Originally published at Rubin Reports.
President Barack Obama’s speech at the National Defense University, “The Future of Our Fight against Terrorism” is a remarkable exercise in wishful thinking and denial. Here is basically what he says: the only strategic threat to the United States is posed by terrorists carrying out terrorist attacks.
In the 6400 words used by Obama, Islam only constitutes three of them and most interestingly in all three the word is used to deny that the United States is at war with Islam. In fact, that is what President George Bush said precisely almost a dozen years ago, after September 11. Yet why have not hundreds of such denials had the least bit of effect on the course of that war?
In fact, to prove that the United States is not at war with Islam, the Obama Administration has sided with political Islam throughout the Middle East, to the extent that some Muslims think Obama is doing damage to Islam, their kind of non-revolutionary Islam.
And how has the fight against al-Qaeda resulted in a policy that has, however inadvertently, armed al-Qaeda, as in Libya and Syria?
Once again, I will try to explain the essence of Obama strategy, a simple point that many people seem unable to grasp:
Obama views al-Qaeda as a threat because it wants to attack America directly with terrorism. But all other Islamist groups are not a threat. In fact, they can be used to stop al-Qaeda.
This is an abandonment of a strategic perspective. The word Islamism or political Islam or any other version of that word do not appear even once. Yet this is the foremost revolutionary movement of this era, the main threat in the world to U.S. interests and even to Western civilization.
If one wanted to come up with a slogan for the Obama Administration it would be that to win the war on terrorism one must lose the war on revolutionary Islamism because only by showing that America is the Islamists’ friend will it take away the incentive to join up with al-Qaeda and attack the United States.
Please take the two sections in bold above very seriously if you want to understand U.S. Middle East policy.
According to Obama:
If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Egypt that is not a strategic threat but a positive advantage because it is the best organization able to curb al-Qaeda. And that policy proves that the United States is not at war with Islam.
If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Tunisia that is not a strategic threat but a positive advantage because it is the best organization able to curb al-Qaeda. And that policy proves that the United States is not at war with Islam.
If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Syria that is not a strategic threat but a positive advantage because it is the best organization able to curb al-Qaeda. And that policy proves that the United States is not at war with Islam.
If a regime whose viewpoint is basically equivalent to the Muslim Brotherhood—albeit far more subtle and culture—dominates Turkey that is not a strategic threat but a positive advantage because it is the best organization able to curb al-Qaeda. And that policy proves that the United States is not at war with Islam.
These and other strategic defeats do not matter, says Obama in effect:
After I took office, we stepped up the war against al Qaeda, but also sought to change its course. We relentlessly targeted al Qaeda’s leadership. We ended the war in Iraq, and brought nearly 150,000 troops home. We pursued a new strategy in Afghanistan, and increased our training of Afghan forces. We unequivocally banned torture, affirmed our commitment to civilian courts, worked to align our policies with the rule of law, and expanded our consultations with Congress.
And yet the Taliban is arguably close to taking over Afghanistan in future. The group has spread to Pakistan. The rule of law in Afghanistan is a joke and soldiers there know that the Afghan government still uses torture.
Today, Osama bin Laden is dead, and so are most of his top lieutenants. There have been no large-scale attacks on the United States, and our homeland is more secure. Fewer of our troops are in harm’s way, and over the next 19 months they will continue to come home. Our alliances are strong, and so is our standing in the world. In sum, we are safer because of our efforts.
Well, it is quite true that security measures within the United States have been largely successful at stopping attacks. But the frequency of attempted attacks has been extensive, some of which were blocked by luck and the expenditure of one trillion dollars. Country after country has been taken over by radical Islamists who can be expected to fight against American interests in future. Obama continues:
So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us…
But he never actually defines it except to suggest that (1) al-Qaeda has spread to other countries (which does not sound like a victory for the United States) and (2) That its affiliates and imitators are more amateurish than those who pulled off the September 11, 2001 attack. Yet they got away with the September 11, 2012 attack.Barry Rubin