The latest media buzz is that longtime Nightline anchor Ted Koppel, who left ABC News back in 2005, might soon return to the network to replace George Stephanopoulos as host of This Week. Here’s a hint of the perspective Koppel might bring with him to his potential new job: appearing last night as an analyst on BBC’s World News America, Koppel insisted that President Obama’s first (non)reaction to the attempted bombing of a U.S. airline on Christmas Day “was the right one,” but media “yapping” and “24-hour cable channels going at it, hour after hour after hour” pressured Obama into an “overreaction.”
Of course, the successful smuggling of a bomb onto a U.S. passenger jet — by an al-Qaeda operative who was already known to intelligence officials — exposed significant problems in the government’s security process, a fact which even Obama himself now concedes. “This was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had,” the President confessed yesterday.
But rather than scrutinize the government’s failing, Koppel apparently prefers that nothing happened: “Doing something is exactly what the terrorists want. They want to feel as though they control our actions, rather than we controlling them ourselves.”
Koppel insisted: “I think we have to take some lessons from the Israelis, we have to take some lessons from the French. They have suffered enormously from terrorist attacks, and they respond the way that, I think, people should respond when they don't want to give comfort to the enemy, and that is: by the next morning everything is cleaned up, the shops are open again. It is as though nothing happened.”
Here’s a transcript of Koppel’s January 7 discussion with BBC World News America anchor Matt Frei (video available here).
ANCHOR MATT FREI: Ted, every action leads to a reaction. There's been plenty of reaction to this particular incident on Christmas Day exactly two weeks ago. What kind of reaction do you think it's been -- how would you classify it, especially from the leadership?
TED KOPPEL: I would classify it as an absolute triumph for al-Qaeda. If you were to put this in a slightly different way, Matt, and ask yourself the question, 'What is it that al-Qaeda had hoped to achieve, in its wildest dreams?' you must conclude that they could not have achieved much more if the attempt had been successful, if the plane had gone down with its 290-something passengers. We have responded so intensely, that they they must be sitting there -- wherever they are sitting these days, in their caves -- saying, 'Not bad. I mean, if we can do that with a failed attempt, just think what we can do with a successful one.'
FREI: But it didn't go down, but it came perilously close to going down, this airliner. I mean, in this sense, the reaction -- you call it an overreaction -- is perhaps quite apposite.
KOPPEL: I think it's an overreeaction because we have spent hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars. It is all that our media has been yapping about. It is much of what Congress has been focusing on. The President himself has had to focus, visibly, his attention on it.
Ironically, Matt, I think the President's initial reaction was the right one. I think his initial reaction was, you know, 'I'm here in Hawaii. I'm still being President, I'm being informed, but I'm going to do it quietly, and I'm not going to overreact publicly,' and he wasn't able to sustain it.
FREI: This is a president who famously doesn't get flustered, but he did get flustered on this occasion, didn't he?
KOPPEL: I'm not sure if he got flustered. I think he got, in effect, psyched into doing more publicly than his initial reaction would have had him do.
FREI: But is that because the political landscape in America, post 9/11, demands it?
KOPPEL: I think it does. As I say, when you have 24-hour cable channels going at it, hour after hour after hour -- and it was, of course, over what is normally a quiet period, the Christmas period -- and then when the politicians come back to Washington, and everyone has to yap on about 'connecting the dots,' there is no alternative but to make it look as though you are doing something. Well, doing something is exactly what the terrorists want. They want to feel as though they control our actions, rather than we controlling them ourselves.
FREI: Obama said, very trenchantly, today, said 'We will not let a small band of terrorists define the way this country lives its lives.
KOPPEL: I think that's exactly the right thing to say-
FREI: But is it true?
KOPPEL: -but I don't think it's the way we have responded.
FREI: Because our lives have already changed?
KOPPEL: Our lives have already changed. We are talking about nothing but the changes that will have to be made to ensure the kind of security that we all demand, and that, after all, is what terrorism is about -- getting us, we who are much larger, much more powerful, much wealthier, to react to their reaction, to their actions, rather than the other way around.
FREI: But, Ted, what changes do have to be made, both from the security side and from the way Americans have to live their lives?
KOPPEL: I think we have to take some lessons from the Israelis, we have to take some lessons from the French. They have suffered enormously from terrorist attacks, and they respond the way that, I think, people should respond when they don't want to give comfort to the enemy, and that is: by the next morning everything is cleaned up, the shops are open again. It is as though nothing happened. For us, it's as though the world had changed.
FREI: As Dostoevski once said, the greatest tragedy is that you get used to it.