Shadow Government

Is this Obama’s Katrina moment?

History does not repeat itself but it rhymes. I am reminded of this cliché as I watch the Obama administration strive mightily to build a rhetorical cordon to prevent the off-shore oil spill from becoming their "Katrina Moment." The vigorous push-back was necessary because the Obama administration's early reaction to the oil spill was uneven -- as was the Bush administration's early reaction to Katrina -- and even pro-administration media outlets were forced to admit as much.  

There is never a good time politically for an environmental disaster of this scope, but the timing is especially delicate for the administration. Not only does it come just a few weeks after the president made a much-ballyhooed compromise to allow off-shore drilling -- a move that dismayed this leftwing base -- but it is also comes in the same news cycle as two other bad stories: another near-miss attempted terrorist strike on U.S. soil and the visit to American soil of the Iranian troublemaker President Ahmadinejad. With all of this toxicity heading towards the U.S. homeland at the same time, the administration can be forgiven if their spin sounds a bit defensive.

Katrina arrived at a similarly bad time politically for the Bush administration. It came on the heels of a bruising political fight over Social Security reform culminating in August's cable news faux-crisis of Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside the president's ranch in Crawford. And shortly after Katrina, the administration got bogged down in a politically costly battle over a Supreme Court nomination (yet another eerie parallel to present day with Obama's next Supreme Court pick looming?). Many political veterans of the Bush administration view Katrina and the political damage that ensued as the pivot point in the presidency.

It is too soon to say whether the oil spill will be become Obama's "Katrina Moment." President Obama has advantages that President Bush did not have, the most important of which are competent state and local leaders. But these advantages will be sorely tested if the damage from the oil spill approximates the worst-case estimates. Likewise, as my new Shadow Government colleague Mary Habeck notes, it is scary to think what would have happened in Times Square if the President's luck had run out and the car bomb had detonated as the perpetrators had hoped. If the threats emanating from Hakimullah Mehsud, the terrorist who survived a U.S. drone strike several months ago, are credible, this is another sore test that will play out in the coming weeks and months. And Ahmadinejad's visit is an untimely reminder that the Iranian nuclear forecast remains bleak and getting bleaker by the day.

This would be a lot to handle even for Jack Bauer who can count on his scriptwriters to rescue him at just the right moment. President Obama, however, is writing his own script and so these next several months may prove to be pivotal ones for his presidency.


Shadow Government

We can't wish al Qaeda away

In a stunning development, a leading member of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which unifies Pakistani Taliban groups under the authority of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Ladin, has claimed responsibility for the attempted attack on Times Square. The failed car bomb is yet another reminder that our enemies have not gone away, and the rush to take credit for it shows that they still want to kill as many Americans as possible. The lethality of the attempt should not be underestimated. Authorities on the scene described the propane canisters and gasoline tanks in the car, and experts have said that a successful detonation of the bomb would have created a fireball that might have killed dozens of pedestrians. But if this bomb was like the one recovered in 2007 from Piccadilly Circus, and comparisons are already being made with that earlier failed attempt, the car might also have contained nails and other metal objects intended to kill even more people in an explosion.

This attempted attack is also a reminder that the administration's conviction that "solving" the Israel-Palestine conflict will end the terrorist threat to the United States is mistaken. We cannot negotiate away or mollify the desire by al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other Salafi-jihadis to kill us, because the men who subscribe this ideology do not want a just peace between Israel and Palestine with two states living side by side:  they want the destruction of Israel. They also do not have reasonable demands for the United States, e.g., a desire that the U.S. stop "meddling" in the affairs of the Muslim-majority world:  they want the United States destroyed.

One other important point: we have now been lucky twice in just a few months -- the "underwear bomber" only failed to bring down the flight into Detroit because he did not correctly detonate his bomb. In much the same way, hundreds were spared in Times Square solely because the car bomb failed to explode. Lucky can only take you so far, however, and we need to be more than "lucky" if another attempt is going to be stopped.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images