There has been a lot of discussion online and in the mainstream media about our response to various critics of the President, specifically former Vice President Cheney, who have been coming out of the woodwork since the incident on Christmas Day. I think we all agree that there should be honest debate about these issues, but it is telling that Vice President Cheney and others seem to be more focused on criticizing the Administration than condemning the attackers. Unfortunately too many are engaged in the typical Washington game of pointing fingers and making political hay, instead of working together to find solutions to make our country safer.
First, it’s important that the substantive context be clear: for seven years after 9/11, while our national security was overwhelmingly focused on Iraq – a country that had no al Qaeda presence before our invasion – Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda's leadership was able to set up camp in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they continued to plot attacks against the United States. Meanwhile, al Qaeda also regenerated in places like Yemen and Somalia, establishing new safe-havens that have grown over a period of years. It was President Obama who finally implemented a strategy of winding down the war in Iraq, and actually focusing our resources on the war against al Qaeda – more than doubling our troops in Afghanistan, and building partnerships to target al Qaeda’s safe-havens in Yemen and Somalia. And in less than one year, we have already seen many al Qaeda leaders taken out, our alliances strengthened, and the pressure on al Qaeda increased worldwide.
To put it simply: this President is not interested in bellicose rhetoric, he is focused on action. Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the President.
Second, the former Vice President makes the clearly untrue claim that the President – who is this nation’s Commander-in-Chief – needs to realize we are at War. I don’t think anyone realizes this very hard reality more than President Obama. In his inaugural, the President said “our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.” In a recent speech, Assistant to the President for Terrorism and Homeland Security John Brennan said “Instead, as the president has made clear, we are at war with al-Qaida, which attacked us on 9/11 and killed 3,000 people. We are at war with its violent extremist allies who seek to carry on al-Qaida’s murderous agenda. These are the terrorists we will destroy; these are the extremists we will defeat.” At West Point, the President told the nation why it was “in our vital national interest” to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to fight the war in Afghanistan, adding that as Commander in Chief, “I see firsthand the terrible wages of war.” And at Oslo, in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, the President said, “We are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land.”
There are numerous other such public statements that explicitly state we are at war. The difference is this: President Obama doesn’t need to beat his chest to prove it, and – unlike the last Administration – we are not at war with a tactic (“terrorism”), we at war with something that is tangible: al Qaeda and its violent extremist allies. And we will prosecute that war as long as the American people are endangered.
Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director