02/07/2011 01:06 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Egypt: 'Intelligence' Failure or Failure of Intelligence?

It is the instinct of rulers to greedily take credit for any success and to shed responsibility for any failure. Barack Obama has perfected this art form. His repertoire ranges from the magical transmutation of manifest failure into alchemic 'success' to the "I take full responsibility; so now let's together go forward in bipartisan spirit rather harp on the past" gambit. The stuttering, contradictory response to the crisis in Egypt has prompted something cruder. It's all the fault of the intelligence people who didn't tell me when, how, by whom and with what consequences this uprising was going to occur.

Our intelligence agencies, all five of them, do have a far from impressive record. But this accusation is misdirected. A responsible government would have been acutely aware of the Mubarak regime's crumbling support and loss of credibility. It should immediately have recognized in the Tunisian revolution a spark that could ignite the highly combustible conditions in Egypt. A responsible, competent government would put itself on alert by anticipating an uprising and thinking on a contingent basis as to how it might respond.

Barack Obama has told people that he in effect is his own National Security Adviser. This despite his total lack of experience in foreign policy and diplomacy, and a lack of interest in foreign affairs throughout his adult life. That helps to explain his selection of someone as unqualified as Thomas Donilon to serve in the post. Donilon spent the last decade as Executive Vice President for Law and Policy at the disgraced Fannie Mae after serving as a corporate lobbyist with O'Melveny & Roberts. The rest of the Obama team is little better prepared for crises of this delicacy, complexity and profound implications.

The misjudgments that have prompted our hesitant, 'stick with the friendly despot we know' response to the Egyptian convulsion is not due to an alleged 'intelligence' failure. It is due to a failure in intelligence. Mr. Obama's exalted sense of his abilities once again has been exposed as a national liability. To tell the Egyptian youth who are passionately and bravely reaching for their freedom that "we hear you" while maneuvering behind the scenes to stymie them is no more convincing than telling his dispirited young American ex-devotees that he still is the prophet of "change that you can believe in." Some change, some prophet!