Speechless: The Barack Obama Response to a Terrorist Attack

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Could be – although I certainly hope not – that we’re about to have one of those 3 o’clock in the morning moments Senator Clinton talks about.

Ayman Al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s second in command under Osama Bin Laden, has released a video which differs from those he and Mr. Bin Laden have produced previously.  According to one analyst I saw interviewed on MSNBC yesterday, the video seemed rushed, did not come through the usual channels and, most strikingly, used remarkably direct language in the way it seemed to literally give orders for attacks on the United States and Israel.  Who knows what all this means, but it got me thinking.  What if there is an attack before the convention, before the Democratic nominee is selected?  What difference will it make?

Senator Obama will find it difficult to resist the opportunity to remind voters that he opposed the use of military force in Iraq from the start, even when it made no sense in light of threats to our security which he acknowledged in the same October 2, 2002 speech.  The fact that the wisdom of his opposition to the use of military force in Iraq is convenient hindsight will be lost in the excitement of the moment.  (See “Reckless Endangerment” posted February 23.)  He will want to tell us that the attack might have never happened had we focused our attention on Afghanistan instead, but may not for fear voters will be annoyed by his taking advantage of the attack to further his campaign.

He’ll give one of his trademark, feel good “Obama Knows Best” speeches to divert our attention from the question at hand:  The attack has happened.  You’re President of the United States.  What specifically do you do?  “This is not a drill,” will be the message that threatens to take him off his game.

Personally, I don’t have the slightest idea.  Depending upon the circumstances of the attack, I can imagine all manner of reactions which might be appropriate.  I’m sure both campaigns have anticipated an attack, and have prepared their candidates with responses which will be perfectly scripted to seem instinctive and unscripted, the way you would hope a seasoned Commander-in-Chief would be ready in any eventuality.

Senator Obama believes in talking to everyone, including the leaders of countries which may be outright enemies of our state.  Admirable, but unrealistic.  Even if Al Qaeda would agree to so much as a phone call with an American President, we really don’t want to talk to them.  To meet with Al Qaeda, particularly in the aftermath of an attack, is to give them status, to recognize them in a way which elevates their movement from criminal to something higher, more civil.

He can talk to the leaders of the countries where Al Qaeda is based, but to what end?  To convince them to do our job for us?  To tell them what Secretary Rice and others have made clear to them already?  And how much time is all this talking going to take?

If not talk, then what?  John McCain will tell the voters he supports the use of our military, if necessary, to find and dispatch the perpetrators, and to punish Al Qaeda in general.  It’s the Israeli concept of hit me, I’ll hit you back harder, words to live by which have gone a long way to protect a people surrounded by its enemies.

Nobody doubts that Hillary Clinton and John McCain would engage the military, certainly for a police action of the sort we’re discussing.  Barack Obama will have to agree or risk not seeming Presidential – and do it without whining about how we got into this mess.  Even more stifling, all three candidates will need to be careful not to undercut the current administration for which this scenario will be far from an academic exercise.  With a new administration just months away, our allies and enemies alike will want to wait to do business with the next Commander-in-Chief, particularly if they sense he might be naïve, inexperienced, and disinclined to use force.

Strip away the power of his rhetoric, hardly an effective weapon against terrorists, replace the exuberant crowds with a nation of worried families and concerned businesses.  What does that leave for him to demonstrate the insight and leadership he’s so often promised?


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