Absorbing Terrorist Attacks
These are stunningly complacent words from the man responsible for stopping such a terrorist attack. Obama uttered them last July, after America suffered two near-misses—the failed attacks on Christmas Day and in Times Square. Rather than serving as a wake-up call and giving the president a sense of urgency, these attacks seem to have given the president a sense of resignation. He is effectively saying: an attack is inevitable, we’ll do our best to prevent it, but if we get hit again—even on the scale of 9/11—it’s really no big deal.
In fact, it would be a big deal, particularly to the people who would bear the burden of “absorbing” another attack—the victims and their families. Obama’s statement is unimaginably cavalier about the deaths of nearly 3,000 people, and disturbingly resigned to the prospect of thousands more perishing in our midst.
First, what President Obama said seems correct. The U.S. can absorb a conventional terrorist attack and continue to function (a WMD attack would be a different story, but fortunately those are much harder to pull off). It's not as if President Obama is suggesting an attack is a good thing or that we should encourage them. In a free society, it's impossible - impossible - to stop every last individuals or small groups of people from committing acts of terrorism. Pretending otherwise, as Theissen appears to, is not only naive but infantile.
Now, the other point is whether this means the administration is "complacent" and "resigned" to future terrorist strikes. If one defines counter-terrorism as consisting of a set of policies beyond
torturing people enhanced interrogation, I think it's hard to argue that they are. There's been an expedited drone war in Pakistan, a surge of troops into Afghanistan, and an uptick in not-so-covert support to Yemen and Somalia. One would not embark on those policies if they took a blase attitude about the threat from al-Qaeda.