Then he stuck it right back in.
Obama, in a brief address from Hawaii, did manage to utter the "T" word: "A full investigation has been launched into this attempted act of terrorism." But he refused to define the nature of the threat.
Nor did he fire Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano -- a pity, because if any government official ever earned the boot, it's her.
The claim was nonsensical, as she finally noted yesterday -- "the system didn't work" -- but not before destroying the credibility she needs to hold the job.
Yet Obama is short on credibility, too. Why can't he bring himself to describe the threat for what it is: an Islamist holy war against America?
Yesterday, Obama termed Abdulmutallab "an isolated extremist."
Really? Is that all?
The bomber's own father warned US officials in October that his son had fallen in with Islamic radicals.
Abdulmutallab himself reportedly told federal officials he trained with al Qaeda in Yemen -- and, for what it's worth, al Qaeda in Yemen confirms that.
And ABC News reported yesterday that two of Abdulmutallab's Yemeni trainers had been released from Guantanamo Bay to the Saudis in 2007 -- and then set free after (no joke) "art therapy rehabilitation."
Meanwhile, Brian Jenkins of the Rand Corporation reports 12 incidents of Islamist terror either in the United States or involving Americans abroad in 2009, the most in any year since 9/11. (These include the Fort Hood massacre.)
See the trend line?
Obama refuses to.
"Those who would attack our country" is how he described the jihadis -- a formulation he used four times in his brief address.
But if the president refuses to define the enemy, how can he expect America to defend against that enemy?
No wonder Napolitano is so confused.
No reasonable person believes that terror screening can ever be foolproof. But Americans need full confidence that their government is addressing the problem as vigorously as possible.
This would require Obama to order two basic changes in anti-terror policy:
* Captured terrorists need to be treated as such -- and not as common criminals. Abdulmutallab needs to disappear down a black hole somewhere, and stay there until the war on terror is over. No criminal trials for terrorists.
* Homeland Security needs to quit pretending little old ladies from the heartland pose a security threat and institute an intelligent traveler-profiling policy that targets Middle Eastern males.
Certainly, Abdulmutallab's attack was instructive: Who knew it was so easy to waltz through security with high explosives stuffed down one's pants?
But while odds are that some equally imaginative jihadist will someday succeed, a comprehensive, focused anti-terror policy will make that much less likely.