IF IT ISN'T AID, it surely is comfort to the enemy.

If members of an al Qaeda splinter group in Yemen are watching the U.S. response to the terrorist attempt on Christmas Day, here's what they're seeing: a dangerously dis-united country with politicians rushing to exploit the near-miss. And clear evidence that the same holes in security that allowed the 9/11 attacks still remain. If nothing else, the sorry spectacle surely is encouragement to al Qaeda to try, try again. On Dec. 25, a Nigerian national, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, managed to board a Detroit-bound plane in Amsterdam with explosives hidden in his underwear. It was only the quick reaction of passengers that prevented the fire he started from setting off the explosive or otherwise bringing down the plane.

No sooner had the news broken but some Republicans were rushing to microphones to blame President Obama for being soft on terror. U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., used the incident to raise money for his campaign for governor.

Republican opportunism was matched only by its hypocrisy. U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., continues to block the approval of a new administrator for the Transportation Security Administration, even though the nominee, Erroll Southers, has bipartisan support. DeMint claims he is worried that Southers will allow TSA employees to unionize, but the hold tracks with Republican strategy to demand debate (and therefore delay) on every action the majority party tries to take.

It's possible that the newest full-body scanning technology could have detected the explosives strapped to Abdulmutallab's body, but only 40 of these machines are in use in 19 U.S. airports. One reason there aren't more: Congress voted down funding for them. Among the 108 Republicans voting no: Hoekstra and DeMint.

The new technology wouldn't have been needed if U.S. security agencies had noticed the field of red flags around Abdulmutallab. After all, his own father reported to the U.S. embassy in Nigeria months ago that his son had been "radicalized." If that weren't enough, he paid cash for a one-way ticket. Those warning signs should have gotten him pulled out of the security line and searched more thoroughly. But even though Abdulmutallab's name was added to a "watch list" of 550,000 names, he didn't make it to the "no-fly" list, and his valid visa to the United States wasn't reviewed.

Some conservatives claim the breach justifies profiling, but just the opposite is true. The "watch list" is too long and out of date. It should be pared so that people like the Underpants Bomber don't get lost in it.

But the Democrats don't get off scot-free on this. The response of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano left us queasy. While she resolved to do a do a "minute-by-minute, day-by-day scrub" of the incident, she also tried to gloss over the obvious security breach by contending the "system worked" - after sheer luck stopped a full catastrophe. To paraphrase the old gag about Mrs. Lincoln, other than that, Secretary Napolitano, how did it go? Yesterday - finally - President Obama promised to not only investigate what happened, but also hold accountable any people who messed up. This is crucial: Americans, and al Qaeda, need to know that America will learn from its mistakes. And that the buck actually stops somewhere.