What Obama Really Said to Woodward

By Benjamin Wittes
Thursday, September 23, 2010, 6:33 PM

The Washington Post has now published the context surrounding Obama's much derided comment to Bob Woodward about absorbing a terrorist attack. According to the Post's Greg Sargent, Woodward writes on page 363:

During my Oval Office inteview with the President, Obama volunteers some extended thoughts about terrorism.

"I said very early on, as a Senator and continue to believe, as a presidential candidate and now as president, that we can absorb a terrorist attack. We will do everything we can to prevent it. But even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever, that ever took place on our soil, we absorbed it, and we are stronger. This is a strong, powerful country that we live in, and our people are incredibly resilient."

Then he addressed his big concern. "A potential game changer would be a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists, blowing up a major American city. Or a weapon of mass destruction in a major American city. And so when I go down on the list of things I have to worry about all the time, that is at the top, because that's one area where you can't afford any mistakes. And so right away, coming in, we said, how are we going to start ramping up and putting that at the center of a lot of our national security discussion? Making sure that that occurence, even if remote, never happens."

This comment could have been made by any one of several members of the last administration. It does not reflect complacency, but a hard-headed realism about certain facts. We will not prevent another major attack forever. Resilience is therefore important. And our prevention priority has to focus on the most devastating attacks from which resilience is the most difficult. Obama will pay a price for these remarks, I'm sure. That's a shame. The price he will pay won't encourage other politicians to speak simple truths in the future.