December 17, 2016
President Obama’s boast Friday afternoon that his administration has kept the United States safe from foreign-directed terrorist attacks is accurate – but boy is it a carefully parsed brag.
“In foreign policy, when I came into office we were in the midst of two wars. Now, nearly 180,000 troops are down to 15,000, bin Laden, rather than being at large, has been taken off the battlefield, along with thousands of other terrorists,” the president said at his year-end White House press conference.
He added, “Over the past eight years no foreign terrorist organization has successfully executed an attack on our homeland that was directed from overseas.”
Obama is not wrong. Since his first inauguration in 2009, no foreign terrorist group has planned and launched a successful attack on the U.S. from afar.
However, there’s obviously much more to the story. The president’s remarks are worded carefully for this reason.
By framing the issue in these very specific terms, Obama can position himself as the victor in the ongoing war on terror, while also avoiding mentions of the fact that there have been several major terrorist attacks in the U.S. under his watch. The president’s remarks Friday, which are an amended version of when he claimed on Dec. 6, “No foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland,” also allow him to avoid mentioning that many of the attacks in the U.S. have been linked to overseas groups.
In fact, in the last eight years, there have been at least 10 high-profile terrorist events in the U.S. where the perpetrators were either inspired by or connected to radical organizations like the Islamic State or al-Qaeda.
The first such attack took place on June 1, 2009, when Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad shot and killed Army Pvt. William Andrew Long and injured Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula at a military recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark. The shooter claimed later that he acted as a member of al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, which operates out of Yemen.
Later that same year, on Nov. 5, 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan went on a shooting spree at Fort Hood in Texas, murdering 14 people. Prior to the attack, Hasan was in contact with al-Qaeda’s Anwar al-Awlaki.
On April 15, 2013, the radicalized Tamerlan and Dhozkar Tsarnaev, both of whom frequented a mosque with connections to al-Qaeda, detonated two bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring more than 200.
One year later, on Oct. 23, 2014, Zale Thompson assaulted and injured two police officers in Queens, N.Y., with a hatchet. Though he was a so-called lone wolf, Thompson acted after he became self-radicalized through ISIS, al-Qaeda and al-Shabab literature.
On July 16, 2015, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez shot and killed four U.S. Marines and one sailor at a Navy reserve facility center in Chattanooga, Tenn. FBI Director James B. Comey said later that there was no doubt that Abdulazeez was, “motivated by foreign terrorist organization propaganda.”
Later, on Dec. 14, 2015, Tashfeen Malik and her husband, Syed Farook, shot and killed 14 people at a Christmas party in San Bernardino, Calif. The shooting spree left an additional 22 people with injuries. The FBI reported the two shooters had been radicalized by Islamic terrorist organizations, though the bureau has not yet determined which group most inspired the attack. ISIS has described the two terrorists as “supporters.”
There have been three radical Islamic-inspired terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in 2016, including the Orlando nightclub shooting, which claimed 49 lives, the New York and New Jersey bombings, which left 31 people injured, and a mass stabbing at Ohio State University, which left 11 people hospitalized.
Since Obama’s 2009 inauguration, law enforcement officials have also foiled at a number of attacks led by high-profile terrorist groups. There was the 2009 Christmas Day bombing incident, which al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for, and an attempted mass shooting in 2015 in Garland, Texas, for which ISIS claimed credit.
Again, the president’s boast on Friday isn’t inaccurate.
It just comes with so many qualifiers that it’s bit like bragging that no left-handed dyslexic Russians who wear glasses were involved in the recent hacking of the Democratic National Committee. The absurd metric might be true, but it wouldn’t change the fact the DNC was a victim of cyberattacks, likely orchestrated by a hostile foreign entity, on Obama’s watch.
Despite the president’s press conference contortions, caveats cover only so much.