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EDITORIAL: The challenge after Obama's welcome words

President Barack Obama's candor about the stunning failure to foil the underwear bomber plot, and his insistence on greater accountability for such shortcomings, was reassuring. It's what the nation needed to hear after such an obvious and potentially tragic foul-up.

We'll see in the weeks and months ahead if his resolve is translated into effective action to strengthen aviation security and to ensure that intelligence about potential terrorists is shared, integrated, analyzed and acted upon much more quickly and effectively than it was in this instance.

The fact that our effort against terrorists is still plagued by the sort of shortcomings identified immediately after 9/11 is sobering. To get it right will take diligence, nimble course corrections and the hard-eyed accountability, by agencies and the people in them, that Obama promised yesterday.

He described the Christmas snafu as a systemic failure, and it clearly was. But systems rely on the people in them to function, and red flags were missed or mishandled by people all along the line. We have to do better. Much better.

Obama brought a valuable perspective to the situation yesterday. Apparently responding to criticism that he has put the fight against terrorism on a back burner, he said in no uncertain terms that the nation is at war with al-Qaida. But he also cautioned against succumbing to a siege mentality, splitting into warring, partisan camps or sacrificing the liberties that define the nation. Protecting Americans and our liberties simultaneously is a tall order. But that's the challenge. hN