The Obama administration’s glib, nonchalant response to the Wikileaks security breach reinforces the troubling perception that it doesn’t take national security seriously. While the president himself has said virtually nothing about the scandal, the response of his proxies has been even worse. Attorney General Eric Holder assures us that he’s doing something, but won’t go into specifics. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made light of the issue, joking: “I’m writing a cable about it, which I’m sure you’ll find soon on your closest website.” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs downplayed the impact of Wikileaks, telling Fox and Friends: “We should never be afraid of one guy who popped down thirty-five dollars and bought a web address.”
The consequences of the Wikileaks releases are in fact both significant and dangerous — to the United States, to our allies, to Americans serving on the front lines, and to the foreign operatives who provide us with vital intelligence. Attempts by the administration to downplay the danger that Wikileaks represents smacks of the sort of “political considerations first” philosophy that seems to dominate Obama’s approach to governing. By attempting to minimize the importance of the leaks, the administration believes it can avoid much of the fallout. More than two years after an historic election that elevated him to the highest office in the land, Barack Obama still can’t get out of campaign mode.
In the broadest sense, the president is of course responsible for the leaks. As commander in chief, the buck stops squarely in the Oval Office when national security is in play. Just as Harry Truman was ultimately responsible for intelligence shortcomings that failed to foresee North Korea’s attack in 1950, and just as George W. Bush was ultimately responsible for faulty intelligence regarding Saddam Hussein’s stockpile of WMDs, so is Barack Obama ultimately responsible for the lax security procedures that allowed a lowly private like Bradley Manning to access and disseminate sensitive information.
Yet, the root of Obama’s culpability in the Wikileaks scandal is the same as Truman’s and Bush’s: he put his faith in the military and intelligence professionals that are charged with keeping America secure. As they had in 1950 and 2003, those professionals made mistakes, and President Obama’s real sin is not in failing to anticipate a blunder that he has neither the skills nor training to recognize, but in refusing to recognize the extent of the damage that had been done and to act decisively to minimize that damage.
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