Count me among those who found it uncomfortably out of character for Obama when he pushed back yesterday on GOP criticism of his terror policies by saying: “Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement.”
To be sure, Obama has been exemplary when it comes to avoiding the sort of chest-thumping that his predecessor routinely engaged in. The death of Bin Laden was handled in a low key manner. Obama’s overall determination to avoid politicizing terrorism has been exemplary. The “appeasment” attack line on Obama is deeply absurd, premised on a reprehensible subtext, and merits a very strong response from the White House. But the moment did strike a bit of a false note. As David Firestone observes, when Obama avoids the temptation to point to such things as “a banner of his personal toughness,” he actually ends up looking stronger.
Be that as it may, the White House is unapologetic about the remark. Asked at today’s press briefing to respond to criticism of it, press secretary Jay Carney defended it.
“He was answering a question about a charge that he had somehow acted as an appeaser,” Carney said. “I think it was an appropriate response.”
Carney, in a reference to the dead Al Qaeda leaders Obama was talking about, then joked: “Let us know if you get an answer from those gentlemen.”
This suggests that the White House is going to stick with this pushback, or a variation of it. Given the mendacity and sheer volume of these attacks from Republicans, it’s to be expected that the White House will aggressively highlight the relevant facts of the Obama administration’s terrorism record. And the White House should be putting Republican opponents on notice that they will face fierce pushback to such criticism.
But there’s a delicate balancing act to be struck here, and as tempting as it might be to believe that this kind of thing is helpful politically, it’s worth asking whether this is a case in which less swagger and toughness equals more.