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US President 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 90 times in 5,000 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-Qaida 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.-Col. Joseph C. Myers of the US 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 US policy on it.
The speech contains disquieting signs of ineptitude. We learn that Obama considers nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists to be "the most immediate and extreme threat to global security." Fine. But how does he respond? With three feeble and nearly irrelevant steps: "leading the effort for a stronger global nonproliferation regime, launching an international effort to secure the world's vulnerable nuclear material... and hosting a global nuclear summit."
Nor can Brennan think straight. One example, requiring a lengthy quote. "Poverty does not cause violence and terrorism. Lack of education does not cause terrorism. But just as there is no excuse for the wanton slaughter of innocents, there is no denying that when children have no hope for an education, when young people have no hope for a job and feel disconnected from the modern world, when governments fail to provide for the basic needs of their people, then people become more susceptible to ideologies of violence and death."
Summary: Poverty and a lack of education do not cause terrorism, but a lack of education and a job make people more susceptible to the ideas leading to terrorism. What is the distinction? Woe on us when the White House accepts illogic as analysis.
FURTHER, LET'S focus on the statement "when governments fail to provide for the basic needs of their people, then people become more susceptible to ideologies of violence and death," for it contains two stunning errors. First, it assumes the socialist fiction that governments provide basic needs. No. Other than in a few commodity-rich states, governments protect and offer legal structures, while the market provides.
Second, every study on the subject finds no connection between personal stress (poverty, lack of education, unemployment) and attraction to radical Islam. If anything, massive transfers of wealth to the Middle East since 1970 contributed to the rise of radical Islam. The administration is basing its policy on a falsehood.
Where, as they say, is the adult supervision? Implementation of the inept policies outlined by Brennan spells danger for Americans, American interests and American allies. The bitter consequences of these mistakes soon enough will become apparent.
The writer is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.
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