“A nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”
The words of the president of the United States.
Yet the passing remark of President Barack Obama at a Nuclear Security Summit yesterday in the Netherlands doesn’t mean that there’s any real known threat, according to a White House spokeswoman.
“The President was not discussing intelligence when he said, `I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan,”’ White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in an e-mailed response to a question today.
Yet it caught the attention of Comedy Central, where late-night “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart found fodder for a full-blown spoof of the traveling president’s warning.
“I think he just made a boo boo,” Stewart said on last night’s program, playing a tape of Obama’s Manhattan comment.
And it spawned a mushroom cloud of tabloid headlines.
Obama, closing the summit at The Hague yesterday, attempted at a news conference to downplay the power that Russia holds over his national security agenda in its annexation of Crimea.
“Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors,” he said. “I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”
“As he said,” Hayden explained, “concern about nuclear terrorism and the need to eliminate the threat it poses is the reason why the United States organized the Nuclear Security Summit in 2010 and continues to keep it high on the international agenda.”
Regardless of its intent, the president’s remark, a little more than a decade after Manhattan and the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C., suffered the worst terrorist attack in the nation’s history raised more than eyebrows in New York.
With Russian President Vladimir Putin’s army deployed in Crimea and along the border of eastern Ukraine, the Comedy Central’s Stewart asked last night, how concerned should we be?
First playing Obama’s remark about Russia representing only a “regional power,” and then the line about a nuclear weapon in Manhattan, Stewart paused, speechless for several seconds before whispering about the apparent presidential “boo boo.”
The New York Daily News pictured a glowing mushroom cloud in the Manhattan skyline on its front page with the headline: “Thanks for sharing!”
It asked the question: “A nuke in NYC, Mr. President?”
The New York Post ran an online headline: “Obama’s top fear is Manhattan getting nuked,” with a photo of the skyline. And in print, the Post’s front-page headline read: “Obama: My Greatest Fear — Manhattan Nuke.”
Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, suggested that it is right to be mindful of the potential for terrorism in New York.
“Over the years, the nightmare scenario has been a dirty bomb going off in New York,” King told Newsday, adding that “terrorism is not part of a country or state.” “As far as a nation, as far as a country we face, it would be Russia” that poses the top threat, he said.
In addition to the White House, however, the New York Police Department dismissed the notion of any known threat at this time.
“For years the NYPD has recognized the fact that Manhattan is considered a potential terror target,” the department said in an e-mailed statement. “We continue to maintain an appropriate level of security according to on-going threat assessments. There are currently no known threats of this nature against the city.”
President “more concerned about a nuclear bomb in Manhattan than in Russia.” Especially uptown, where all his donors live.
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) March 25, 2014