior detection officers," and buying more body-imaging scanners.
She asked why Abdulmutallab did what he did.
Thomas: "And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why."
Brennan: "Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents... They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he's (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death."
Thomas: "And you're saying it's because of religion?"
Brennan: "I'm saying it's because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way."
Brennan: "I think this is a -- long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland."
Thomas: "But you haven't explained why."
Neither did President Obama, nor anyone else in the U.S. political/media hierarchy. All the American public gets is the boilerplate about how al-Qaeda evildoers are perverting a religion and exploiting impressionable young men.
There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they are inclined to resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks.
I had been hoping Obama would say something intelligent about what drove Abdulmutallab to do what he did, but the President uttered a few vacuous comments before sending in the clowns. This is what he said before he walked away from the podium:
"It is clear that al Qaeda increasingly seeks to recruit individuals without known terrorist affiliations ... to do their bidding. ... And that's why we must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al Qaeda offers nothing except a bankrupt vision of misery and death ... while the United States stands with those who seek justice and progress. ... That's the vision that is far more powerful than the hatred of these violent extremists."
But why it is so hard for Muslims to "get" that message? Why can't they end their preoccupation with dodging U.S. missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Gaza long enough to reflect on how we are only trying to save them from terrorists while simultaneously demonstrating our commitment to "justice and progress"?