Is there a 'double standard' for Obama in terrorism case? 

Some Obama defenders are sending around new articles from the Huffington Post and the Politico arguing that President Obama is being subjected to a double standard of criticism for his handling of the Detroit terrorism incident.

In "Obama takes the heat President Bush did not," the Politico's Josh Gerstein writes that when shoe-bomber Richard Reid struck on December 22, 2001, "it was six days before President George W. Bush, then on vacation, made any public remarks…and there were virtually no complaints from the press or any opposition Democrats that his response was sluggish or inadequate."

Now, Gerstein continues, despite "striking" similarities between the Reid case and the Detroit incident, Obama has become the target of "withering" criticism from Republicans and some in the press. How to explain the "double standard"? The Huffington Post's Sam Stein writes that the "bellowing" from Republicans over Obama's performance "seems as much about political posturing as legitimate national security concerns."

Here's another answer. The most basic underlying question in the public discussion of Obama's handling of the Detroit case is whether the president and his administration take the threat of terror seriously. During the campaign, Obama and other Democrats accused the Bush administration of playing to the nation's fears about terrorism. Obama promised a different, lower-key approach. So after the Ft. Hood incident, he downplayed the by-then obvious possibility that the murders of 13 people were an act of Islamic terrorism, and after the Detroit matter, he said nothing at all and made a point of playing golf after hearing about the botched bombing. Obama's aides even explained to at least one sympathetic reporter that the decision to play golf was a calculated, tough, and wise response to the incident and that the president was "projecting his calm" on the American people.

Then, when Obama got around to making a public statement about the matter, he called suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab an "isolated extremist" -- a statement that later proved to be incorrect. And then the president had to go into damage control mode, trying to undo the impressions left by the Secretary of Homeland Security, who claimed the system "worked" in the Detroit incident, and by unnamed administration officials who argued that the security system had performed properly by not placing Abdulmuttallab's name on a no-fly list.

So an answer the public's most basic question -- is the president serious about this? -- was emerging, and the answer did not look good for the administration. That's why Obama and his team have been scrambling.

Compare that to the shoe bomber incident. By December 22, 2001, when it happened, George Bush, in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, had:

** gone to war in Afghanistan

** instituted extensive security measures at airports

** created the office that would later become the Department of Homeland Security

** begun aggressive interrogation of terrorist suspects

** begun the "warrantless wiretap" program targeting international communications of suspected terrorists

** declared his intention to take Osama bin Laden "dead or alive"

You may agree or disagree about the wisdom or effectiveness of any of those actions. But did anyone, on December 22, 2001, doubt that George W. Bush was serious about using all the powers of the U.S. government to strike back at the terrorists who hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Did anyone doubt Bush's resolve?

Today, does anyone have such confidence in Barack Obama? That -- and not some "double standard" -- is why there are so many questions about the president's handling of the Detroit incident.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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