According to Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, President Obama seemed to suggest that a terrorist attack on the United States might not be a big deal. According to the Washington Post, the President remarked that “we can absorb a terrorist attack.” In an instant, a campaign-season talking point was born: The President does not worry about our nation’s security and is complacent about the terrorist threat. Yet as Benjamin Wittes reports on Lawfare, the quote is accurate, but woefully incomplete. The relevant portion of Woodward’s book (reproduced on The Plum Line) reads as follows:
During my Oval Office inteview with the President, Obama volunteers some extended thoughts about terrorism.
“I said very early on, as a Senator and continue to believe, as a presidential candidate and now as president, that we can absorb a terrorist attack. We will do everything we can to prevent it. But even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever, that ever took place on our soil, we absorbed it, and we are stronger. This is a strong, powerful country that we live in, and our people are incredibly resilient.”
Then he addressed his big concern. “A potential game changer would be a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists, blowing up a major American city. Or a weapon of mass destruction in a major American city. And so when I go down on the list of things I have to worry about all the time, that is at the top, because that’s one area where you can’t afford any mistakes. And so right away, coming in, we said, how are we going to start ramping up and putting that at the center of a lot of our national security discussion? Making sure that that occurence, even if remote, never happens.”
Read in context, Wittes notes, the President’s comment “does not reflect complacency, but a hard-headed realism about certain facts.” There are reasonable bases upon which to criticize the Administration’s approach to national security, but claiming this quote shows complacency about the terrorist threat is not one of them.
UPDATE: More from Wittes: Bush officials voiced similar sentiments.