Obama, the anti-Bush in aftermath of terror bid

KANEOHE, Dec 29 (AFP) -- President Barack Obama sought to show both calm and steel Monday in a first response to the Christmas Day airline attack that marked a sharp shift in tone from George W. Bush-style rhetoric.

Blunt but restrained, Obama delivered the carefully calibrated response to the botched bid to bring down a Northwest Airlines jet bound for Detroit, as he broke away from a family vacation in his native Hawaii.

He vowed to hunt down terrorists and keep Americans safe -- in substance a message often delivered by his predecessor -- but there the similarities end.

Ex-president Bush, a proponent of "from the gut" leadership, often hit a swaggering, bombastic tone in contrast to his successor's more cerebral, "no-drama Obama" performance on Monday.

"The American people should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your family safe and secure during this busy holiday season," Obama said in reassurer-in-chief mode.

Bush was famous for a string of chest-beating threats and promises, following the September 11 attacks in 2001.

He vowed to get Al-Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden "Dead or Alive," said he would "smoke" extremists out, and taunted "bring 'em on" when asked about insurgents in Iraq.

But, bloodied by the Iraq and Afghan wars, Bush said late in his presidency he regreted the tone of those remarks.

And Bush faced more traumatic circumstances than Obama in the agonizing weeks of mourning that followed the deadliest attack on US soil, which killed nearly three thousand people.

But for the alert and heroic passengers and crew on Flight 253 into Detroit, Obama could have had a Christmas Day tragedy on his hands -- and his rhetoric and response would have been more fraught as a result.

Obama's performance revealed a little about how he sees himself as a leader, and the way he will respond to current, and future threats to the US homeland.

In waiting three days since the thwarted bid by a 23-year-old Nigerian man to bring down the jet, the president apparently sought to deny its extremist foes the oxygen of publicity.

There also seemed to be an attempt to avoid sparking panic and to keep political temperatures cool at home.

Obama coolly went to the gym and played tennis with his wife Michelle before making his statement -- then headed for the golf links afterwards.

Many Democrats accuse the former Bush administration of using fear of terror attacks as a tool to beat political opponents. Obama seemed to have a clear message for his domestic foes who brand him soft on terror.

"As Americans, we will never give into fear or division," Obama said, in a message to both his countrymen and opponents. "We will be guided by our hopes, our unity and our deeply held values."

But Obama was also under political pressure to stake out a position of no surrender to terror.

"We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us," Obama said.

"Whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the US homeland."

Obama reserved his toughest language for a short swipe at Iran over political repression, rebuking Tehran's "iron fist of brutality."

That tone itself represented an evolution: in June Obama was accused of soft-pedalling criticism of Iranian brute force to preserve his engagement strategy.

Ahead of his speech, Monday, Obama had attracted the ire of some Republicans for remaining silent on the Detroit attack over the holiday weekend.

Congressman Peter King complained of a presidential "vacuum," Republican Senator Jim DeMint rebuked Obama for "soft talk" on engagement and fellow Republican Pete Hoekstra claimed Obama aides hated to use the word "terrorism."

Other conservatives complain Obama has failed to stake out a clear approach to Islamic radicalism, and will not be swayed by his speech to the cameras in a hastily concerted golf clubhouse on Monday.

Some seized on his use of the word "allegedly" to describe the moment when the suspect tried to blow himself and the plane out of the sky.

"To be clear, the law enforcement paradigm should require that benefit of the doubt, but we are not required to apply that paradigm to the war on terror," the Corner blog on National Review Online said. (By STEPHEN COLLINSON/AFP)

MySinchew 2009.12.29