Faulted for Avoiding ‘Islamic’ Labels to Describe Terrorism, White House Cites a Strategic LogicIn the story we get a reasonably good account of the administration's reasoning, and we hear from the right-wing critics -- but it's clear that we've reached a tipping point because the story quotes even-the-liberal critics of the Obama approach:
... Mr. Obama’s verbal tactics have become a target for a growing chorus of critics who believe the evasive language is a sign that he is failing to look squarely at the threat from militant Islam. The vague phrasing, they say, projects uncertainty and weakness at a time when extremists claiming to fight for Islam threaten America and its interests around the world....
While the most vehement criticism has come from Mr. Obama’s political opponents on the right, a few liberals and former security officials have begun to echo the criticism.The Daily Banter's Tommy Christopher saw this coming. He pointed out a month ago that this talking point was showing up not just on Fox but on NPR (although it should be noted that it turned up on NPR thanks to Fox regular Mara Liasson). Christopher seems to have known that this was going to break through to the Times (and I'm sure it will be all over the Sunday talk shows this coming weekend), so yesterday he asked White House press secretary Josh Earnest this:
“You cannot defeat an enemy that you do not admit exists,” Michael T. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014, told a House hearing last week. “I really, really strongly believe that the American public needs and wants moral, intellectual and really strategic clarity and courage on this threat.”
Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic studies at American University and author of a book on Islam in America, said he supported the Obama administration’s care in avoiding a counterproductive smear of all Muslims. But he said the president sometimes seemed to bring an academic approach to a visceral, highly politicized discussion.
“Obama’s reaching a point where he may have to ditch this almost scholastic position,” Mr. Ahmed said. “He sounds like a distinguished professor in the ivory tower, and he may have to come down into the hurly-burly of politics.”
Tommy Christopher: “The narrative is that if you don’t use the secret password ‘radical Islam,’ you can’t possibly defeat ISIS. and I’ve heard this spread out beyond conservative circles, and I’m wondering, because I’ve heard you describe, in so many words, what is radical Islam… Has there been any thought to just disarming this whole thing by throwing the phrase in, to, maybe the President’s remarks, even if it’s in a sentence to make clear the distinction you’ve been trying to make? Stop giving them something to hit against, just say it, ‘Yeah, radical Islam, and it’s not all of Islam.'”Earnest didn't rise to the bait:
Josh Earnest: “I’m not particularly concerned about the flak. I just want to make sure we’re pursuing the most effective strategy. And to anyone who wants to evaluate that, they can take a look at the way Osama bin Laden himself described the state of al-Qaeda, and his frustration that our ability to prevent him from succeeding in declaring a religious war between Islam and the west was frustrating its efforts to advance his radical agenda.”But it's too late -- the center (aka the "liberal media") has joined the right in this pile-on.
And it's no surprise.
What's going on? ISIS scares us. "Lone wolf" terrorists inspired by ISIS and Al Qaeda, like the ones we've seen lately in Paris and Copenhagen, scare us. They particularly scare our politicians and elite media figures.
But very few people want a full-scale war. Even tough-talkin' conservative pols are hesitant to call for a serious commitment of ground troops -- at most, they're willing to say that we'll probably need to put some boots on the ground, y'know, someday, and we shouldn't take a full ground war against ISIS off the table. And the media follows this lead.
Well, who in our political establishment has even fought in a war? Who has a kid who's seen combat? I'm struggling to think of a potential 2016 presidential candidate who fits that description. The same for most Beltway reporters. They shunned war personally, and now fear a ground war politically.
(I should note that Jeb's son George P. Bush, who's now Texas's land commissioner, spent a few months as a Naval intelligence officer in Afghanistan, but it's highly unlikely that he ever saw combat, and the whole thing was surely a cynical ticket-punching operation on his way to an inevitable presidential run in the next couple of decades.)
Our pols and reporters aren't much on picking up guns these days, but boy, do they love words. Words are obviously the journalists' stock in trade, but words are pretty much all we ever get from right-wing politicians -- they don't do anything. (OK, OK -- at the state level they bust unions and shift the tax burden away from the rich.) So they've persuaded themselves that words are the secret weapon. They shout "Radical Islam!" and tell themselves: THIS CATCHPHRASE KILLS ISLAMOFASCISTS. They think trash-talk equals valor. (Yes, I'm talking to you, Rudy Giuliani and Dinesh D'Souza. They're still the self-deluding 101st Fighting Keyboarders -- but now they have the mainstream media on their side.