Christmas Day attack: How tough is Obama on terrorism?
Conservatives say President Obama is not aggressive enough against terrorism. Liberals say he's little different from Bush. How he handles the fallout from the Christmas Day attack could show who is right.
Two days had passed before President Obama gave a televised statement about the failed attempt to blow up an American airliner on Christmas Day.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
And even now, two months after Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly opened fire in Fort Hood, Texas, reportedly yelling “Allahu Akbar” as he killed 13 people, Mr. Obama refuses to call it an act of terrorism.
It is a reserve that has come to characterize Obama’s year as president – and offers a stark contrast to the “go get ‘em, boys” style of President George W. Bush.
But as critics pounce on the White House’s handling of the Christmas Day attack by a Nigerian who claims to have been trained by Al Qaeda, the question of Obama’s calm style has become a question of his substance.
Who is Obama, really?
Is Obama, as many conservatives say, someone who has fundamentally shifted American security priorities from Bush’s offensive “war on terror” to a passive emphasis on legal process and law enforcement?
Or is he simply following Theodore Roosevelt’s maxim to “speak softly and carry a big stick”?
"I am most interested in what the investigation will reveal about the bureaucratic mindset," writes Duke University political scientist Peter Feaver in Foreign Policy Magazine. "The Obama administration has ... made a big point of seeking to reinstate the law enforcement mindset throughout the counterterrorism enterprise.”
“Congressional investigators should pursue the leads to determine whether this mindset has taken hold and led to the security lapses that almost resulted in the decade ending with another devastating terrorist strike on American soil,” he adds.
The post-9/11 change
Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright said during the 9/11 commission hearings that the “pre-9/11” mentality under President Clinton focused on law enforcement over military responses. That changed after 9/11, when the Bush administration took a decidedly militaristic view of counter-terrorism, using hardline terminology, taking the fight overseas, and establishing military tribunals for combatants.
The path the Obama administration is taking is less clear.
On one hand, many of its public statements appear to revert to pre-9/11 language, describing jihadists in terms of a global criminal syndicate that should in large part be dealt with in the US criminal justice system.