Two Western al Qaeda hostages, one an American, were accidentally killed in an operation – reportedly a drone strike – that was launched with the goal of killing terrorists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The American hostage, Warren Weinstein, had been held since 2011 after being kidnapped in Lahore, Pakistan. The other hostage was Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto, who had been in al-Qaeda captivity since 2012.
U.S. officials were apparently unaware the hostages were present when the strike was ordered. Also killed during the operation was Ahmed Farouq, an American who was an al-Qa’ida leader.
President Obama announced the deaths during an unscheduled appearance in the White House briefing room. He took responsibility for the operations, strongly expressed his regret, and said a probe was being conducted to try to avoid such mistakes in the future. He took no questions.
“We believed that this was a al Qaeda compound, that no civilians were present, and that capturing these terrorist was not possible,” Obama said.
Meanwhile, Adam Gadahn, an American who became well known as a spokesman for al Qaeda, was killed in a separate operation, the White House said. Neither of the terrorists were specifically targeted.
Both incidents occurred in January. Obama said he authorized the declassification of the operations as soon as the cause of the hostages’ deaths was determined.
Amidst criticism of his refusal to use a term like “Islamist extremism” to describe the terrorist threat, President Obama today made an important step in that direction as he described an attitude within Muslim communities that is abetting the radicalism that breeds terrorists.
Speaking Wednesday to a White House conference on “violent extremism,” Obama suggested that a failure by some Muslim leaders to clearly reject the terrorists’ ideology and a “sometimes widespread” outlook among Muslims in some areas that perceives problems they face as flowing from the West are helping lay the groundwork for terror.
Obama of course didn’t use anything like the phrase “Muslim extremism.” But he did get to the root of the problem with not using the phrase: a recognition that the enemy we face is rooted within Islam – however perverted the interpretation – and that changes are needed from within the Muslim community.
Obama sought to explain his refusal to add any mention of Islam to the description of the terrorists, saying it would lend them “religious legitimacy” they crave and seek to use as a recruiting tool.
That at least gives a rationale for not calling them Islamists that isn’t rooted in ignorance of the problem or political correctness. But I would argue that they aren’t looking to us for legitimacy, and using the term is the only way to help us understand what we’re fighting and get Muslims to recognize that the problem is from within.
Nevertheless, at a conference that has been ridiculed for its “all-inclusive” approach to the origins of terrorism, Obama highlighted the problem emanating from the Muslim world:
Now, just as those of us outside Muslim communities need to reject the terrorist narrative that the West and Islam are in conflict, or modern life and Islam are in conflict, I also believe that Muslim communities have a responsibility as well. Al Qaeda and ISIL do draw, selectively, from the Islamic texts. They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith, that Islam is somehow inherently violent, that there is some sort of clash of civilizations.
He was careful, of course, to offer caveats:
Of course, the terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology. They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism. No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism. (Applause.)
And to their credit, there are respected Muslim clerics and scholars not just here in the United States but around the world who push back on this twisted interpretation of their faith. They want to make very clear what Islam stands for. And we’re joined by some of these leaders today.
But he was also specific that the responsibility for the violence is shared by attitudes in the Muslim world, and that this has to change:
But if we are going to effectively isolate terrorists, if we’re going to address the challenge of their efforts to recruit our young people, if we’re going to lift up the voices of tolerance and pluralism within the Muslim community, then we’ve got to acknowledge that their job is made harder by a broader narrative that does exist in many Muslim communities around the world that suggests the West is at odds with Islam in some fashion.
The reality — which, again, many Muslim leaders have spoken to — is that there’s a strain of thought that doesn’t embrace ISIL’s tactics, doesn’t embrace violence, but does buy into the notion that the Muslim world has suffered historical grievances — sometimes that’s accurate — does buy into the belief that so many of the ills in the Middle East flow from a history of colonialism or conspiracy; does buy into the idea that Islam is incompatible with modernity or tolerance, or that it’s been polluted by Western values.
So those beliefs exist. In some communities around the world they are widespread. And so it makes individuals — especially young people who already may be disaffected or alienated — more ripe for radicalization. And so we’ve got to be able to talk honestly about those issues.
Not only must beliefs change, but Muslims need to speak up.
We’ve got to be much more clear about how we’re rejecting certain ideas. So just as leaders like myself reject the notion that terrorists like ISIL genuinely represent Islam, Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam, that there’s an inherent clash in civilizations. Everybody has to speak up very clearly that no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims, it damages Islam and Muslims. (Applause.)
And when all of us, together, are doing our part to reject the narratives of violent extremists, when all of us are doing our part to be very clear about the fact that there are certain universal precepts and values that need to be respected in this interconnected world, that’s the beginnings of a partnership.
Universal principles? Obama?
This rare abandonment of moral relativism is to be welcomed. It’s a courageous and significant statement by Obama indicating that he understands the issue and gets that terrorism isn’t simply a quirk of human nature for which we are all responsible.
When he said, “no religion is responsible for terrorism,” the applause was strong. When he spoke about the responsibility of Muslim leaders, the applause was more tepid.
So be it. Message received. I’m surprised and pleased that it was delivered. May this newly serious approach to the issue now elevate the seriousness of the president’s actions.
We already knew we were dumber than State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. On Tuesday, she, assuming the information was no longer stored within the limited amount grey matter we have available for use, reminded us:
We cannot kill every terrorist around the world, nor should we try. How do you get at the root causes of this? It might be too nuanced an argument for some, like I’ve seen over the last 24 hours some of the commentary out there, but it’s really the smart way that Democrats, Republicans, our partners in the Arab world think we need to combat it.
Is this not the girl who was always raising her hand in class and begging to be called on and complaining that she “probably failed” her test and then surprisingly enough got an “A” instead?
Are we, really, too intellectually challenged to catch Ms. Harf’s nuance and recognize “the smart way?” Or is it she who is missing the nuance here?
Harf may have ample brain power, but it is cluttered up to the point of dysfunction with ideology and hubris.
She believes that people around the world respond to reason, the way she thinks she does. That we are all the same underneath, and that a GI bill for Islamists will get them on the road to modest material success, the holy grail of liberal paternalism.
But comfort is not necessarily what everyone wants. Her inability to perceive this is at the root of the problem with President Obama’s failure to recognize the existence of Islamist terrorism.
There will always be many, many poor people in the Middle East. Our ability to affect this is surely extremely limited, particularly given our lack of success in eliminating poverty in our own country. We should of course do the best we can by allowing the private sector to flourish in this country and encouraging others to do the same, though I doubt that’s what Marie has in mind.
The critical problem is a movement within Islam that has attracted a serious, albeit minority, following, that promotes rigid adherence to Islamic Sharia Law and blood curdling violence to defend and expand its influence. The only counterpoint we can effectively make with those who might be attracted to this is to make it a very dangerous option – that is, by killing them. Then Muslims who promote and quietly abide this branch of their religion might start a movement from within to eradicate it.
If you notice, Harf mentions killing terrorists as if it were a “given,” almost an afterthought. And that is exactly how Obama is approaching it. He has decided to attack ISIS at a leisurely pace, despite the grave threat it poses. Harf’s talk of terrorism as if it were an employment issue is emblematic of an attitude that places an emphasis on peaceful solutions to a problem that must, tragically, be solved with massive and sustained military action.
Harf said “we cannot kill our way out of this war.” And that is exactly the attitude that loses wars. We have to defeat military opponents decisively, ending the war.
Then we can go about helping them put their nation’s on a more stable footing. The most important aspect of this is a continuing military presence that keeps the peace. I don’t like it, but as we’ve seen, it’s true.
Had Obama understood the need to fight such poisonous ideologies with military power, he would not have withdrawn entirely from Iraq, and ISIS would not have been given the room to grow like it did. And, being treated with kid gloves, it continues to grow, most lately into Libya, where Obama also led from the backseat in a limited action against a dictator who at least could have had the place locked down.
It is the Marie Harf’s of the world, with all their subtlety, who have caused this mess. In asking us to sign up for subtlety, she is really just seeking acceptance of her worldview. Liberals like Harf equate their viewpoint with intelligence and reason, failing to understand that it’s an opinion.
That her approach has plunged the world in chaos, since the advent of Obama, is irrelevant. For Harf, there are only those who get “subtlety,” and the dimwits in places like the Tea Party who don’t.
But Harf is not being subtle. She just is a person with an opinion. And wrong one at that.
CBS’ Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer has seen a lot. And he’s no war hawk or cheerleader for the Republicans. But he seems pretty flummoxed at the casual attitude of President Obama toward ISIS:
We have another American hostage killed, and the president goes off to California to do a fundraiser and some other stuff, and the Congress goes on vacation, and they say, “yeah, we’ll debate what to do about all this, but we’re going to do it as long as it fits into the schedule.”
Ahh, Marie Harf. Such a brilliant young thing. If you doubt it, I’m sure she’ll tell you herself. Seems like the type.
She wants to get at the root of the problem.
The Labor participation rate in the United States is at the lowest level in forty years. But somehow, the Obama people are going to solve Yemen’s unemployment problem.
See, this is the issue. The Obama administration says it wants to defeat ISIS, but that’s really not where the focus is. They think they can win militarily by bashing people over the head with the Want Ads section of the newspaper.
The White House Sunday issued a statement condemning the barbaric beheadings of more than a dozen Egyptian Coptic Christians, but somehow the statement failed to note that that they were killed because they were Christian – or even that they were Christian at all.
The United States condemns the despicable and cowardly murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens in Libya by ISIL-affiliated terrorists. We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and our support to the Egyptian government and people as they grieve for their fellow citizens.
ISIL’s barbarity knows no bounds. It is unconstrained by faith, sect, or ethnicity. This wanton killing of innocents is just the most recent of the many vicious acts perpetrated by ISIL-affiliated terrorists against the people of the region, including the murders of dozens of Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai, which only further galvanizes the international community to unite against ISIL.
President Obama’s determination to portray Islamist terrorism as merely “extremism” untethered from any religious motivation has now crossed the line from absurdity into profound offensiveness. These people died, horrifyingly, because of their religion. They are martyrs. But not, apparently, in the view of the White House.
Also deeply offensive is that the killings did not rate a “presidential” statement. The statement above was issued by the press secretary, a determination that is calculated based on what the White House perceives as its importance.
Clearly, this is part of Obama’s effort to minimize the threat from Islamist terror. It also may reflect his hostility toward Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who overthrew the Islamist revolution in Egypt that Obama supported and who has made clear that part of what is animating Islamist extremism comes from within Islam, and that Muslim religious leaders need to reform their practices.
The statement, furthermore, is inaccurate. ISIL is not “unstrained by faith, sect or ethnicity.” While it involves many sects and ethnicities, it features only one religion: Islam.
The sources of Islamist extremism must be combated from within Islam and from without, by the United States and its allies. But if the problem is not understood, it will never be eradicated.
Here’s someone who understands the threat. I’ve never seem Giuliani so passionate. “What is wrong with out president?” he demands to know.
Republicans must immediately reject President Obama’s proposed authorization for the use of military force against ISIS, because that’s not even really what it is.
Obama already believes he has the power under current law to wage war against ISIS. What he wants is for Congress to sign onto his strategy of highly circumscribed use of force to defeat ISIS. I’m sorry “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. He wants company if the strategy fails. And that he should be denied, because fail, it will.
Obama lost Iraq. He was handed a stable situation, and he blew it. His mistake was not that he fought too little, but that he wasn’t serious about leaving enough troops on hand to preserve stability and maintain U.S. influence. Every successful foreign war in which we’ve engaged that has had a good post-war outcome has involved the stationing of American troops, whether in Germany, Japan, or South Korea. Obama is about to make the same mistake in Afghanistan that he made in Iraq, withdrawing too many troops too quickly.
It is not a happy thing to have U.S. troops in harm’s way. But it is a fact that the wars we waged over there for the last decade kept our enemies busy and provided lines of intelligence so that we could prevent major attacks in the United States. This is a success that is being squandered by Obama’s withdrawal from the region and the growing chaos there, which has provided fertile ground for new terrorist groups to take root.
One of these is ISIS. It controls a large area of land and has the space, time and resources to plan major attacks against us. These attacks are coming. As the White House itself wrote in its proposed authorization, ISIS represents a grave threat to the national security interests of the United States. Grave threats should be eliminated forthright, not leisurely over the course of years.
Why degrade and destroy a grave threat when one has the capacity to simply destroy it?
With ISIS, Obama has a chance to correct his mistake. He can move troops in, destroy the threat, and then leave enough forces on hand to stabilize the country and keep it that way. It won’t be easy. Our troops will pay dearly for Obama’s mistake. But the other option is to allow ISIS to fester for years, kill Americans here in the United States, and permit Iran to control Iraq.
It’s a tough world we live in. Whether you thought the initial invasion of Iraq a good idea or not, we must live with the consequences. I would argue that those consequence are not worse than the nuclear arms and WMD race that would surely be occurring between Iran and Saddam Hussein right now. But that’s beside the point today.
Unfortunately, I fear that it will take an attack on the homeland to make Obama get serious, and to galvanize understandably war-weary Americans behind stronger action. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear I’m not.
According to ABC News, we can’t even track Americans who go to train with ISIS and then return here with God-know-what weapons and plans:
The U.S. government has little insight into who’s joining terrorist groups there, and who’s then leaving with what NCTC director Nicholas Rasmussen described as “training in weapons and explosives” and “access to terror networks that may be ultimately planning attacks” against the West. “It’s not even close to being under control,” FBI Deputy Assistant Director Michael Steinbach told House members.
Congress must not endorse a policy of perilous pusillanimity.
Updated February 11 at 11:00 am State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki today refused to say that terrorists who attacked a Jewish deli in Paris, killing four people, were targeting Jews, saying it was a matter for the French government to decide. “There were not all victims of one background or one nationality,” Psaki said. Actually, they were… Continue Reading
Even as America’s Islamist enemies multiply in the Middle East, the White House today left little doubt that President Obama views global warming as a greater threat than terrorism, refusing to say this wasn’t the case and asserting that more people are affected by changes in the weather than by terror. White House Press Secretary Josh… Continue Reading
Well this is alarming. The man who supposedly is standing between us and another massive terror attack says this whole terrorism thing is not as big a deal as everyone thinks. Obama spoke to Matthew Yglesias of Vox, who asked him whether “the media sometimes overstates the level of alarm people should have about terrorism and this… Continue Reading
One of the five Taliban released in exchange for Sgt. Bow Bergdahl appears to have returned to militant activity, according to CNN. I thought the honorable Qataris were supposed to be watching these slime balls like hawks surveying a summer camp for rodents? Oh well, so much for iron-clad deals the Obama White House makes… Continue Reading
Well, not everyone who grew up in paradise finds it difficult to perceive reality. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii, has no problem calling out a former – except for 16 days a year – resident of the Aloha State, Barack Obama, for the latter’s refusal to put the “Islamic” in Islamic extremism. As you probably… Continue Reading