When President Obama made his first statement on the Intelligence failure over the underpants bomber it came over as a man attacking his own staff in public. That is not a good way to run something. If you are unhappy with how your staff has handled something you tell them in private, whilst supporting them in public. If the error is grave and unlikely to be remedied in the future you also make changes to key personnel to signal the need for change. If the exisiting staff can do better in the future you give them better leadership on how to carry out the task, and addtional training if appropriate.
In his subsequent statement he amended his stance, accepting that he was ultimately responsible. He had fallen back on the old ally of a Minister or boss in trouble – system failure. No single person apparently is to blame, and no-one will lose their job. The bosses of the relevant agencies and the Cabinet member concerned can sleep more easily as a result. Let us hope that this greater presentational wisdom does not get in the way of him changing the Intelliegnce services to make them more effective.
The President is now a warrior President. He may not have wanted to be a warrior President in the way George Bush became following 9/11, but he has been sucked in to a similar response to his predecessor. Mr Obama chose to make the Afghan war his own and to escalate it. His wish now to fight Al Qaeda – even if he refuses to call it a war on terror – may drag him into wars elsewhere, as Al Qaeda take their activities outside Obama’s war fields to Yemen and elsewhere. It is the old Bush wars by another name. Indeed, the Afghan war is being intensified in a way Bush declined to do.
He would be better advised to think again about how you can best counter terrorism. Fighting wars in every place where terrorists may train and have their bases is not a realistic approach. Why can’t he say so? It does matter that he improves Intelligence, as that is the best way of keeping us relatively safe. It also matters that he changes US relations with a range of difficult or unpleasant regimes around the world. He needs to be tough enough so they believe he would act under provocation, and tough enough not to have to invade them. He runs the risk of being too weak to be taken seriously, but still dragged into wars he cannot easily win.