Republicans quick to lash Obama over terrorism

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The Independent US

US President Barack Obama has summoned his top national security advisers to a White House meeting today, aimed at plugging holes in airport security laid bare by the Christmas Day attack – and fending off charges from Republicans he is neglecting the terrorist threat.

Thanks to the near-miss attempted suicide bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on 25 December, terrorism has leapt to the top of the political agenda facing the president – for the time being at least, eclipsing the health care debate, a 10 per cent unemployment rate and the continuing economic crisis.

The charge that Democrats could not be trusted with "keeping the country safe", helped underpin the long Republican political ascendancy – and a blistering attack from Dick Cheney, hours after the narrowly-thwarted attack leaves little doubt Republicans think the same tactics will work again.

According to the ever pugnacious former vice-president, Mr Obama "seemed to have forgotten the country is at war." That accusation was angrily rejected by John Brennan, the White House counter-terrorism chief, who accused Mr Cheney of "wilfully mischaracterising this president's position."

But the criticism clearly stung, and, with an ambitious domestic agenda hanging in the balance on Capitol Hill, Mr Obama – who returned here yesterday after a 10-day break in Hawaii – can plainly afford to take no chances.

The White House wants Congress to pass a final bill for health care overhaul so that Mr Obama can sign it into laws before his keynote State of the Union speech at the end of the month. This would free the president to refocus on the faltering economy, the biggest single threat to Democrats at November's mid-term elections, where his party already faces significant losses in both House and Senate.

The President has insisted that those responsible will be held accountable for the failure to act to stave off an attack of which there were unusually numerous advance pointers, and which underlined how lessons of the September 11 attacks had not been learned by the fragmented intelligence agencies.

For the time being though, there is no sign that any heads will roll. But Republicans are bound to step up demands for scapegoats at the Congressional hearings scheduled for this month, and which will keep the terrorism issue front and centre in public consciousness.

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