Word fixation: Pundits claim Obama “finally noticed” we are “at war” with terrorists

Following President Obama's January 7 remarks on the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing -- during which he stated, “We are at war. We are at war with al Qaeda” -- numerous conservative media figures have falsely suggested that prior to that speech, Obama had not characterized the fight against terrorists as a war. In fact, in his inaugural address, Obama stated that "[o]ur nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred," and he has repeatedly discussed terrorism as the rationale for U.S. military action abroad.

Media suggest Obama's comments mark departure from previous attitude toward terrorism

Wash. Times: “Glad he finally noticed.” In a January 8 editorial titled, “Obama discovers the war on terrorism,” The Washington Times stated, “Yesterday afternoon, President Obama announced that he made a significant discovery: 'We are at war.' Glad he finally noticed.” The editorial later added, “Nothing Mr. Obama announced yesterday will make Americans safer unless and until his administration internalizes the fact that we are at war with violent Muslim extremists intent on destroying our way of life.”

Huckabee: "[F]or the first time that I can remember, the president, at least today, said, 'We are at war.' " During the January 7 edition of Fox News' On the Record, Fox News host Mike Huckabee stated of Obama's remarks: "[F]or the first time that I can remember, the president, at least today, said, 'We are at war.' That was a good step. But for a long time, we've acted like that we didn't really have a concerted enemy that was out to kill every last one of us. And that's what we're going to have to recognize."

NY Post: “It was a refreshingly truculent departure for the president.” The New York Post asserted in a January 8 editorial: “President Obama yesterday inched closer to defining the true nature of the threat America faces from terror ists like the one who nearly downed an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day. 'We are at war,' he said, even acknowledging -- doubtless, to the abject horror of many senior advisers -- that al Qaeda actually draws its strength from Islam. It was a refreshingly truculent departure for the president -- and a dramatic improvement over his initial response to the attack, when he characterized bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as 'an isolated extremist.' ”

Rich Lowry: “The president wakes up.” Rich Lowry wrote in a January 8 New York Post column that “the president stepped before the cameras and delivered a stern, forceful statement. He punctuated it with a line that could have been written by Dick Cheney and was almost certainly prompted by his criticism: 'We are at war. We are at war against al Qaeda.' ” Lowry later wrote, “In the end, the most important line of the speech is that 'we are at war.' Those four words should sink deep down into his administration and permeate all that it does,” adding, “Whether he likes it or not, Obama is a war president. If he talks like it more often, who knows? Word might even filter down to Janet Napolitano.”

Pat Caddell: "[T]hey considered using the word war is a major step forward." During the January 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Pat Caddell asserted of Obama's remarks, “I think they considered using the word war is a major step forward. I was happy to hear him say it.”

Carlson: Obama “now saying” we are “actually” at war. During the January 8 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy stated that Obama “was very presidential” when he said “we are at war,” adding, “He sounded like George Bush, because he talked about the war -- not on terror -- but we are at war.” Co-host Gretchen Carlson also stated during the program that Obama was “front and center yesterday giving his speech -- three and a half hours delayed -- telling the American public, 'Guess what? We actually are at war.' ” Carlson later added, “We are at war. That's what President Obama is now saying.”

But Obama stated that we are “at war” with violent extremists prior to his January 7 remarks

Obama: “I made it very clear -- our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.” During his January 2 weekly address, Obama stated that on the day of his inauguration, he “made it very clear-our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred, and that we will do whatever it takes to defeat them and defend our country, even as we uphold the values that have always distinguished America among nations.” Obama further stated: “And make no mistake, that's exactly what we've been doing. It's why I refocused the fight-bringing to a responsible end the war in Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, and dramatically increasing our resources in the region where al Qaeda is actually based, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's why I've set a clear and achievable mission-to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies and prevent their return to either country.”

Obama: "[W]e are at war, and I'm responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans." During his December 10, 2009, Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Obama referred to the “effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks” and stated that “we are at war, and I'm responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land.” He later stated that “I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. ... Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms” and added that “religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan.”

Obama: “Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred ... we will defeat you.” During his January 20, 2009, inaugural address, Obama stated that "[o]ur nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred." He later added: “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense. And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken -- you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

Obama has repeatedly spoken of the U.S. mission to defeat Al Qaeda

Obama: Defeating Al Qaeda is “our purpose in Afghanistan.” On March 27, 2009, Obama stated that the U.S. is involved in Afghanistan because “al Qaeda and its allies -- the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks -- are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the U.S. homeland from its safe-haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban

or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged -- that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.” Obama later added, “We are in Afghanistan to confront a common enemy that threatens the United States, our friends and allies, and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” and stated that the “goal” is “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That is the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you.”

Obama: “The United States has made a lasting commitment to defeat al Qaeda.” Obama stated on May 6, 2009, of U.S. involvement in Pakistan and Afghanistan: “The road ahead will be difficult. There will be more violence, and there will be setbacks. But let me be clear: The United States has made a lasting commitment to defeat al Qaeda, but also to support the democratically elected sovereign governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. That commitment will not waiver. And that support will be sustained.”

Obama: We will “relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security.” During his June 4, 2009, speech at Cairo University, Obama stated that “America is not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam,” adding that "[w]e will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security -- because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children." He further said, “We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.”

Obama: America is “compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan” by 9-11 attacks, continued threat. During his December 1, 2009, speech on the war in Afghanistan, Obama stated, "[I]t's important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard to their faith or race or station." Obama also stated that Al Qaeda's violent extremism “is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat”:

So, no, I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.

Of course, this burden is not ours alone to bear. This is not just America's war. Since 9/11, al Qaeda's safe havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali. The people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered. And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them.