Daniel Pipes: Counterterrorism in Obama's Washington

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.]

Barack Obama's assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, John O. Brennan, conveniently outlined the administration's present and future policy mistakes in a speech on August 6, "A New Approach for Safeguarding Americans."

To start with, his address to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, has an unusual tenor. "Sycophantic" is the word that springs to mind, as Brennan ninety times in five thousand words invokes either "President Obama," "he," "his," or "the president." Disturbingly, Brennan ascribes virtually every thought or policy in his speech to the wisdom of the One. This cringe-inducing lecture reminds one of a North Korean functionary paying homage to the Dear Leader.

Specifics are no better. Most fundamentally, Brennan calls for appeasing terrorists: "Even as we condemn and oppose the illegitimate tactics used by terrorists, we need to acknowledge and address the legitimate needs and grievances of ordinary people those terrorists claim to represent." Which legitimate needs and grievances, one wonders, does he think Al-Qaeda represents?

Brennan carefully delineates a two-fold threat, one being "Al-Qaida and its allies" and the other "violent extremism." But the former, self-evidently, is a subset of the latter. This elementary mistake undermines his entire analysis.

He also rejects any connection between "violent extremism" and Islam: "Using the legitimate term jihad, which means to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal, risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve. Worse, it risks reinforcing the idea that the United States is somehow at war with Islam itself."

This passage regurgitates a theory of radical Islam that, according to Lt. Colonel Joseph C. Myers of the U.S. Air Command and Staff College, "is part of a strategic disinformation and denial and deception campaign" developed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Discredited in 2007 by Robert Spencer, the theory distinguishes between good jihad and bad jihad and denies any connection between Islam and terrorism.

It's a deeply deceptive interpretation intended to confuse non-Muslims and win time for Islamists. The George W. Bush administration, for all its mistakes, did not succumb to this ruse. But Brennan informs us that his boss now bases U.S. policy on it...

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Randll Reese Besch - 8/27/2009

And yet Obama is carrying on and even enlarging that which had been set up by previous administrations. Not liberalism there. Protect our own torturers and terrorists? A Okay for him to while he continues their legacy onward. Under different names but the same outcomes. Liberal? Where?

Bush I and II started the modern crusades in the Middle East and Clinton and Obama pick up the gauntlet and run with it. Change where?

Donald Wolberg - 8/23/2009

Mr. Pipes is of course on target; the disaster of the Obama administrations policies domestically are matched by an ineffectiveness in foreign policy perhaps never seen in modern times. The aimless wandering of no beliefs to confused beliefs to gross ignorance by an intellectually devoid presidency, where a Pelosi or Boxer has influence, will spell near term disaster. None of this should be a surprise. Mr. Obama is perhgaps the least experienced occupant in the oval office in modern times. He has no record of understanding conflict or the uses of force directly or by threat. His knowledge base has proven to be limited and the facile sheen of glibness has worn very thin. Lacking experience or a firmly rooted intellectual base founded in history, I suspect Mr. Obama has chosen to deflect critics with a sharp push in domestic policy taking the nation to the left. Mr. Lincoln's observation about how much of the public one can fool how much of the time rings true and is resulting in Mr. Obama's sagging acceptance, never mind popularity.

Randll Reese Besch - 8/21/2009

There is such a close tie to Christianity and crusade that it is foolish to consider them separate from terrorism they engage in. Remember Afghanistan, Iraq and now Pakistan?

How does that go down Mr. Pipes? If it doesn't then you are an extremist partisan rather like any terrorist who believes whatever they do is justified and what their enemy does, even if it is the same thing, is wrong. For the same reasons. Remember we went to them, they came to us in response.

Michael Green - 8/21/2009

I wonder how Mr. Pipes feels about Tom Ridge publicly stating that the Bush administration pressured him to elevate terror levels for the 2004 election. If Mr. Ridge is a liar, as the right undoubtedly will claim, why was he trusted with our safety right after 9/11? Could it be that Mr. Pipes and his allies actually are far more interested in trying to win political power than they are in trying to protect the American people, which they did so brilliantly in the summer of 2001?

Mike Schoenberg - 8/21/2009

Mr. Pipes, what about Obama's action in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Just a weak knee response to where we should of been instead of wasting so much in Iraq.