President Obama’s Mislabeling the Sony Hack to Avoid Hard Choices: “Cyber-Vandalism”

President Obama is using his bully pulpit to mislabel another major event requiring presidential leadership so he can sidestep action. The Illinois back bencher will once again be able to vote “present.”

Back in early 2008 before his nomination became “inevitable,” candidate Barack Obama responded to an attack by Hillary Clinton that he had no experience but only offered “words” by giving his long-forgotten “Just words” speech in defense. It was soon pointed out that this February 2008 Obama speech was eerily similar to a speech given by Deval Patrick in 2003 – a speech, I might opine, given much better by Patrick.

Throughout his presidency Obama has mislabeled events with precision to gain the outcomes he wants and avoid having to take actions he doesn’t want to take. His consistency has served as a bulwark against taking forceful action on the world stage and domestically. By lowering the bar through “just words” he has avoided having to act and face the consequences of acting. By mislabeling situations he has been able to vote present.

By mislabeling terrorism as “man-caused disasters” (“just words”) he avoided all that pesky talk of war and congressional approval and declarations and stuff.  He also avoided that nasty blame game, where you have to perhaps talk about who is perpetrating the terrorism, and maybe mention the religion of peace.

By mislabeling terrorism at Fort Hood by self-proclaimed jihadist Nidal Malik Hasan in contact with terrorist Anwar al_Awlaki (whom President Obama had executed by drone in 2011) as “workplace violence” (“just words”) the president avoided all that nasty discussion of “oh, yeah, and he was a follower of Islam, too. Must be a coincidence.” It also kept 45 victims and their families from receiving Purple Hearts (and the civilian equivalent) and full military benefits for their losses (13 dead, 32 wounded) in this (dare I say it?) terror attack. It was only a few days ago that an act of Congress granted these benefits to these victims, in a bill the president is expected to sign after years of lobbying by lawmakers like Senator John Cornyn (R Texas).

Now, President Obama has, after staring resolutely into the camera and stating that Sony should not be cowed, and that the United States will make a proportional response at a time of our choosing, declared that the cyber-attack is “cyber-vandalism.” This is his classification of an assault that has potentially exposed the financial and medical records of hundreds of Sony employees, cost thousands of theater workers tens of thousands of dollars in lost wages, cost hundreds of theaters millions in lost revenues, cost Sony Pictures and all associated with The Interview millions of dollars, and threatened September 11, 2001 style attacks on theaters which screened the movie and patrons who watched.

Merriam-Webster defines “vandalism” as “willful or malicious destruction or defacement of public or private property.” That was certainly involved here, but this hacking went far beyond that. How about what Noah Webster’s heirs say about “terrorism”? “The use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.” Gee, Mr. President, that seems a bit more appropriate. But I will admit that “cyber-vandalism” rolls off the tongue easier than “cyber man-caused disasters.”

“Cyber-vandalism” allows for a proportional response of… what? A firm note from State? Taunting? Satirical films? No, wait, that won’t work. Defacing a statue of Kim Jong-un? Another UN resolution for China to veto? Maybe invite Dennis Rodman to the White House to have him go to Pyongyang as a special envoy?

Once again, President Obama is downsizing his definition of a problem so he can do little or nothing. By mislabeling “terrorism” as “vandalism” he allows himself to golf and enjoy his Christmas vacation without worry, and then come back and do nothing but blame Sony and the GOP and anyone else while claiming he is acting with resolve until this is forgotten because of the next crisis arising out of his abandonment of our leadership role in the world and the resulting vacuum.

Cyber-terrorism would require a real response from the Commander in Chief.  It would require accountability to the American people, an expectation that “at a time of our choosing” would mean that at some point in the near future we, the people, would expect (or demand) some significant action taken by our president against a rogue regime that has attacked us, has threatened us with 9/11 style terror.  It would require reassurances that our government was taking specific actions (not just forming committees) to safeguard our cyber infrastructure, our banks, our power grids, our water supplies, our nuclear power plants.  We’ve seen 24.  We’d expect some response that would punish a nation that reached into our lives and threatened us as we went to the movies with our families on Christmas day, enough of a “proportional” response to deter that nation and like-thinking nations from future acts.

Instead, we get a mall cop going after a teen with a spray can.

Presidential leadership? Just words…