In several recent interviews, President Obama has attempted to put the fight against radical Islamist terrorism in perspective. The president’s personal style is indeed often laconic, but in this case, it is out of place.
In his pre-Super Bowl interview with NBC, Obama said the U.S. needs to be wary of handing terrorists “the victory of overinflating” their actions and the threat they pose to the United States. Obama emphasized that while he is mindful of the “terrible costs of terrorism,” terror groups aren’t an “existential threat to the United States or the world order.”
This is setting up a straw man. Existential threats are not the only threats we have to deal with. Obama’s comments on this issue have only made him sound less than urgent about this very real threat to stability in the Middle East, to U.S. ally Israel, public safety here in the West, and indeed a real matter to the millions of victims who have been forced to flee their homes, or have been tortured and murdered by ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Ansar al Sharia and the other factions of this murderous scourge.
In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Obama attempted to explain why his administration shies away from calling the totalitarian ideology of Islamism for what it is.
“I don’t quibble with labels. I think we all recognize that this is a particular problem that has roots in Muslim communities,” Obama said. “But I think we do ourselves a disservice in this fight if we are not taking into account the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims reject this ideology.”
As this reticence to use labels does not impede the Obama administration on domestic issues or immigration, it is particularly notable that the words like “Jihad” and “Islamic extremism” have been banned from the administration’s strategic documents.
What the Obama administration desperately needs is much more forceful public diplomacy messaging from the president and his spokesmen, in order to rally support from Americans, from U.S. allies, and from peace-loving Muslims both here at home and abroad in the long struggle to defeat the terrorists. The messaging should include:
- The strongest outrage and condemnation of the depraved and inhuman actions of the terrorists.
- Statements and material support for their many victims.
- A spirited defense of human rights and democratic values, as embodied in American and by extension western culture, and the incalculable benefits they offer individuals.
- An offer of dialogue with Muslim leaders to deal with Islamism and the radicalization of Muslim youth.
If President Reagan could stand up in Berlin during the Cold War, at Check Point Charlie, and demand of the Soviet leadership, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Obama today should be able to muster more outrage at the injustices happening on his own watch.