Terrorism as Therapy
The Obama administration is intent on downplaying the Islamic roots of contemporary terrorism.

President Obama fields questions on Benghazi and other matters, May 13, 2013


Victor Davis Hanson

One common theme emerges from the hearings over the Benghazi disaster: The Obama administration is intent on downplaying the Islamic roots of terrorists who harbor an existential hatred of the West.

The killing of Osama bin Laden was supposed to have cut the hideous head off a mutant snake. His death officially destroyed the “core” of the aberrant al-Qaeda. The removal from power of the outlier Qaddafi was likewise to have put an end to the artificial obstacle to the natural evolution toward democracy in Libya. In those regards, an al-Qaeda–inspired, pre-planned hit on the American consulate, resulting perhaps in a full-fledged Mogadishu-like shootout, just was not in the administration’s pre-election cards. No one was disposed either to beef up security in the face of escalating threats, or to send in teams in extremis to save the besieged Americans, or to give an honest appraisal afterward of what had transpired.

Meanwhile, the opportunity to blame the entire mess on an easily caricatured right-wing Christian Islamophobe crackpot was too tempting — as Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, and the president himself found as they serially damned the suddenly-to-be-imprisoned Mr. Nakoula. He was a con artist, but not the provocateur of the Benghazi violence — and yet he proved a perfect vehicle for showcasing the administration’s multicultural bona fides. In terms of explaining away the lapses in Benghazi, the challenge arose of how many ways top officials could damn the unfortunate Mr. Nakoula — as if each denunciation made it unnecessary to utter the word “terrorism” or “al-Qaeda.”  

The fantasy that prior American policy was insensitive to Muslims and did not differentiate sufficiently between Islam and al-Qaeda has been an article of faith of this administration. Go back and review the initial Obama interview with al-Arabiya or the loud professions of CIA director John Brennan, who was Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser at the time of the Benghazi attack.

The corollary of this fantasy was also natural: The greater worry is anti-Islamic bigotry and prejudice, not heightened awareness of the propensity for certain people to commit terrorism in the supposed service to Islam. This odd mindset explains both the Orwellian euphemisms (overseas contingency operations, man-caused disasters, workplace violence, violent extremism, etc.) and the collective madness of some career-minded bureaucrats competing with one another in the public arena with their politically correct nonsense (cf. the Muslim Brotherhood as “secular,” NASA’s “foremost” mission as Muslim outreach, or jihad as a “holy struggle”). That groupthink was based on the flawed idea that the more we deny an Islamic catalyst to terrorism, the more there will be none. The problem was not just that elites seeking to ingratiate themselves with the Obama administration routinely indulged in such willful blindness, but that these absurdities filtered down to the day-by-day protocols of our intelligence and law-enforcement bureaus.

In almost every major recent terrorist incident in which Americans have been attacked, the question is not whether, but on how many occasions, American intelligence agencies knew of, and had good cause to detain, the eventual perpetrators, whether Anwar al-Awlaki, Nidal Malik Hasan, or Carlos Bledsoe. Those on the ground in Benghazi had warned their State Department superiors that American facilities were in danger from attacks by Islamic radicals. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was visited by the FBI and known to the CIA for his overt jihadist sloganeering. In each instance, the warning signs were ignored. These omissions raise the question: Why?

The anti-Bush narrative from 2003 to 2008 (spawned by the unexpected luxury of no further 9/11-like terrorism) was largely that reactionaries and bigots had cooked up a war on terror against nonexistent enemies. Or maybe these paranoid sorts had even goaded otherwise moderate Muslims into terrorism by their counterproductive anti-terrorism protocols: Take away the Guantanamo Bay “recruiting tool” or Iraq as a “provocation,” and, presto, Islamic-inspired terrorism itself wanes. In near religious fashion, almost every time Barack Obama traveled abroad in his first three years as president, he evoked Guantanamo. It became a sort of verbal tic, intended to denigrate his predecessor and showcase his own multicultural brand. Alas, for all the obsequiousness and cash, U.S. popularity in the Middle East is as low as it was under Bush.

Yet privately, Obama and his supporters hedged somewhat, in fear that the odious Bush might have been onto something about radical Islam. Thus, rather quietly, President Obama immediately embraced almost all the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorsim policies and even expanded some of them, with the full knowledge that his own base would prove quite flexible now that he was president.


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