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Obama: “We Can Absorb A Terrorist Attack”

One quote that is buried in the Washington Post’s story on Bob Woodward’s new book seems to be on the verge of entering Outrage Of The Day status:

Woodward’s book portrays Obama and the White House as barraged by warnings about the threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and confronted with the difficulty in preventing them. During an interview with Woodward in July, the president said, “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger.”

When the story first broke last night, this quote alone created quite a firestorm on Twitter, and led to accusations by some that the President was essentially saying that he didn’t care if another 9/11-sized or larger attack occurred on his watch.

That theme has been picked up today in some parts of the conservative blogosphere today, such as this from Gateway Pundit:

If we are “stronger,” and that is entirely debatable, it certainly isn’t because of anything the Obama administration has done.

In fact Obama has done his level best to make us more vulnerable. From reducing the threat status, to eliminating intelligence programs that were getting results, to simply sending drones to wipe out terrorists (that then take any actionable intelligence to the gave), even to making a mockery of our strength by using childish euphemisms such as “overseas contingency operations,” Obama has taken America off its security footings.

But, what the heck. We can take as many blows as the terrorists can give, says tough guy Barack Hussein Obama! Come and get us, Usamma bin Laden, Obama taunts. We’ll take whatever ya got… and take it… and listen to Iranian mad men speak at the UN…. and take it…. and sit respectfully while Venezuelan dictators harangue America… and take it… and offer our hand in friendship to murderous regimes…. and take it… with a president that barnstorms the world on an apology tour… and take it… as he bows to the floor to every king and dictator in sight… and take it…

Marc Thiessen says much the same thing at his American Enterprise Institute blog:

These are stunningly complacent words from the man responsible for stopping such a terrorist attack. Obama uttered them last July, after America suffered two near-misses—the failed attacks on Christmas Day and in Times Square. Rather than serving as a wake-up call and giving the president a sense of urgency, these attacks seem to have given the president a sense of resignation. He is effectively saying: an attack is inevitable, we’ll do our best to prevent it, but if we get hit again—even on the scale of 9/11—it’s really no big deal.

Here’s the question I have, though; how is this comment from Obama any different in substance from when George W. Bush said this:

There are some who feel like that, you know, the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on. We got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.

Of course we want other countries to help us. Great Britain is there. Poland is there. Ukraine is there, you mentioned. Anybody who wants to help, we’ll welcome to help. But we got plenty tough force there right now to make sure the situation is secure.

We always welcome help. We’re always glad to include others in. But make no mistake about it, and the enemy shouldn’t make any mistake about it, we will deal with them harshly if they continue to try to bring harm to the Iraqi people.

I also said yesterday an important point, that those who blow up the electricity lines really aren’t hurting America, they’re hurting the Iraq citizens. Their own fellow citizens are being hurt. But we will deal with them harshly as well.

To pick up on Thiessan’s comment, wasn’t Bush effectively saying “we know insurgents are going to target our troops, probably kill some of them too, but it’s no big deal” ?

Both comments, while applicable to different situations, strike me as being the same sort of “we can take it” tough talk. If one is acceptable and a sign of strength, then so is the other. Moreover, let’s turn the President’s statement around, do the people criticizing it really believe that American could not survive another terrorist attack ? If so, that shows a pretty shocking lack of faith in their fellow citizens.

The President is right, of course. Unless we’re talking about the kind of massive, crippling terrorist attack depicted in the CBS television show Jericho, the United States will survive whatever al Qaeda or any other terrorist group can throw at us, as long as we don’t lose our heads. That used to be called American optimism, and there used to be a Republican President who talked about it virtually every day he was in office. Today, the right seems to be obsessed with gloom-and-doom scenarios and the idea that the downfall of the Republic is just around corner. Quite frankly, that doesn’t strike me as a being the basis of a healthy political philosophy.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. An Interested Party says:

    “Here’s the question I have, though; how is this comment from Obama any different in substance from when George W. Bush said this…”
     
    Of course it has something to do with the respective letter that comes behind each of their names…

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  2. reid says:

    Keep calling the hypocrites out, Doug.  Every time the hacks take a phrase and spin it in the most negative way possible, just because a D said it.

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  3. Derrick says:

    May I suggest a retraction and reversal by Obama that goes something like: “We can’t absorb a terrorist attack.  We will run and hide into corners, and cry ourselves to sleep at night.  We are a scared people.  Please don’t hurt us.”

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  4. JKB says:

    Really as a lawyer, you aren’t aware that how you say something greatly impacts how it is perceived.  Not to mention context.
     

    My answer is bring them on. We got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.

    This quote from Bush is acknowledging that the enemy can strike against our forces in hostile territory.  Yet, provides that our armed, prepared, trained military forces in that territory can counter whatever they throw at them.

    “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger.”

    Here, Obama’s phrasing is fatalistic, pre-determined.  The way you say it when the attack is inevitable and you’re trying to keep defeat out of people’s minds.  It is the phrasing, one might use say at Bataan or even early 1942, to keep the spirits up.
    Let’s reorganize Obama’s words:

    We are doing everything we can to prevent another terrorist attack.  But should one happen, we can absorb it, even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger.

    See not near as fatalistic but rather realistic.

    So really the question that comes to mind, is why is the great Progressive mouthpiece so negative?  Where is his hope, he sold so well?  Did the poor economy force him to cut back on inventory?

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  5. Jim Treacher says:

    See, all this time I thought America was going down the tubes and Obama was the only one who could save us. That’s what I get for listening to Obama!

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  6. An Interested Party says:

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    What a pity that the president can’t just do his best John Wayne impersonation…perhaps that would appeal to the JKBs of the world…oh wait, that inventory went out of stock when Osama bin Laden got away at Tora Bora…

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  7. Steve Plunk says:

    It had less to do with the letter behind the name than the man making the claim.  Bush portrayed America as strong and ready to deal with terrorists while Obama makes us seem more passive.  I think Bush also understood the mindset of those who might attack us better.  A strong horse versus weak horse statement.
     
    I really don’t see much substance in the statement but if comparisons to Bush are going to brought up the difference in leadership styles is important.  There’s also a difference when talking about a terrorist attack on US soil versus terrorists in a combat arena.
     
    Overall the statement doesn’t mean much but it’s no excuse to call those pointing it out hypocrites.  It’s just one more minor thing added to the hundreds.

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  8. anjin-san says:

    >  We can’t absorb a terrorist attack.  We will run and hide into corners, and cry ourselves to sleep at night.  We are a scared people.  Please don’t hurt us.”

    I thought Rush already said this…

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  9. john personna says:

    Some peoples, like the British and the Israelis, have suffered repeated attacks and picked themselves up and gone on.  We don’t want to get into that cycle, but obviously democracies can absorb low levels of attack.
     
    So I think there is a line to walk.  We should think we are tough enough to take it, but committed enough still to guard against it.
     
    I think critics of this Obama paragraph probably have their fear threshold set a little too high, and consider things “unthinkable” that really are possible.  All it takes is a little bad luck, and shoes (for instance) go off.  Can you have an intelligent conversation with someone for whom very possible futures are unthinkable?  Can such a person reasonably contribute to policy discussion?

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  10. tom p says:

    “Here’s the question I have, though; how is this comment from Obama any different in substance from when George W. Bush said this

    Really Doug? You can’t tell the difference?

    I’ll explain it to you: One is the sort of stupid, testosterone laced bullsh*t more suitable for the playground than the international arena where real lives are at stake, and the other is an honest assessment of what will happen after the next successful terrorist attack.

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  11. tom p says:

    “There are some who feel like that, you know, the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on. ”

    Anybody remember when Bush said this? July of 2003.

    Anybody remember what happened? Yeah, that’s right, they brought it on.

    Steve P, I don’t think Bush had a clue about the mindset of those who would attack us, but he had the Republican mindset down pat… And that is who he was playing to. And why not? He wasn’t getting shot at.

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  12. Eric Martin says:

    Here, Obama’s phrasing is fatalistic, pre-determined.  

    VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: The prospect of another attack against the United States is very, very real. It’s just as real, in my opinion, as it was September 12.
    TIM RUSSERT, NBC News: Not a matter of if, but when?
    VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Not a matter of if, but when.

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  13. Franklin says:

    We’re not any stronger, that’s for sure, especially considering the trillions wasted on pseudo-security measures.  But our enemies are weaker.

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  14. Past in review……

    “Dynamite in the hands of a child is not more dangerous than a strong policy weakly carried out.” That’s a quote from Winston Churchill – a man more quotable than most. You may have an image in mind of Britain’s prime minister during the Second Wor…

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  15. jeffmcm says:

    This is such a bullshit argument to be having, launched by people who could claim the sky was red if Obama said it was blue.
    What so many of us disliked about Bush’s “bring them on” comment was the attitude of macho posturing and carelessness. Obama’s comment, meanwhile, is sober, honest, and non-jingoistic. Obviously Obama just doesn’t engage in enough cowboy rhetoric for some.

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  16. JKB says:

    What a pity that the president can’t just do his best John Wayne impersonation…perhaps that would appeal to the JKBs of the world…

    What a pity the president doesn’t understand that as a “leader” his words, his phrasing and his demeanor matter to those he is supposedly to lead.  The fact that so many are having to explain his remark or excuse his remark, says a lot about his understanding of leadership.  BTW, impersonations don’t work, you have to mean it even if you don’t believe it.

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  17. Chris Call says:

    All of you blustering chicken spits need to leave my country. Just in case you hadn’t noticed, the Republic has survived over 200 years despite all the Cassandras of today or yesterday. If this Republic ever does end it will be as a result of fascist wusses like yourselves who will turn against your own countrymen over some similarly inconsequential “slight” as if saying we’re not pussies is even approaching a slight.

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  18. anjin-san says:

    > The fact that so many are having to explain his remark
    Perhaps if we did not have aright wing media industry dedicated to attacking the President 24/7, we could skip the explinations and get about the business of dealing with the problems we all face. It’s instructive how quiet the right wing noise machine got about the gulf oil spill the moment the news started to turn positive. They did not ever give a crap about the American’s who were harmed financially, or the damage to the environment. They simply wanted a stick to beat Obama with. The moment that weapon became innefective, then forgot all about the gulf and moved on the the next thing…

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  19. sam says:

    @JKB

    “The fact that so many are having to explain his remark or excuse his remark, says a lot about his understanding of leadership. ”

    Horseshit. What needs to be explained is your apparent belief that saying we are a strong country, a resilient country that can take a punch and punch back with force, is the acme of nonleadership. You guys are pathetic.

    Pussified losers.

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  20. davod says:

    Taken in isolation Obama’s words seem innocuous or even profound.  However, with Obama’s long record of misrepresentations and maligning of the USA, it is understandable that some would question his reasoning.

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  21. reid says:

    JKB: The fact that you and other right-wingers “are having to explain his remark or excuse his remark” says more about you than Obama.  Your team will take the simplest and most innocent of remarks and turn it into a thousand-word diatribe that exposes him as the closet communist/muslim/terrorist/WTF that you just know he is.  Have to keep the troops fed on a daily dose of hate, reality be damned.  Obama is actually very careful with his words and actions, giving you little of substance to criticize.

    Pardon my boldness, I inherited it from JKB….

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  22. reid says:

    Obama has a long record of maligning the USA?  Another example of the right-wing idiocy stream at work….

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