At Large

Terrorism’s Tangles

Meet John Brennan, formerly of the CIA, who's assistant to the president on matters of terrorism -- and on board with a sociological interpretation of jihad's roots.

By 8.14.09

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In its effort to distance itself from the previous administration's foreign policies, the Obama stalwarts have twisted themselves into knots to redefine terrorism. John Brennan, the White House expert on international terrorism, has averred that the term is best described as merely a means to al Qaeda's goal of "Islamic domination by an Islamic caliphate… By focusing on the tactic we risk floundering among the terrorist trees while missing the growth of the extremist forest."

Aside from Brennan's odd sense of forestry, by overly intellectualizing "terrorism" in this manner, he seeks to lay the basis for a political theme that separates al Qaeda and akin groups from the great mass of Islam. To do this he also rejects the concept, as he explained at a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), of a battle against "jihadists."

Brennan, a former high ranking CIA analyst, now holds the position of Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. He seems to believe there is no integral philosophical, and thus structural, support for the ambitions of Islamic extremists within the Islamic community as a whole. To pose that thesis Mr. Brennan has to ignore the admonition accepted for centuries in reference to jihad in the Koran, IV, 45: "…God has promised reward to all who believe but He distinguishes those who fight, above those who stay at home, with a mighty reward." Similar urgings can be found elsewhere in the Koran.

Undoubtedly for political purposes Brennan prefers to emphasize the current liberal interpretation of jihad in a spiritual and moral sense. His purpose in all this is to preserve the Obama ambition of ruling out the Bush "war on terror" so as to focus on a political line wherein the great mass of Moslems abhor holy war, defined as jihad, and thus create the perception of isolating the extremists among them.

From a propaganda standpoint this is not unreasonable: the Bush Administration also did as much as it could to preserve a separation between Moslems and "jihadists." But it was then and is now a political device. What is interesting is that Obama's terrorism brain trust is trying to sell this emphasis on "peaceful Islam" as if it's a new concept.

Simplistically, Mr. Brennan and the Obama left-wing establishment wants -- for their own anti-war political purposes -- to place the root cause of terrorism at the foot of socio-economic deprivation. Brennan's own words describe the White House philosophy best: "…when governments fail to provide for the basic needs of their people, the people become more susceptible to ideologies of violence and death." Brennan's explanation of the Obama team analysis includes a "political, economic and social campaign to meet the basic needs and legitimate grievances of ordinary people."

It would appear that John Brennan and President Obama have confused South Waziristan and the many other sites worldwide of radical Islamic ambition with community organizing issues of South Chicago. This in spite of earlier Obama rhetoric calling Afghanistan "the right war."

The White House can't have it both ways: In one instance they say al Qaeda is using terrorism as a device in its aim to create an Islamic caliphate; In the next they suggest that terrorism is a phenomenon that thrives on governmental indifference to the people's needs. The implication, therefore, is that if governments would pay more attention to people's needs, al Qaeda would not have been formed to establish an Islamic caliphate and would not be in the business of terrorism.

Mr. Brennan and his WH staff are striving hard to pretend global murder and mayhem done in the name of all causes has socio-economic roots and thus can be countered by education and economic aid. Does anyone really think the IRA would have been deterred by British aid programs? It might be well to remember al Qaeda grew out of international Islamic volunteers against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and was originally funded by the wealthy Osama bin Laden. No deprivation there.

Nor has there been a socio-economic root to terrorism as practiced by the Basque separatist group, ETA, or other similar groups employing indiscriminate violence and class warfare to gain political independence. The European terrorist groups of the Red Brigade and Bader-Meinhof gang may have used Marxist rhetoric, but certainly didn't evolve from poverty and lack of education. The violence and wanton destruction that characterize terrorism in all its forms undercut the legitimacy of the White House argument. Mr. Brennan would do well to take a long look at narco-terrorism on our own Mexican border.

If France's Georges Clemenceau was right about war being too important to be left to generals, terrorism is too important to be left to former CIA desk-bound career Middle East analysts lofted by their political connections to be presidential assistants.

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.