More often than not, Americans and the world look to American presidents for their words.
Whether a president’s words bring comfort, understanding, clarity, resolve or commitment, it is all about the words and the delivery of them.
The Obama administration started out on the wrong foot right away when they moved into the White House with regard to the “War on Terror.”
According to then president-elect Obama and his nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, there was no “War on Terror.” In fact they refused to even use the word "terrorism" in their public appearances before and after taking office.
The consequence of this new “policy” by a new American administration to refuse to acknowledge a continuing and dangerous threat to our country and our allies emboldened those who seek to do us harm and troubled our friends.
Within days after President Obama took the oath of office Homeland Security Secretary-designee Janet Napolitano appeared before the Senate for her confirmation hearings. During that appearance she never once uttered the words “War on Terror” or “terrorism” in her prepared remarks. Instead, she called clear acts of organized terror, “man caused disasters.”
On March 16, 2009, shortly after being confirmed by the Senate as Homeland Security Secretary, Napolitano gave an interview to the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel; this is what she was asked and this is how she responded:
SPIEGEL: Madame Secretary, in your first testimony to the U.S. Congress as Homeland Security Secretary [designate] you never mentioned the word "terrorism." Does
Islamist terrorism suddenly no longer pose a threat to your country?
NAPOLITANO: Of course it does. I presume there is always a threat from terrorism. In my speech, although I did not use the word "terrorism," I referred to "man-caused" disasters. That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.
SPIEGEL: This sounds quite different from what we heard from the Bush administration. How will the new anti-terror policy differ from the previous one?
NAPOLITANO: Our policies will be guided by authoritative information. We also have assets at our disposal now that we did not have prior to 9/11. For example, we are much better able to keep track of travelers coming into the U.S. than we were before. The third thing is to work with our international partners and allies to make sure that we are getting information and sharing information in an appropriate and real-time fashion.
Napolitano’s early statements with regard to terrorism and her initial comments with regard to the act of terrorism aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 make it clear that she, and her boss, did not get it right.
It is also clear that Napolitano’s initial remarks with regard to the Northwest incident where she proclaimed that the, “system worked” were the exact same talking points that were used by the president’s press secretary Robert Gibbs -- who made the first public statement on behalf of the president. The fact that the press secretary would be the person tapped to make the first statement on behalf of the president responding to a near-terror attack on our homeland is troubling all by itself.
When he took office Obama was convinced that he could unilaterally change the minds of those who seek to harm us by pandering and apologizing and removing words like “the War on Terror” and “terrorism” from our government and public discourse.
Well he was wrong. It is not about changing the “tone” it is about defending our country. It doesn’t matter to terrorists who our president is. They hate our way of life, what we stand for and our values as a nation.
The fact that the president of the United States would wait three days before responding to a foiled terrorist attack on American soil -- on Christmas day no less -- shows me that this guy just doesn’t get it. He is weak. His staff is weak and his Homeland Security secretary doesn’t have a clue.
I find it ironic that the president could rush off the golf course in Hawaii when his friend’s kid got hurt in a minor fall at his rented beach house but, would continue to play basketball, workout, golf and stroll on the beach after a near-terror attack on Christmas day before making a public statement.
In short, the president and his administration’s rhetoric and actions kept our guard down, and as a result it also let our nation down. All of the events since the near-terror attack on Christmas day have made us more, not less vulnerable to attacks to our homeland.
Words do matter.
Bradley A. Blakeman served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-04. He is currently a professor of Politics and Public Policy at Georgetown University and a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum.
Former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush