Republicans such as Pete Hoekstra have been trying to politicize Barack Obama’s reaction to the attempted bombing over Detroit on Christmas, even resorting to using this in a fund raising letter. One line of attack is that Obama did not respond quickly enough, showing a double standard as Republicans did not complain when George Bush took six days to respond in a comparable situation. Politico reviews the two attempted attacks:
This year’s attack came on Christmas. The attempt eight years ago took place on Dec. 22. Obama was on vacation in Hawaii when the suspect, Omar Abdulmutallab, allegedly used plastic explosives in his try to blow up the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight. Bush was at Camp David when Reid used similar plastic explosives to try to blow up his Paris-to-Miami flight, which diverted to Boston after the incident.
Like the Obama White House, the Bush White House told reporters the president had been briefed on the incident and was following it closely. While the Obama White House issued a background statement through a senior administration official calling the incident an “attempted terrorist attack” on the same day it took place, the early official statements from Bush aides did not make the same explicit statement.
Bush did not address reporters about the Reid episode until December 28, after he had traveled from Camp David to his ranch in Texas.
Democrats do not appear to have criticized Bush over the delay. Many were wary of publicly clashing with the commander in chief, who was getting lofty approval ratings after what appeared to be a successful military campaign in Afghanistan. The media also seemed to have little interest in pressing Bush about the bombing, or the fact that the incident had revealed a previously unknown vulnerability in airplane security — that shoes could be used to hide chemicals or explosive devices.
On CNN’s “Larry King Live” on Monday night, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who was a White House adviser at the time of Reid’s attempted bombing, brushed aside a question about whether Obama should have waited three days to speak out. “I’m going to leave that to the White House. I think he had Secretary Napolitano out there speaking,” Ridge said.
And over the weekend, former Bush pollster Matthew Dowd was asked if Obama was correct when, like Bush, he held off speaking at the outset. “Yes,” Dowd told Jake Tapper Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “Part of the problem here is that all the facts that you think are true at the beginning turn out not to be true as the days go on.”
Marc Ambinder has explained the wisdom of Obama’s approach:
Here’s the theory: a two-bit mook is sent by Al Qaeda to do a dastardly deed. He winds up neutering himself. Literally.Authorities respond appropriately; the president (as this president is wont to to) presides over the federal response. His senior aides speak for him, letting reporters know that he’s videoconferencing regularly, that he’s ordering a review of terrorist watch lists, that he’s discoursing with his secretary of Homeland Security.But an in-person Obama statement isn’t needed; Indeed, a message expressing command, control, outrage and anger might elevate the importance of the deed, would generate panic (because Obama usually DOESN’T talk about the specifics of cases like this, and so him deciding to do so would cue the American people to respond in a way that exacerbates the situation).Obama of course will say something at some point. Had the terrorist blown up the plane, it’s safe to assume that Obama would no longer be in Hawaii. In either case, the public will need presidential fortification at some point. But Obama is willing to risk the accusation that he is “soft” on terrorism or is hovering above it all, or is just not to be bothered (his “head’s in the sand,” or “golfing comes first”) in order to advance what he believes is the proper collective response to a failed act of terrorism.Let the authorities do their work. Don’t presume; don’t panic the country; don’t chest-thump, prejudge, interfere, politicize (in an international sense), don’t give Al Qaeda (or whomever) a symbolic victory; resist the urge to open the old playbook and run a familiar play.In a sense, he is projecting his calm on the American people, just as his advisers are convinced that the Bush administration projected their panic and anger on the self-same public eight years ago.It’s a tough and novel approach — and not at all (as they say in Britain) party political — because the standard political script would have the president and his attorney general appearing everywhere as soon as possible.
Republicans didn’t care for that approach, and preferred a collective display of pants-wetting. GOP voices and the media decided the strategy to deny terrorists a p.r. victory wasn’t good enough. This was a time for partisan grandstanding, not mature leadership.
Again, maybe Americans will find the president’s approach compelling. They should. But at this point, it seems pretty obvious that the president acting like a grown-up is going over the political world’s head.
There’s apparently an expectation that the president can — and probably should — exploit incidents for as much political gain as possible. So, for example, when U.S. forces, acting on the president’s orders, successfully took out Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, the ringleader of a Qaeda cell in Kenya and one of the most wanted Islamic militants in Africa, the president should appear before the cameras and explain, “Hey, look at me! I took out one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists!” When U.S. forces, acting on the president’s orders, killed Baitullah Mehsud, the terrorist leader of the Taliban movement Pakistan, Obama should assemble reporters to declare, “Booyah! Who’s da man?”
When the Obama administration took suspected terrorists Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi into custody before they could launch their planned attacks, each and every instance requires its own press conference, in which the president can proclaim, “Republicans’ talk is cheap; I’m the one keeping Americans safe.”
The president, by all appearances, finds such shameless politicization of counter-terrorism offensive. And it is. But Republicans are running an aggressive misinformation scheme, and if it’s effective, the White House may need to reconsider whether the public rewards or punishes leaders who act like grown-ups.