By MARK STEYN
The Orange County Register
On Christmas Day, a gentleman from Nigeria succeeded (effortlessly) in boarding a flight to Detroit with a bomb in his underwear. Pretty funny, huh?
But the Pantybomber wasn't the big joke. The real laugh was the United States government. The global hyperpower spent the next week making itself a laughingstock to the entire planet. First, the bureaucrats at the TSA swung into action with a whole new range of restrictions.
Against radical Yemen-trained Muslims wearing weaponized briefs? Of course not. That would be too obvious. So instead they imposed a slew of constraints against you. At Heathrow last week, they were permitting only one item of carry-on on U.S. flights. In Toronto, no large purses.
Passengers wait in line for screening at Pittsburgh International Airport Dec. 28, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Penn. New security measures at the nation's airports are in effect after a thwarted attempted terrorist attack over the holiday weekend. (Getty Images)
Um, the Pantybomber didn't have a purse. He brought the bomb on board under his private parts, and his private parts weren't part of his carry-on (although, if reports of injuries sustained in his failed mission are correct, they may well have been part of his carry-off). But no matter. If in doubt, blame the victim. The TSA announced that for the last hour of the flight no passenger can use the toilets or have anything on his lap – not a laptop, not a blanket, not a stewardess, not even a paperback book. I can't wait for the first lawsuit after an infidel flight attendant confiscates a litigious imam's Koran as they're coming into LAX.
You're still free to read a paperback if you're flying from Paris to Sydney, or Stockholm to Beijing, or Kuala Lumpur to Heathrow. But not to LAX or JFK. The TSA were responding as bonehead bureaucracies do: Don't just stand there, do something. And every time the TSA does something, you'll have to stand there, longer and longer, suffering ever more pointless indignities. Last week, guest-hosting "The Rush Limbaugh Show," I took a call from a lady who said that, if it helps keep her safe, she's happy to get to the airport "four, five, whatever hours" before the flight. Try to put a figure on "whatever" and you'll get a sense of where America's transportation system is headed. Ten years ago, you got to the airport 45 minutes, an hour before the flight. Now, thanks to the ever more demanding choreographers of the homeland security kabuki, it's two, three, four, whatever. Look at O'Hare and imagine the size of airport we'll need. And by then the Pantybomber won't even need to get on the plane; he can kill more people blowing up the check-in line.
And remember, this was a bombing mission that "failed." With failures like this, who needs victories?
Joke, joke, joke. The only good news was that the derision was so universal that the TSA promptly reined in some of their wackier impositions a couple of days later. But by then Janet Incompetano, the Homeland Security secretary, had gone on TV and declared to the world that there was nothing to worry about: "The system worked."
Indeed, it worked "smoothly." The al-Qaida trainee on a terrorist watch list, a man banned from the United Kingdom and reported to the CIA by his own father, got on board the plane, assembled the bomb, and attempted to detonate it. But don't worry 'bout a thing; the system worked.
Twenty-four hours later, Secretary Incompetano was back on TV to protest that her words had been taken "out of context." No doubt, the al Qaida-trained CIA-reported cash-paying crotch-stuffed watch-list member's smooth progress through check-in was also taken "out of context."
But by then the president of the United States had also taken to the airwaves. For three days, he had remained silent – which I believed is a world record for the 44th president. Since Jan. 20, 2009, it's been difficult to switch on the TV and not find him yakking – accepting an award in Oslo for not being George W Bush, doing Special Olympics gags with Jay Leno, apologizing for America to some dictator or other... but across the electric wires an eerie still had descended. And when the president finally spoke, even making allowances for his usual detached cool, he sounded less like a commander-in-chief addressing the nation after an attempted attack than an assistant DA at a Cook County press conference announcing a drugs bust: "Here's what we know so far... As the plane made its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a passenger allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device... The suspect was immediately subdued... The suspect is now in custody and has been charged..."
Etc., etc., piling up one desiccated legalism on another: "Allegedly..."
"suspect..." "charged..." The president can't tell an allegedly alleged suspect (which is what he is in Obama fantasy land) from an enemy combatant (which is what he is in cold, hard reality). But worse than the complacent cop-show jargonizing was a phrase it's hard to read as anything other than a deliberate attempt to mislead the public: the president referred to the Knickerbomber as an "isolated extremist." By this time, it was already clear that young Umar had been radicalized by jihadist networks in London and fast-tracked to training in Yemen by terror operatives who understood the potentially high value of a westernized Muslim with excellent English from a respectable family. Yet President Obama tried to pass him off as some sort of lone misfit who wakes up one morning and goes bananas. Could happen to anyone.
But, if it takes the White House three days to react to an attack on the United States, their rapid-response unit can fire back in nothing flat when Dick Cheney speaks. "It is telling," huffed the president's Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, "that Vice President Cheney and others seem to be more focused on criticizing the administration than condemning the attackers."
"Condemning the attackers"? What happened to all the allegedly alleged stuff? Shouldn't that be "condemning the alleged isolated attacker"? The communications director seems to be wandering a bit off-message here, whatever the message is: The system worked, so we're inconveniencing you even more. The system failed, but the alleged suspect is an isolated extremist, so why won't that cowardly squish Cheney have the guts to condemn the attacker and his vast network of associates?
The real message was conveyed by Fouad Ajami, discussing the new administration's foreign policy in The Wall Street Journal: "No despot fears Mr. Obama, and no blogger in Cairo or Damascus or Tehran, no demonstrator in those cruel Iranian streets, expects Mr. Obama to ride to the rescue." True. Another Iranian deadline passed on New Year's Eve, but the United States will set a new one for Groundhog Day or whenever.
And, just as the thug states understand they now have the run of the planet, so do the terror cells. A thwarted terror attack at Christmas is bad enough. Spending the following week making yourself a global joke is worse. Every A-list despot and dime store jihadist got that message loud and clear – and so did American allies already feeling semi-abandoned by this most parochial of presidents. Expect a bumpy 12 months ahead. Happy New Year.