President Trump has been criticized for the way that he responds to and talks about terrorist attacks. Part of this is that he specifically focuses on "Islamic terrorism," rather than domestic terrorism and has threatened to suspend immigration from the "volatile regions of the world." However, the president’s approach to terrorism is certainly not unprecedented, which he has noted himself saying, "just as we won the Cold War...so too must we take on the ideology of radical Islam, in the 20th century, the United States defeated fascism, nazism, and communism. Now a different threat challenges our world: radical Islamic terrorism," and noting that his argument is similar to President George W. Bush’s terrorism-centric foreign policy. Here are some key presidential historical moments to help understand the precedent set for President Trump’s rhetoric on terrorism:
Operation Cyclone and the Contras
The United States has occasionally used groups accused of terrorism to achieve their goals. During the late-1970’s and throughout the 1980’s the United States funded the mujahideen in Afghanistan and the Contras in Nicaragua.
The Bombing at Pearl Harbor
In President Roosevelt’s speech responding to the bombing that led to the United States’ entry into WWII, he not only uttered the famous words, "a day which will live in infamy," but also assured U.S. citizens that they would achieve "absolute victory." Pearl Harbor is one of the only attacks perpetrated by a foreign power on U.S. soil, and Roosevelt’s response, including that of absolute victory, reverberates throughout recent Presidential speech on terrorism.
The Oklahoma City Bombing
President Bill Clinton’s speech responding to a truck bombing in Oklahoma is one of the only recent speeches regarding terrorism that does not involve any rhetoric regarding total annihilation of enemies, or "absolute victory." Clinton focused more on the victims and recovering from the tragedy. Clinton appeal to the binary of "good" overcoming "evil."
President George W. Bush and the War on Terror
After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush had a huge decision to make regarding how to respond. His response was similar to that of Roosevelt’s response to Pearl Harbor: "the war on terror...will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated." Bush set the stage for the next two presidents, but over time the rhetoric changed as presidents needed to account for challenges of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
President Obama and the War on Terror
President Obama largely continued Bush’s rhetoric on terrorism, analyzing the "unacceptable risks," of terrorism, focusing on terrorists from abroad, and advocating for a total defeat of all terrorists. The quote, "the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan," underscores the transition from Bush’s original stance that not all people in the "volatile regions of the world," are violent, to a more universal stance.