Media Blog

What’s Old is New Again

I direct NRO readers to this April 2001 WSJ article on the brilliant State Department strategy to downplay the threat of Osama bin Laden as this focus has “inflated Mr. bin Laden’s power and prestige in recent years by portraying him as the ultimate terrorist mastermind and the top threat to America’s security.”

And from the WSJ article above, I wish I had found this gem of a quote from Richard Clarke earlier than today:

“We totally failed in the last administration to get the cabinet-level people to stop saying ‘bin Laden,’ ” says one U.S. official. “That greatly contributed to his image as the great white whale.” In one of her last interviews before leaving office, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said of Mr. bin Laden: “He clearly is viewed as one of the major threats to the way the rest of the world operates.”

That view was, and still is, what officials believe. But National Security Council counterterrorism chief Richard Clark, who held the same job during the Clinton administration, has been urging Mr. Bush’s national security team not to talk about Mr. bin Laden in such alarmist terms, preferably not at all.

Today I read the State Department is advocating basically the same course of action, but this time for “jihadists” in general:

Federal agencies, including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counter Terrorism Center, are telling their people not to describe Islamic extremists as “jihadists” or “mujahedeen,” according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. Lingo like “Islamo-fascism” is out, too.

The reason: Such words may actually boost support for radicals among Arab and Muslim audiences by giving them a veneer of religious credibility or by causing offense to moderates.

For example, while Americans may understand “jihad” to mean “holy war,” it is in fact a broader Islamic concept of the struggle to do good, says the guidance prepared for diplomats and other officials tasked with explaining the war on terror to the public. Similarly, “mujahedeen,” which means those engaged in jihad, must be seen in its broader context.

Maybe they can’t agree on what to call the terrorists, but I think “clueless” is the new term to descirbe our government.