Resilience Is Crucial To Effective Counter-Terrorism

Our guest blogger is Ken Gude, Managing Director, National Security International Policy at the Center for American Progress.

Apparently contractually obligated to find fault with President Obama’s every utterance, a number of conservatives are currently freaking out over President Obama’s statement, via reporter Bob Woodward, “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever… we absorbed it and we are stronger.”

President Obama is absolutely correct, our first priority is to detect and prevent terrorist from attacking the United States. If, however, in the unfortunate circumstance an attack is successful, America is strong enough to withstand the best terrorists can throw at us. But in today’s America, President Obama’s expression of our strength and resilience as a nation is for some evidence that he is not qualified to hold its highest office. Apparently, conservatives prefer a president to reflect their debilitating fear and project an America that is too weak to emerge even one terrorist attack.

But conservative critics won’t tolerate this kind of reasoned leadership. Fox News’ Gretchen Carlson claimed that Obama was “inviting another 9/11.” John Bolton added, “How can an American president say that as if he’s a detached observer and doesn’t care about Americans dying? I think people have been worried about his qualifications to be commander in chief for a long time, and that ought to prove it.”


Straining to miss the point, the Heritage Foundation wrote, “Saying that we could ‘absorb’ an attack does not mean that we want to absorb one. Americans want to be successful in the war on terror. Setting us up for defeat is far from a winning strategy.”

Terrorism is among the most emotive political issues facing Americans today. The memory of the horrific tragedy of 9/11 is still fresh and it is clear that our enemies remain at large and want to revisit more attacks on the United States. Our enmity and anger should be directed at those that want to do us harm while the energy we devote to introspection should be about summoning the strength to show our resolve to defeat their campaign of terror.

A small band of organized and determined terrorists can execute a successful attack anywhere in the world. A serious as those attacks could be, that is the limit of terrorists’ capabilities; they cannot defeat even a small nation let alone one as powerful as the United States. They know this and their entire strategy is to spread fear among their enemies thus provoking an over-reaction that ultimately weakens them far more than terrorists would ever be able to do on their own.

Effective counter-terrorism must avoid falling into this trap. Part of that strategy is to prepare for the aftermath of any successful attack by projecting a resolute determination not to succumb to fear. That is the message that President Obama was delivering to the American people through Woodward.

Americans are a resilient people. We faced down the fear of the Great Depression, turned the tide against the Japanese empire after Pearl Harbor, rolled back the march of the Nazis in Europe, and faced down the Soviet Union and their thousands of nuclear weapons. International terrorism is a serious national security threat, but it does not approach those other challenges either in size or in scope. It’s important to remain vigilant against the terrorist threat, but we should also remain vigilant against those who would cynically cultivate fear among Americans for their own political profit.