Thankfully, it seems finally to have dawned on President Obama that al Qaeda is an indefatigable enemy of the United States, and will seize any and every opportunity to kill Americans. And it appears to have surprised Janet Napolitano to realize how determined al-Qaeda can be, whether commissioning individuals to commit acts of terror or planning large-scale operations.

These revelations will come as some relief to those who have worried about the attitude of the Obama administration toward the war on terror. But they carry with them a troubling echo from the recent past. I refer to Jimmy Carter's New Year's Eve 1979-80 interview with ABC news reader Frank Reynolds, conducted in the wake of the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Reynolds asked Carter whether he had changed his "perception of the Russians .... [When] you started out it seemed to a great many people ... that if you expressed your goodwill, and demonstrated it, that they would reciprocate." In response, Carter gave Reynolds an honest answer: "My opinion of the Russians has changed most drastically the last week than even the previously [sic] two years before that."

Sound familiar?

The good news, from a contemporary perspective, is that Jimmy Carter came to this realization toward the end of his ill-fated presidency, and Barack Obama has (we can hope) awakened to the threat of Islamist terrorism with three years left in his presidency. The bad news, however, is that the scales failed to fall from the eyes of Obama, Napolitano and company until one full year had elapsed in the White House.

That's an awfully long time to have looked at the sequence of events in the past two decades, and the evidence of words and deeds, and drawn conclusions -- and worse, instituted policies -- that left them surprised by the spectacle of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Which suggests that the instinct to appease al-Qaeda -- there is no other word for it -- is deeply ingrained in the Obama apparatus, and not likely to change in the long run.

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