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In the final presidential debate on October 22, President Barack Obama spoke briefly about the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on U.S. officials and personnel in Benghazi. He outlined why the U.S. had gone into Libya before the attack. He outlined the answers he is still seeking following the attack. But he did not say why this terrorist attack had occurred or why the U.S. had been ill-prepared to meet it in what is, after all, a volatile city alive with militias recently freed from dictatorial rule. Nor did he tell us why his Administration strenuously avoided calling it a terrorist attack for two weeks, preferring instead to speak of a spontaneous assault in the course of a demonstration of Muslims offended by an anti-Muhammad video.
Mitt Romney did not pursue the subject, so we got no closer to the heart of the matter, yet the implication of this apologetic gloss of the first two weeks is obvious: Ambassador Chris Stevens was not murdered by Islamists who hate America and its allies and mean to attack us again; he was the victim of the local reaction to one of the products of American freedom of speech. Once the attack was acknowledged as the handiwork of terrorists, however, followers of al Qaeda, virtually the only officially acknowledged extremists, were cited as the perpetrators. And here lies the problem: the Obama Administration will not acknowledge that an extreme and violent segment of the Muslim world ranging far beyond the confines of al Qaeda is at war with us. To do so would have required him to explain why the U.S. had been empowering Islamists, including in Libya, some of whom may have been responsible for leaking information that enabled the terrorists to locate and kill the Americans.
Just why and how has this refusal to name the Islamist enemy come to characterize the four years of Obama's presidency? Because President Obama agrees with the view that Islamists as a force in world affairs are not be shunned and that wisdom dictates coming to terms with those among them who are hot engaged in active hostilities at this moment. The idea is defective, because common to all Islamists is Muslim supremacism and the undeviating pursuit to subvert the non-Islamic world.
Yet, since Barack Obama took office, Islamist antagonists, other than those involved in active hostilities like al Qaeda and the Taliban, whose hostility cannot be denied or ignored, have gone unnamed. Presidential statements on the anniversaries of the 1983 killing of 242 U.S. servicemen in Lebanon by Hizballah or the 1979 seizure by Islamist students of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, to name two examples, failed to even mention the perpetrators of these acts, as it had become U.S. policy to propitiate both parties.
Indeed, the Obama Administration has refused to associate terrorists attacking America with Islam. Administration officials have spent four years speaking of particular terrorists at home and abroad as isolated "extremists," even when Islamist terrorist connections (for example, between Fort Hood sniper Nidal Hassan and the American-born al Qaeda in Yemen leader, Anwar al-Awlaki, who advised him) were readily traceable.
In a May 2010 hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney-General Eric Holder only grudgingly and hypothetically conceded that radical Islam could be the inspiration for some individuals involved in recent acts of terrorism, before immediately asserting that such people were acting on a "version of Islam that is not consistent with the teachings of it." Similarly, in March 2011, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough told a Muslim audience that extremists in their midst "falsely claim to be fighting in the name of Islam." When Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, held hearings on homegrown radical Islam the same month, the Administration publicly opposed it.
The Administration has also expressly disavowed the use of terms like "Islamism," "radical Islam," and "jihad." In May 2009, John O. Brennan, Obama's Chief National Security Adviser for Counterterrorism, contended that use of such terms "would lend credence" to the notion "that the United States is somehow at war against Islam.… Nor do we describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists because jihad is holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam meaning to purify oneself or one's community." Such refurbishment of the term 'jihad' -- war waged against non-believers to extend and secure the dominion of Islam, is a religious duty which, according to authoritative Muslim sources, may at least at times be waged against civilians on the opposing side -- at once sanitizes it and precludes its use. Nor has it been explained how ignoring the ideology animating the terrorists somehow renders America at peace with those jihadists who regard themselves at war with the U.S.
Adding to the Administration's philological ingenuities, terrorist attacks themselves have been rechristened by the Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, "man-caused disasters" and military campaigns against their perpetrators "in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and around the globe" relabeled by the Defense Department "overseas contingency operations."
The problem is not a matter of mere nomenclature but goes to heart of analysis and policy formulation. Homeland Security's Domestic Extremism Lexicon, produced in March 2009, listed Christian and Jewish extremism, but not Islamic extremism, jihad or anything related to these; in fact, the word "Islamic" appeared only twice in it, both times in the context of discussing "non-Islamic extremism." The February 2010 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review Report was similarly silent on the subject.
In October 2011, Deputy Attorney-General James Cole announced that the recall of all training materials used for the law enforcement and national security agencies in order to eliminate all references to Islam, following objections from two Muslim Brotherhood fronts, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). MPAC president Salam al-Marayati -- of whom more later -- had threatened a cut-off of cooperation between American Muslims and the FBI and demanded a "clear and unequivocal apology to the Muslim American community" by the Justice Department as well as the creation of an inter-agency task force to prepare new manuals.
The Obama Administration has not only dissociated Islam from the terrorist assaults of Islamists and refurbished the English language and the Muslim glossary to foreclose on the possibility of drawing any connection between the two, but it has also courted local Islamists. At the August 2011 White House iftar dinner, marking the ending of Ramadan, Obama invited several Islamists, including MPAC's Haris Tarin, ISNA's Mohamed Magid, and Muslim Advocates' Awais Sufi (though it tactfully omitted to mention any of these in a selected list of invitees that it publicized). In contrast, Muslim moderates, like the 25 pro-liberty American Muslim groups and individuals affiliated to the American Islamic Leadership Coalition, failed to score a single invitation.
Obama also appointed, or sought to appoint, Islamists and their apologists to sensitive posts with a bearing on Muslim affairs. Within weeks of entering Oval Office, Obama nominated Chas. W. Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Freeman had been outspoken in his beliefs that Israel is a vicious oppressor and the preeminent cause of U.S. unpopularity in the Muslim world, that Palestinian terrorism is "resistance" and that America has shown Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that calls in its Charter for the world-wide murder of Jews, "unreasoning hostility." Freeman, whose close ties with tyrannies like China and Saudi Arabia created controversy that obliged him to withdraw, suffered a similar fate to Obama's Muslim outreach coordinator during the 2008 presidential campaign, Mazan Asbahi, who stepped down following revelations that he had once sat on the board of advisors of a Muslim Brotherhood-founded organization along with Jamal Said, a Chicago imam in a mosque that supports Hamas, a proscribed terrorist group.
But if these appointments proved abortive, many others have not. In February 2010, Obama appointed Rashad Hussain, a former Justice Department official and White House deputy counsel, as the second U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC -- since renamed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation). George W. Bush had appointed the first such envoy, Sada Cumber, in the last year of his administration on the basis that the OIC is an "important organization" with "a constructive role to play in the world." Important as it may be, the OIC has played a rather different role, one that advances Islamist goals of subverting Western democracies by its attacks on freedom of speech and the press, its efforts to privilege Islam over other faiths and to prevent the adoption of UN definition of terrorism that encompasses jihadist groups. Obama's policy of engagement meant that reviewing the advisability of such an appointment never arose. To the contrary, the White House regarded the appointment as one that would "deepen and expand the partnerships that the United States has pursued with Muslims around the world."
So who is Rashad Hussein? One who is on record as denouncing the prosecution of a Florida professor, Sami Al-Arian, who was eventually found to have been illegally funding the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a "politically motivated persecution." Also, in a 2007 article, Hussein claimed that restrictions placed on non-immigrant visitors from countries that have produced Islamist terror threats are "racist."
Another such appointee is Dalia Mogahed, now adviser in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, who has been a promoter-apologist of Islamist groups like CAIR and ISNA, which have been found to be tied to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Mogahed, who is also the executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, has claimed that "misinformation" campaigns have tried to "disenfranchise" these groups, both of which in fact have employed officials subsequently indicted for funneling money to foreign terrorists.
A further appointee is Mohamed Elibiary, who in October 2010 was elevated by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to the Homeland Security Advisory Council. Elibiary has spoken in praise of Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamist Iranian republic, and is believed to have leaked sensitive intelligence documents.
The Obama State Department has also permitted Islamists to speak abroad on behalf of the U.S. and to participate in government outreach programs. In February 2010, it sent MPAC's Salam Al-Marayati to address UNESCO in Paris and the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Geneva. This month, Marayati served as a member of the U.S. delegation to the U.S. to a human rights conference held by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe. On any reasonable accounting, Marayati's record should have disqualified him from such appointments and, indeed, as far back as 1999, revelations regarding his record to that date did indeed do just that when his appointment to a congressional panel on terrorism was rescinded. Someone who has condemned as "illegal, immoral and illogical" the U.S. strikes against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Sudan following the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; and who, following September 11, 2001 attacks, declared that Israel, whose creation he had described in 1993 as an "injustice" which he vowed to "work to overturn," should be "put… on the suspect list" of possible 9/11 perpetrators, should never have been considered for, much less awarded, these appointments.
Marayati's appointment is not exceptional. In August 2010, the Administration sent Faisal Rauf, the would-be 9/11 mosque imam, on a nearly month-long speaking tour of Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Rauf has a wealth of Islamist associations, has refused to condemn Hamas and blamed America as an "accessory" for 9/11 and other acts of Islamist terror. Contrary to State Department assertions that it did not "expect" Rauf to fund-raise for his proposed mosque while abroad, Rauf indicated that he would be collecting money from Muslim and Arab nations on his trip. Tellingly, the State Department released few details of his trip and speaking engagements, despite requests from journalists.
Kifah Mustafa is another Islamist who was permitted to participate in a government outreach program, the FBI Citizen Academy. Here, too, a clear record of extremism should have precluded his participation: Mustapha had already been in 2007 and 2008 as an un-indicted coconspirator as a registered agent for Holy Land Foundation, a Hamas fund-raising front closed by the Bush administration after "the largest terrorism financing prosecution in American history." Evidence produced in court showed Mustapha to have participated in a fundraising troupe singing "'I am a member of Hamas' as well as other songs glorifying violence and inciting the murder of Jews." FBI director Robert Mueller subsequently declined to explain Mustafa's participation, which included a tour of the top-secret National Counterterrorism Center, FBI headquarters in Washington D.C., and the FBI training academy at Quantico.
Outreach has also involved legitimizing Islamists abroad. In November 2010, the U.S. Ambassador to Britain, Louis B. Susman, paid a visit to the East London mosque, a hotbed of Islamism controlled by the Jammat-e-Islami group, whose program proclaims the goal of Islamizing the United Kingdom. The mosque's website quoted Ambassador Susman declaring his "great admiration" for the mosque and President Obama's desire to "to reach out to Muslim communities." This visit proceeded despite the East London mosque being embroiled in controversy in Britain at that very moment over its support for al Qaida in Yemen leader Awlaki.
In short, the Administration has sought to embrace Islamists at home and abroad and a clear, public record of extremism has not impeded the rise within the Obama Administration of a number of Islamist and pro-Islamist figures. This did not happen overnight; a congenial environment in the Washington policy world merely laid the groundwork for their flourishing in the Obama Administration. For example, Rauf and Mogahed served on the Leadership Group on U.S.-Muslim Engagement, which in September 2008 issued a report, 'Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations With the Muslim World,' urging the U.S. Government to engage Islamist groups in the Middle East, especially the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. This is, of course, precisely what Obama has done since arriving in office. More recently, indeed, up to the moment of writing, his Administration has approved the transfer of weaponry by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to Muslim Brotherhood forces fighting the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad -- precisely the sort of forces likely to carry out bloodbaths of their own upon victory and least likely to ensure a stable, pro-Western orientation in the future.
Other have written of the political consequences of Obama's policy to engage the Muslim world by pretending that there is no conflict with it, and that Islamists, if they are only non-violent, can be wooed into accommodation with U.S. and pose no threat to the interests of America or its allies. But a short summary is possible: the result has been a weak, temporizing approach to depredations of radical Middle East regimes (Iran, Syria); engaging Islamists & encouraging the replacement of pro-American regimes (Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen); ignoring the hostility of regimes in formerly pro-American states (Turkey); and pressuring Israel for unilateral concessions and straining U.S.-Israeli relations, while indulging an intransigent Palestinian Authority.
At the end of four years, dangerous and hostile governments endure in Tehran and Damascus, despite their deep unpopularity. Islamist regimes rule in Cairo and Tunis and may yet do so in Damascus and Sana'a if the U.S. continues backing the Muslim Brotherhood. Palestinians remain undeviating in their non-acceptance of Israel. The Middle East map has changed, not for the better, and picking up the pieces will be the unavoidable and unenviable task of Barack Obama's successor -- whoever and whenever that may be.
Daniel Mandel is a Fellow in History at Melbourne University and author of H. V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel: The Undercover Zionist (Routledge, London, 2004). His blog can be found on the History News Network.