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“Proportional Response” to Terror Attacks – Good or Bad Policy?

Posted: July 3, 2014 at 7:15 am   /   by

WestWingIn 1999, NBC first aired The West Winga television series about a fictional president and his administration. The president, played by Martin Sheen, was clearly meant to represent a Democrat. Like President John F. Kennedy, he believed in a strong defense and a strong response to attacks on America or its allies in this early episode. When fictional Syrian terrorists murder a plane full of Americans, he calls angrily for a “disproportionate” response. See the 2-minute video clip below.


The West Wing was once described as a liberal’s fantasy of what a president should be. Can anyone imagine Barack Obama holding a Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting like the one in the video clip above? Is he capable of it? Are there any remaining Democrats who would even want a president like the one in the clip above?

Or would most Democrats prefer a president who thinks more like his chief of staff in the clip below?

Lest anyone wonder, in this fictional story, the president’s chief of staff (“Leo”) prevails, and the president settles for the more tepid proportional response as offered by his advisers.

As president, what would you have done? Do proportional responses dissuade further attacks or encourage them? With radical Islamists, does it even matter?

After the Hamas murder of three Israeli teenagers, Israel appears to be taking the disproportionate approach. What would you have counseled the Israelis to do?

This is much more than an academic question. With a future ISIS-directed attack on our country extremely likely, our president (either this one or the next) is likely to face the question of:  proportional response — good or bad policy? What do you think?

Finally, lest anyone think that the “right answer” is discovered by the fictional president and his chief of staff once and for all, see the short clip below from an episode that aired 5 years later, in 2004. The roles seemed to have reversed, with “Leo” being the hawk, and the president arguing for restraint.

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David Leeper

David Leeper

David Leeper is a retired engineer living in Scottsdale, AZ, with his wife of 45 years. He is currently a volunteer science teacher at In his 40-year career he held positions from lab technician to technical vice president at Bell Labs, Motorola, and Intel. He holds 16 patents in telecom technology and a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. During his career, he wrote mainly for technical journals including Scientific American. He began writing for in 2011.
David Leeper

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"Proportional Response" to Terror Attacks - Good or Bad Policy?