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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fuller Context of the “Absorb” Comment

Yesterday I vented about the quote, yes wondering about the context but still being baffled that the president didn’t seem to understand that the terrorists wanted to do worse than just 9-11 to us.

With the context supplied, I have to eat a little crow and say that my understanding was incorrect.  Mind you, the president frankly stated it badly, but in context he absolutely acknowledges that yes, we have to worry about nuclear terrorism and the like.  And on this point I am very glad I can say I was wrong.  My feeling is more relief than anything.  Via the plumb line, here is more of the missing context, starting right in the middle of a quoted statement from the President:

"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 occurrence, even if remote, never happens."

(emphasis removed).

I think it is accurate to say the statement is incomplete because there is no mention of retaliation, but I won’t fault Obama for that.  Call it more like constructive criticism.  He is talking about it in the abstract and it can be hard to remember every piece of the puzzle.  Indeed the honest threat of retaliation is arguably part of “preventing” it.

A more substantive criticism is that he seems to think this is an “either or” kind of thing, like our intelligence and national security apparatus can’t walk and chew gum, stopping both non-WMD and WMD-based-terrorism.  Indeed, I would suspect it would be hard to segregate that kind of thing.  If you hear the terrorists chattering about an “operation” in America, how are you going to know if they plan to set off a nuke or a regular truck bomb?  It seems that if you want to prevent the WMD-based terror, you can’t discriminate based on whether you think it is WMD related or not.

Oh, and if you are going to try to do that, then you really shouldn’t tell Bob Woodward.  Then the terrorists will know that the best way to reduce the heat is to make us think its not a WMD threat.

And finally a number of people have said the whole thing seemed very cold about the prospect of another 9-11.  But sometimes you have to talk coldly about it.  On the other hand, I have no doubt that if any of the debates in 2008 he has said anything like that, he would not be president today.

And besides, guys, you are figuring out that our president is non-emotive now?

Anyway, as for my commentary yesterday, I happily take it back.  Really, seriously it is a major fucking relief to say he is not that clueless on national security.

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