SIMILAR INCIDENTS, DIFFERENT RESPONSES…. To hear conservatives tell it, the White House’s handling of the failed Christmas terrorist plot has been inadequate. President Obama, the Right has argued, waited too long to speak publicly about the incident, and hasn’t taken the matter seriously enough.
Of course, the obvious response is probably the most effective one: Obama commented on the Abdulmutallab plot a lot faster than Bush responded to an identical attempted attack eight years ago.
But that doesn’t fully capture the important and illustrative differences between the two responses.
The Abdulmutallab attempt was two weeks ago today. Over the course of these two weeks, President Obama has spoken publicly about the incident three times — Dec. 29, Jan. 5, and Jan. 9. He also devoted his weekly address to the subject last weekend. Also, over the span of two weeks, the president’s national security team prepared a relatively thorough security review of what transpired and a new directive on corrective actions.
Now let’s compare the previous administration’s response to a nearly identical terrorist plot — Richard Reid’s failed shoe-bomb attack (the same chemical, the same target, the same intended consequence, in same month of the year, with the same twisted ideology). Consider these two weeks, from eight years ago:
Dec. 22: Reid’s attempt fails.
Dec. 28: Bush hosts a press conference from his Texas ranch. In his opening statement, the president makes no reference to the terrorist attempt. Reporters ask Bush 15 questions, zero about the Reid incident. The president references the failed attack anyway, saying a total of 89 words on the subject.
Dec. 29: The president reads his weekly radio address. He makes no reference to the attempted terrorism.
Dec. 31: Bush again chats with reporters at a media availability in Crawford. Reporters ask Bush 10 questions, zero about the Reid incident. Again, Bush referenced the matter briefly, saying 53 words on the subject.
Jan. 4: Karen Hughes hosts a briefing for reporters. There were no questions about the Reid incident, and the subject wasn’t addressed.
Jan. 5: The president reads another weekly radio address, and makes no reference to the attempted terrorism. Later that day, Bush appears at two public events, one in California, the other in Oregon. The shoe-bombing incident doesn’t come up at all at either event.
Do you notice a difference between the two weeks after the Abdulmutallab plot and the two weeks after the Reid plot? Tell me — which of these two presidents seemed to respond to the attempted attacks more forcefully, more seriously, and with more depth? Which of the two seems more engaged when it comes to counter-terrorism?
Keep in mind, Bush faced literally no criticism for hardly responding at all to an attempt to blow up an airplane over the United States. There was no media pushback, no complaints from Congress, nothing. And this was just four months after 9/11, when presumably the terrorist threat was foremost on the nation’s mind.
Rudy Giuliani said on CNN this week, “I think [Obama] has to make a major correction in the way he is dealing with terrorism because I think he has mishandled the situation. First of all, it was 10 days too late. This is something you react to immediately, not 10 days later after your vacation. The president of the United States, when there is a potential massive attack on this country, which is what this guy was going to do, should have been on top of this immediately, not 10 days later, 11 days later, 12 days later.”
Bush pretty much ignored, at least publicly, the nearly identical “potential massive attack on this country,” and no one seemed to care.
If I didn’t know better, I might think there was a double-standard here, and a “controversy” has been manufactured by petty partisans hoping to undermine the Obama White House without cause.*