Terror Begins at Home

Article excerpt

Byline: Daniel Klaidman

Fearmongering politicians are scoring cheap political points at the expense of the American people.

Jostling before the midterms has begun, and so too has the GOP's ritualistic hazing of Democrats on national security. At every turn Republicans are hammering the Obama administration for "capitulating" in the fight against terrorism. But their macho rhetoric actually sends a message of weakness: we can't try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the same civilian courts that have convicted dozens of other international terrorists because Al Qaeda might attack New York. (When since 9/11 has New York not been a target of Al Qaeda?) Our criminal-justice system can't deal with a failed underwear bomber. The GOP assault may be smart politics, but in the long run it damages U.S. security by undermining our confidence and resiliency in the face of certain attacks to come.

By contrast, much of the current administration's antiterror policy seems aimed at strengthening the American spirit in the face of a diffuse but determined enemy. After Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to bring down Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day, President Obama waited 72 hours before appearing in front of the cameras to make a statement. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) immediately cruised the cable circuit lambasting Obama for his lapse in "leadership" in the wake of what he claimed could have been "one of the greatest tragedies in the history of our country." The president should have stepped forward "to give a sense of confidence to the country." But it was precisely the president's deliberate restraint that conveyed confidence, not King's hysterical overreaction. When Obama did address the public, his response was measured and proportionate. "This incident," he said, "demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist."

Those words may have been dismissed as boilerplate, but Obama aides tell me they reflected a core conviction of the president's. In fact, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has also made encouraging "resiliency"--in government institutions as well as people--a priority. In surprisingly blunt language, the recently released Quadrennial Homeland Security Review says Americans will need to be "psychologically prepared to withstand" terrorism and other disasters, "and grow stronger over time. …