A GOP Terror Talking Point

Republican presidential candidates have a favorite talking point that President Obama won’t use the precise phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” even though he describes the problem in similar terms. Thus, the complaint is ridiculous and even a bit dangerous, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

One of the more inane memes in current rhetoric in the United States about terrorism is that President Obama supposedly isn’t recognizing terrorist threats for what they are because he does not utter a certain phrase in talking about them.

In an interview this week, for example, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, slammed the President’s recent address to the nation about terrorism because he did not use the label “radical Islamic terrorism.” Retired Army General Michael Flynn, who even when on active duty liked to tell how everyone else is screwing up except himself, used an extended version of the meme in the course of promoting a book he is co-writing with neocon ideologue Michael Ledeen.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican candidate for president.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican candidate for president.

(Ledeen is the source of the eponymous doctrine according to which “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”)

Flynn says they are writing the book to show that “war is being waged against us by enemies this administration has forbidden us to describe: radical Islamists.”

Such rhetoric totally disregards what the incumbent president, and others in his administration, actually have been saying. No one is forbidding any accurate descriptions of terrorist threats, and no one is shying away from making clear that the principal current threats are radicals who commit terrorism in the name of Islam.

In that same presidential address, Mr. Obama spoke of how there is no “denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities.” He pointed this out in the course of making the further point that Muslim leaders around the world must “decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology” that has developed within their religious community and in the name of their religion.

What would use of the exact phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” have substantively added to this presidential speech? Absolutely nothing, of course. The only thing that use of a shorthand phrase prone to misinterpretation and incitement would do is, as George W. Bush as well as Barack Obama recognized, to increase the chance of misinterpretation and incitement.

What the attacks on the President for not voicing a certain phrase are most reminiscent of are playground dares that sixth graders might make: to say a dirty word that everyone knows will upset the grown-ups.

When President Obama uses prime time to talk in detail to the American people about the nature of the terrorist threat from radical Muslims, Cruz doesn’t want the people to receive such instruction. The President, said Cruz, behaved “like a condescending school marm lecturing the American people against Islamophobia. In the aftermath of a terrorist attack, we don’t need the President who believes he’s our intellectual and moral better lecturing the American people.”

So simplistic and potentially inflammatory catchphrases are a better way to address a problem than detailed and careful description of the problem? Really helpful, Senator.

All of this in one respect consists just of drops in a sea of the usual partisan invective and rhetoric. But the need for the care that Presidents Bush and Obama both have exercised on this subject is now greater than ever. Donald Trump’s excesses have been only the most salient part of a pattern of attitudes and demagoguery that extends well beyond Trump.

It certainly extends to other presidential candidates who want to pick up Trump’s supporters when his candidacy finally collapses, and who have been making their own proposals and pronouncements tinged with Islamophobia and replete with religious tests.

What appeals to Islamophobia at home nurtures the image abroad of an America that hates and represses Islam. That image feeds the very Islamist terrorism to which people like Cruz are so anxious to apply their favorite labels. And in that respect the meme about the choice of words in presidential statements is not just inane; it is damaging and dangerous.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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11 comments for “A GOP Terror Talking Point

  1. Christen
    December 12, 2015 at 11:16 am

    President Obama used prime time to “talk” to the American people in “detail” about the nature of the terroristic threat?? I don’t know what prime time address you were watching, but from my seat in “flyover” country I watched HRH mount his throne for 8 minutes to lecture the American dimwits before he dashed off to whatever black tie gala he was going to be late for.

    • Patriotned
      December 15, 2015 at 2:36 am

      Silly. I like having a President that is deliberate, thoroughly investigating any situation. Not emotional and overracting, e.g. Iraq War. The criticism by many is typically uninformed about all the actions the US and military are taking. If the American people want a major invasion force in the Middle East, I suggest we reinstate the draft. Let everyone have a stake in that war. My opinion, leave the Middle East. Nothing good has ever come from our involvement there which started with the CIA removal of Iran’s president in 1953.

  2. Uncle Sam's revenge
    December 12, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Politicians from both sides of the aisle must keep Americans scared in order to continue the world wide pillaging and plundering that corporate America demands of them if they want their next election campaign funded. To his credit, it does seem lately that Obama is beginning to lean in the opposite direction. Let’s hope Americans begin demanding the same from other politicians.

  3. Abe
    December 12, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    Ted Cruz is a real stickler for politically correct language.

    At the next AIPAC grovel fest, Cruz plans to introduce “radical Zionist state terrorism” as the correct appellation for Israeli policy.

    However, the phrase may be difficult for him to pronounce while he’s teabagging Sheldon Adelson.

    • Abe
      December 12, 2015 at 7:52 pm

      To be fair to Cruz, all the Presidential candidates are eager to “bow down and bend the knee” (Psalm 95:6) before their political Maker.

      Let’s just say that Cruz is particularly zealous for the Lord.

      Cruz made that perfectly clear in March when he launched his campaign https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DELBiU4Hl7c before a cheering crowd of Zionists at Liberty University, the college founded by Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, VA.

    • Abe
      December 13, 2015 at 1:11 am

      AIPAC Terror Talking Points:
      Ted Cruz with Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSztI0jGYtk

      Sheldon Adelson, major donor both to GOP and Zionist causes, sat in the front row of a packed Senate auditorium for the hour-long event hosted by Shmuley Boteach, an Orthodox rabbi infamous for his self-promotion.

      Boteach has argued that the Obama administration is “bullying” Israel, arguing that U.S. Middle Eastern policy is “scandalous” and “disgusting”.

      Boteach placed an ad in the New York Times which read “Susan Rice has a blind spot: Genocide”, and that her action has “injected a degree of partisanship” that is “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between the US and Israel. Rice had criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for agreeing to speak to Congress about Iran’s nuclear program without coordinating with the Obama administration.

      Boteach lavishly praised Cruz: “He is a lion in the defense of Israel and the Jewish people.”

      • Abe
        December 13, 2015 at 6:47 pm

        The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering is a 2000 book by Norman G. Finkelstein in which he argues that the American Jewish establishment exploits the memory of the Nazi Holocaust for political and financial gain, as well as to further the interests of Israel. According to Finkelstein, this “Holocaust industry” has corrupted Jewish culture and the authentic memory of the Holocaust.

        “The irrational essence of Gentile anti-Semitism is inferred inductively from the irrational essence of The Holocaust. To wit, Hitler’s Final Solution uniquely lacked rationality—it was ‘evil for its own sake,’ ‘purposeless” mass killing; Hitler’s Final Solution marked the culmination of Gentile anti-Semitism; therefore Gentile anti-Semitism is essentially irrational. Taken apart or together, these propositions do not withstand even superficial scrutiny. Politically, however, the argument is highly serviceable. By conferring total blamelessness on Jews, the Holocaust dogma immunizes Israel and American Jewry from legitimate censure.” (p. 52)

        “Before June 1967 the universalist message of concentration camp survivor Bruno Bettelheim resonated among American Jews. After the June war, Bettelheim was shunted aside in favor of Wiesel. Wiesel’s prominence is a function of his Ideological utility. Uniqueness of Jewish suffering/uniqueness of the Jews, ever-guilty Gentiles/ever-innocent Jews, unconditional defense of Israel/unconditional defense of Jewish interests: Elie Wiesel is The Holocaust.” (pp. 54-55)

        For Wiesel’s shameful record of apologetics on behalf of Israel, see Norman G. Finkelstein and Ruth Bettina Birn, A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth (1998).

        Wiesel characterizes any suggestion that he has profited from the “Holocaust Industry”, or even any criticism at all, as Holocaust denial.

      • Abe
        December 14, 2015 at 12:41 am

        Finkelstein’s main and most devastating charge is that “American Jewish elites” and organizations are extorting billions of dollars from European countries and corporations in the name of “needy Holocaust survivors” in order to fund Holocaust programs, Holocaust memorials, Holocaust studies, Holocaust literature and, in general, “the Jewish community.” Together they form not just a cottage industry but a full-fledged “Holocaust industry” sustained by a persistent ideology of “Holocaust correctness” that serves “certain class and political interests.” Instead of helping the Jewish cause, Finkelstein goes on to argue, the Holocaust industry has become “the main fomenter of anti-Semitism in Europe” by spreading an image of greedy Jews.

        While the book created a firestorm all over Europe, notably in England and Germany, in the U.S. a deafening silence has descended on it. Nobody wants to touch it. Whereas Finkelstein first got mostly negative and later mostly positive reviews in major European newspapers and magazines, and was given various opportunities to debate his adversaries, here he hardly got any reviews (in spite of the 250 review copies he helped his small publisher mail out to critics).

        Well, the New York Times did one. It reserved a full page in its Sunday Book Review to compare the book to “The Protocol of the Elders of Zion,” a notorious anti-Semitic work, and called its author “indecent,” “juvenile,” “self-righteous,” “arrogant” and “stupid.”

        “I’ve looked it up; this review is worse than the one of ‘Mein Kampf,’” says Finkelstein […]

        You also attack Elie Wiesel. Why?

        “Elie Wiesel is such a ridiculous character. In private Elie Wiesel is the subject of much ridicule. The expression ‘There’s no business like Shoah-business’ is literally coined for him. So it’s not as if I’m the first one to call the emperor naked, but in public — yes.”

        Isn’t it a cheap shot to attack him on his lecture fee of “$25,000, plus limousine”?

        “Why is that a cheap shot? He’s turned it into a business, where he casts himself as a person who’s doing all this from anguish and pain and personal sacrifice, while he has made a fortune out of it. If it were a cheap shot, he wouldn’t invest so much in denying it. With a cheap shot he would just have dismissed it. In the U.K. he was asked about it all the time and he was really — what I would call — in denial. [Laughs] He always tells people, after referring to his childhood in Buchenwald, that he is living very modestly in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He has his books. But of course he forgets to say that such an apartment is costing him thousands of dollars a month.”

        You’re calling him a liar because he says he read Immanuel Kant’s “Kritik der Reinen Vernunft” (“A Critique of Pure Reason”) in Yiddish, while you say there is no Yiddish translation of that book.

        “Wiesel claims to be a Kant scholar. He says that when he was a teenager, girls were running away from him because all he could do was talk about Kant. I suspect they had other motives, but leaving that aside for a moment…”

        But Wiesel claims that there is a Yiddish translation — a book called “Kant’s Etik,” published in 1929 in Warsaw. It’s on his bookshelf.

        “Absolutely correct! Now, I don’t want to pour cold water on your parade, but what was published in Warsaw in 1929 was Kant’s ‘Critique of Practical Reason.’ One chapter, 60 pages … I know that! My sources are: 1) the Widener Library at Harvard, 2) the Yivo Library in New York — the largest Yiddish library in the world — and 3) the Hebrew University Library. Everybody agrees on that. There is no dispute. The ‘Etik’ comes from Kant’s ‘Critique of Practical Reason.’ Confusing the two Kant books is like a Tolstoy scholar having read one chapter of ‘Anna Karenina’ and confusing it with the whole of ‘War and Peace.’ That’s ridiculous!”

        On a more relevant note, Wiesel defenders argue that thanks to people like him, we understand more about genocides around the world.

        “Thanks to Elie Wiesel we have a distorted and disfigured and frankly meaningless version of the Nazi Holocaust and we only know about those genocides that serve the interest of the U.S. and Israel, and we forget the ones that don’t.”

        Don’t you think these personal attacks spoil your main argument?

        “Obviously, there is no accounting for taste. I think I lay out my argument really simply, in three parts. The first concerns the question of why the Holocaust came to the U.S. only after the Six Day War in 1967. If you agree that the Holocaust served as an ideological weapon in the Palestinian conflict, the next question is how. I mean, the Holocaust could also be used for other reasons. For instance, my parents used it to defend certain Palestinian rights. The second part deals with how the Nazi Holocaust is ideologically recast to serve certain political ends. Which is new, because I’m the first one, I think, to have established what I call a ‘Holocaust framework’ — a distinction between Holocaust scholarship and Holocaust literature. This latter literature, to which Daniel Goldhagen’s ‘Hitler’s Willing Executioners’ also belongs, has two dogmas at its core: the uniqueness of the Holocaust and the gentiles’ eternal irrational hatred of the Jews.”

        It’s a very small step from “Holocaust framework” to “Holocaust conspiracy.”

        “Why? If you come across a body of literature with no historical merit, the question arises, Cui bono? Who benefits from it? For example, if you look at 19th century literature on race, eugenics and so forth, once you’ve demonstrated that it has no scientific, historical or artistic value, you realize that it only exists to serve certain political and ideological goals. These are such obvious questions in any other context. It’s called the sociology of ideas.”

        Could the success of Goldhagen’s book also be at least partly due to an almost masochistic feeling of guilt in certain parts of Europe?

        “It could, but it’s not probable. And besides, the book was a bestseller in the U.S. too, and America had nothing to do with the Holocaust.

        “Let me give you a mental game. A large number of individuals claim that the success of Goldhagen’s book was due to the simplicity of its thesis: All Germans were anti-Semitic monsters waiting for Hitler to give them the green light to start killing Jews. Now let’s argue for the sake of argument that Goldhagen had said exactly the opposite: that the Holocaust was the work of Hitler and his henchmen, and that the whole nation was coerced into going along.

        “Now the title of his book would have then been ‘Hitler’s Unwilling Executioners.’ Would the book have achieved the same success? No. Why? Because it was something about the way in which he carved out a simple thesis that made it so compelling. Even though reading the book feels like chewing on tinfoil, its thesis turned out to be ideologically very convenient. It is the same thing Cynthia Ozick said after the 1973 war [when Syria and Egypt attacked Israel]: Why does everybody hate Israel? Simple answer: All the world wants to wipe out the Jews.”

        If you see hidden motives everywhere, a conspiracy theory is around the corner.

        “The mechanisms of ideological control are very complex. This is what a close friend of mine, professor Noam Chomsky, calls the manufacture of consent. I’m not dealing with that. I ask myself: If this is an ideology, whose interest does it serve?”

        The problem with a conspiracy theory is that it can’t be falsified. Everything, or nothing, supports it.

        “I’m not sure why you’re invoking the conspiracy theory. Look, whenever you show patterns, whenever you go beyond the spontaneous actions of people, you hear conspiracy theory! I think that there’s more to history than just the spontaneous actions of people.”

        Shoah Business: The son of an Auschwitz survivor accuses the “Holocaust industry,” Elie Wiesel and Jewish leaders worldwide of a vast shakedown.
        By Viktor Frvlke
        http://www.salon.com/2000/08/30/finkelstein_2/

  4. Abe
    December 14, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    “We need a President that will stand unapologetically with the nation of Israel.”
    Ted Cruz speech at Republican Jewish Coalition Forum, December 3, 2015
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXhjjO9kFvg

  5. Abe
    December 15, 2015 at 1:30 am

    The ONE Talking Point That Terrifies the GOP and AIPAC:

    Israel Supports the Terrorists in Syria
    http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2015/12/israel-supports-islamic-terrorists.html

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