How Would President Obama Respond To a Terrorist Attack on America?

Concerns of a religiously influenced terrorist attack on American citizens in the US and abroad have resurfaced in lieu of the recent events of mass death that have occurred around the world.

On November 13th 2015,  ISIS carried out an attack on civilians in restaurants and a soccer stadium in Paris, leaving 129 dead and 352 injured. The human slaughter was carried out with precision and coordination by a group of men and women who long ago convinced themselves that mass murder is good for their cause. On November 20th 2015, Muslim extremists stormed a hotel in Mali and killed at least 21 people and took many more hostage. Those who died in Paris and Mali were innocent and defenseless people who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

ISIS, sensing the rising decibels of fear in the United States, released a  video with pictures and images of a possible attack on New York City by a potential suicide bomber. Laudably, there was swift reaction of leadership by New York Mayor Bill De Blasio in condemning the video and calling his city — and the nation — not to live in fear. However, given what has happened in Europe, Africa, it is not implausible for such an attack to occur here in the United States. A Washington Post-ABC poll illustrates this nervous sentiment as 83% of registered voters believe an attack on the US may occur.  Furthermore, logistically, threats have become more complicated to monitor as the New York Times ran a story about the difficulty US investigators are having in tracking homegrown ISIS suspects and sympathizers.

One can only hope that such an attack does not happen, but the question must be asked: what if it does? Notwithstanding the sickening prospect of mass murder becoming a reality, how would President Obama respond?

If an attack were to occur and it was found to be linked to Muslim extremism, one could safely predict Obama would condemn the acts, offer condolences to the families of the slain, and demand justice. He would assure Americans that our democracy and freedom would not be compromised by heinous acts of violence, no matter how extreme.

However, it’s probably not a stretch to also believe that any goodwill toward the president would be short lived. Why? Because our current politics suggests that American solidarity in a time of crisis would take a back seat to political opportunism, self-righteousness and the irrational Republican hatred for the President. The Republican Party and its fear-mongering apparatus would push for maniacal retribution, call for war – while simultaneously lambasting the president for “not keeping the nation safe”.

We have seen during the Obama era, past suggestions and threats to begin proceedings of impeachment on issues ranging from Benghazi to proposed gun control measures. It is not a stretch to believe they would seek his impeachment should a terrorist attack happen on his watch.   While impeachment in the United States is very rare and the current composition of democrats in the Senate, makes it highly unlikely to ever occur, but the prospect of politicizing death with a primary purpose of embarrassing the President on the world stage would not come as a surprise.

Regardless of the degree of reflexive republican opposition, the nation would still look to Obama to lead and provide context to any future decisions he makes on behalf of the United States. If Obama decided to push the nation into war, there are numerous precedents. During World War II, following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, which left 2,500 dead, 1,000 wounded, 18 American Ships and nearly 300 airplanes destroyed–President Roosevelt declared war on Japan with near unanimous (only one voted no) approval from the US Congress. What resulted was horrendous discrimination and placement of Japanese Americans in internment camps.

President George W. Bush declared war on Iraq after the World Trade Center attacks in New York City. Although the vote had notable opposition, president Bush handily received solid majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives and this decision resulted in 500,000 Iraqis and 4,804 US, British and coalition forces dead, a destabilized Middle East and trillions of dollars spent on war.

One would hope that we have learned from our past mistakes and would seek to avoid the tragic costs of war both abroad and at home.

If President Obama decided to avoid declarations of war and put before the country a multi-layered plan that outlines a moral case for restraint coupled with targeted military action, enhanced intelligence and counter-terrorism efforts, he might find considerable support from a nation that has rejected fear and hate in the wakes of recent atrocities. If Obama forcefully and repeatedly spoke about the destructive tenets of fear, xenophobia, and toxicity of intolerance, he may not only have a chance at reducing harmful acts against innocent Muslims, but change the way we respond to acts of terror.

The prospect of a terroristic attack on US citizens is frightening to think about, but impossible to ignore. It is in the darkest time that we look to our leaders to guide and direct us forward. If America is attacked, President Obama will be called upon to lead. History hopes he is ready to steer the country forward and away from the mistakes of the past.

Writer, trained Social Worker and Mental Health Therapist. Husband, father and anti-racist at my core.