The Corner

National Security & Defense

Clinton on Naming the Enemy

Hillary Clinton, Nov. 19: “The obsession in some quarters with a clash of civilization, or repeating the specific words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ isn’t just a distraction, it gives these criminals, these murderers more standing than they deserve. It actually plays into their hands by alienating partners we need by our side.”

Hillary Clinton, today: “From my perspective, it matters what we do, not what we say. . . . To me radical jihadism, radical Islamism–I think they mean the same thing, I’m happy to say either.” (More in this vein here.)

I see at least two possible explanations for Clinton’s shift. First: She has changed her mind, or her position. In November, she argued that our terminology had great strategic importance. (At the time I wrote that her argument about why it was better to attack “jihadist” rather than “radical Islamic” terrorism made little sense.) Today, questions of rhetoric are, well, distractions. Second: She thinks that it’s fine to attack either “radical jihadist terrorism” or “radical Islamist terrorism”–that these are interchangeable terms–but a big strategic mistake to attack “radical Islamic terrorism.” That is, we set back the war on terrorism if we use a hard “c” instead of an “st.” That view also reconciles her Nov. 19 speech and an early December interview she gave to George Stephanopoulos.

Clinton wants to argue that Trump speaks recklessly about terrorism while she speaks carefully, and sometimes she wants their different rhetorical approaches to matter. But she doesn’t seem to have thought through her own very well.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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