Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent has now published the full passage from Bob Woodward’s book in which the president discusses his views on terrorism, and claims it reveals the criticism of him from people like me is “thoroughly bogus.” Fine. Here is the passage Sargent quotes:
“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 every took palce 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.”
Sargent says he hasn’t been able to find evidence of Obama saying we could “absorb” a terrorist attack and unless I’m very much mistaken, he never will, because it would have sunk Obama, no matter what the qualification might have been. (And if he did and the opposition researchers in the Clinton and McCain camps didn’t find it, we will have more evidence of their gross incompetence.)
But just because Obama qualified his words about absorbing an attack by saying America is resilient and we can handle anything but a nuclear attack is no comfort. It may be the opposite. His words suggest the president is engaging in false categorization that may explain why and how he and his administration felt free to define down the threat — such that it became conceivable for reasons other than simple liberal political payoff to to end CIA interrogation programs on the grounds that they were doing more harm than help.
And the full passage from Woodward’s book reveals something else astonishing: the notion that because Obama knew this nation was so resilient it could absorb an attack and come out stronger, he could now “start ramping up and putting” the nuclear-terrorism threat “at the center of a lot of our national security discussion.”
So in his view, the Bush administration wasn’t focused on the nuclear/unconventional threat? What, then, explains in the act now considered a crime by so many in Obama’s camp — taking the nation to war in Iraq in part to preempt one? What explained the persistence of the interrogation programs Obama so blithely cancelled?
The president seems to think the terrorist threat is not a continuum from box cutters to shoe bombs to potential nukes. But that is exactly what it is. And that is, if anything, even more terrifying than a president so emotionally insulated from the true aftereffects of a terrorist attack — which, as I said earlier, are not to be confused with the momentary spasm of unity and good feeling that overtook the country in the months following 9/11 — that he seems already to have graded his own response and the country’s on a morally unforgivable curve.