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Calling it ‘war’, Obama pegs Christmas Day attack to Al Qaeda

Responding to critics of what is seen as his measured approach, Obama says the “nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred." He calls for national unity.

By Staff writer / January 2, 2010

President Barack Obama speaks to the media at the Marine Corps base at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, Monday. In his Saturday radio address, Obama said Al Qaeda was behind the recent attempted attack on a US airliner.

Alex Brandon/AP/file



In his first Saturday morning address of the New Year, President Obama acknowledged an international terror syndicate – Al Qaeda – has struck the US on his watch.

Coming after days of political acrimony that stood in sharp contrast to the national solidarity shown after 9/11, Mr. Obama said Saturday that a Yemeni affiliate of Al Qaeda trained the suspect and “equipped him with … explosives and directed him to attack [the plane] headed for America.” He added that he thinks of the security of the US “every moment of every day.”

The move does two things. Obama reframes the attack, in essence taking responsibility for the ability of Al Qaeda to maneuver past US airline security defenses. The President has ordered at least two investigations that are expected to report back within days. But the tougher language also addresses growing political unease with the President’s careful approach to the conflict formerly known as the war on terror.

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'This moment demands unity'

In his Saturday address, Obama asked politicians and the American people to forego not debate, but partisanship, saying that unity as a nation is what “this moment demands.”

Former CIA agent Kent Clizbe, an outspoken Obama critic, said in an interview last week that the attack means the President will be forced to acknowledge the “reality” of international terror versus the “fantasy” version: Obama's strategy, as Clizbe sees it, of humbling America before the world to ease recruitment and activity among Islamic extremists.

“The reality is there are Islamists who are bent on the destruction of the United States and the western world,” says Mr. Clizbe. “Whether the face we show on the evening news is George W. Bush, Bill Clinton or Barack Hussein Obama makes absolutely no difference to them. They care not a wit who is the head of the United States.”

Critics contend that Obama's campaign promise that international cooperation and diplomacy would curtail terror recruiting and activity is now open for debate – and attack – by the president's political opponents.

"Republicans can respond by saying, 'We have now had a year to test that theory, and we think it has been proven wrong,'" Dan Senor, a former Bush administration official, told the Wall Street Journal Friday.

Nevertheless, the White House lashed out at critics, including former vice president Dick Cheney, last week for politicizing the Christmas Day attack. Mr. Cheney said Obama’s careful view of the attack – calling the bomber a “suspect” and not mentioning Al Qaeda – seemed to indicate Obama doesn’t feel the nation is at war, a tactic that is making Americans less safe.