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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


  1. sleepergirl says:

    Israel’s airstrikes on Hamas following the murder of three teens was appropriate and necessary action.  Not to take perhaps disproportionate action on Hamas would only encourage Israeli’s enemies of all stripes to commit more acts of terror, kidnappings, airstrikes against Israel.

    Israel took bold action by bombing Iraq’s nuclear reactor many years ago.  Did they know how it would end?  They suffered public condemnation from most of the world, while the world silently thanked Israel for taking this action and doing their dirty work.

    I believe the US should move as boldly as Israel has previously done.  A few smarly placed but seriously damaging airstrikes on our enemies would only happen once or twice before our enemies “got the message.”  That would be a clear sign that the US Lion is awake and angry.

  2. NeilFeuer says:

    Is it a good or bad policy, is Israel right in its appropriate response or any response, big or small?
    Yes, it is appropriate, and yes, thanks to Israel who took out Iraq’s nuclear ambitions, but also Syrian. They hit Israel, Israel hits them back without hesitation with a much more deadlier attack.
    I would say it works and it is the only way this little country of 8 1/2 million people survive, thrive, expand and develop, they are feared and respected. They do what they say and mean what they say.
    If anything, we should be consulting with them on how to respond and work together in this state of terrorism, and a world Caliphate in our horizons.
    My take/I would destroying the enemy with zero regard of collateral damage and how the world thinks of us. This is survival, and if history has taught us anything, we must not ignore the enemy, kill it in its infancy. You need no better example than the Third Reich!
    If there is trouble, let it be in my time, not my grandchildren’s time.

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