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The Obama Team Just Doesn’t Get It: US Violence and Occupation Spark Terrorism


A bit of a long read, but well worth it (h/t: BA):

The Obama Team Just Doesn’t Get It: US Violence and Occupation Spark Terrorism


John Brennan, President Obama’s chief adviser on counter-terrorism, has again put on public display two unfortunate facts: (1) that the White House has no clue as to how to counter terrorism; and (2) (in Brennan’s words) “the unfortunate fact that to save many innocent lives we are sometimes obliged to take lives.”

In a speech on April 30, Brennan did share one profound insight: “Countries typically don’t want foreign soldiers in their cities and towns.” His answer to that? “The precision of targeted [drone] strikes.” Does he really mean to suggest that local populations are more accepting of unmanned drones buzzing overhead and firing missiles on the push of a button by a “pilot” halfway around the world?

Beneath Brennan’s Orwellian rhetoric lies the reality that he remains unable (or unwilling) to deal with, the $64 question former White House correspondent Helen Thomas asked him repeatedly on Jan. 8, 2010, about why terrorists do the things they do:

Brennan: “Al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”

Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”

Is it possible he still has no clue? To demonstrate how little progress Brennan has made in the way of understanding the challenge of “terrorism,” let’s look back at my commentary in early 2010 about Brennan’s vacuous non-answers to Helen Thomas. At the time, I wrote:

Thank God for Helen Thomas, the only person to show any courage at the White House press briefing after President Barack Obama gave a flaccid account of the intelligence screw-up that almost downed an airliner on Christmas Day 2009.

After Obama briefly addressed L’Affaire Abdulmutallab and wrote “must do better” on the report cards of the national security schoolboys responsible for the near catastrophe, the President turned the stage over to counter-terrorism guru John Brennan and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

It took 89-year old veteran correspondent Helen Thomas (now 91) to break through the vapid remarks about rechanneling “intelligence streams,” fixing “no-fly” lists, deploying “behavior detection officers,” and buying more body-imaging scanners.

Thomas recognized the John & Janet filibuster for what it was, as her catatonic press colleagues took their customary dictation and asked their predictable questions. Instead, Thomas posed an adult query that spotlighted the futility of government plans to counter terrorism with more high-tech gizmos and more intrusions on the liberties and privacy of the traveling public.

She asked why Abdulmutallab did what he did. Thomas: “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”

Brennan: “Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. … They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”

Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”

Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”

Thomas: “Why?”

Brennan: “I think this is a — long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”

Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”

Neither did President Obama, nor anyone else in the U.S. political/media hierarchy. All the American public gets is the boilerplate about how al Qaeda evildoers are perverting a religion and exploiting impressionable young men. There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they are inclined to resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks.

Obama’s Non-Answer

I had been hoping Obama would say something intelligent about what drove Abdulmutallab to do what he did, but the President uttered a few vacuous comments before sending in the clowns. This is what he said before he walked away from the podium:

“It is clear that al Qaeda increasingly seeks to recruit individuals without known terrorist affiliations … to do their bidding. … And that’s why we must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al Qaeda offers nothing except a bankrupt vision of misery and death … while the United States stands with those who seek justice and progress. … That’s the vision that is far more powerful than the hatred of these violent extremists.”

But why it is so hard for Muslims to “get” that message? Why can’t they end their preoccupation with dodging U.S. missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Gaza long enough to reflect on how we are only trying to save them from terrorists while simultaneously demonstrating our commitment to “justice and progress”?

Does a smart fellow like Obama expect us to believe that all we need to do is “communicate clearly to Muslims” that it is al Qaeda, not the U.S. and its allies, that brings “misery and death”? Does any informed person not know that the unprovoked U.S.-led invasion of Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and displaced 4.5 million from their homes? How is that for “misery and death”?

Rather than a failure to communicate, U.S. officials are trying to rewrite recent history, which seems to be much easier to accomplish with the Washington press corps and large segments of the American population than with the Muslim world. But why isn’t there a frank discussion by America’s leaders and media about the real motivation of Muslim anger toward the United States? Why was Helen Thomas the only journalist to raise the touchy but central question of motive?

Peeking Behind the Screen

We witnessed a similar phenomenon when the 9/11 Commission Report tiptoed into a cautious discussion of possible motives behind the 9/11 attacks. To their credit, the drafters of that report apparently went as far as their masters would allow, in gingerly introducing a major elephant into the room: “America’s policy choices have consequences. Right or wrong, it is simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world.” (p. 376)

When asked later about the flabby way that last sentence ended, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, Vice-Chair of the 9/11 Commission, explained that there had been a Donnybrook over whether that paragraph could be included at all.

The drafters also squeezed in the reason given by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as to why he “masterminded” the attacks on 9/11: “By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed … from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”

Would you believe that former Vice President Dick Cheney has also pointed to U.S. support for Israel as one of the “true sources of resentment”? This unique piece of honesty crept into his speech to the American Enterprise Institute on May 21, 2009.

Sure, he also trotted out the bromide that the terrorists hate “all the things that make us a force for good in the world.” But the Israel factor slipped into the speech, perhaps an inadvertent acknowledgement of the Israeli albatross adorning the neck of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Very few pundits and academicians are willing to allude to this reality, presumably out of fear for their future career prospects.

Former senior CIA officer Paul R. Pillar, now a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the few willing to refer, in his typically understated way, to “all the other things … including policies and practices that affect the likelihood that people … will be radicalized, and will try to act out the anger against us.” One has to fill in the blanks regarding what those “other things” are.

But no worries. Secretary Napolitano has a fix for this unmentionable conundrum. It’s called “counter-radicalization,” which she describes thusly: “How do we identify someone before they become radicalized to the point where they’re ready to blow themselves up with others on a plane? And how do we communicate better American values and so forth … around the globe?”

Better communication. That’s the ticket.

Hypocrisy and Double Talk

But Napolitano doesn’t acknowledge the underlying problem, which is that many Muslims have watched Washington’s behavior closely for many years and view U.S. declarations about peace, justice, democracy and human rights as infuriating examples of hypocrisy and double talk. So, Washington’s sanitized discussion about motives for terrorism seems more intended for the U.S. domestic audience than the Muslim world.

After all, people in the Middle East already know how Palestinians have been mistreated for decades; how Washington has propped up Arab dictatorships; how Muslims have been locked away at Guantanamo without charges; how the U.S. military has killed civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere; how U.S. mercenaries have escaped punishment for slaughtering innocents.

The purpose of U.S. “public diplomacy” appears more designed to shield Americans from this unpleasant reality, offering instead feel-good palliatives about the beneficence of U.S. actions. Most American journalists and politicians go along with the charade out of fear that otherwise they would be accused of lacking patriotism or sympathizing with “the enemy.”

Commentators who are neither naïve nor afraid are simply shut out of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM).’s Glenn Greenwald, for example, has complained loudly about “how our blind, endless enabling of Israeli actions fuels terrorism directed at the U.S.,” and how it is taboo to point this out.

Greenwald recently called attention to a little-noticed Associated Press report on the possible motives of the 23-year-old Nigerian Abdulmutallab. The report quoted his Yemeni friends to the effect that the he was “not overtly extremist.” But they noted that he was open about his sympathies toward the Palestinians and his anger over Israel’s actions in Gaza. (Emphasis added)

Former CIA specialist on al Qaeda, Michael Scheuer, has been still more outspoken on what he sees as Israel’s tying down the American Gulliver in the Middle East. Speaking Monday on C-SPAN, he complained bitterly that any debate on the issue of American support for Israel and its effects is normally squelched. Scheuer added that the Israel Lobby had just succeeded in getting him removed from his job at the Jamestown Foundation think tank for saying that Obama was “doing what I call the Tel Aviv Two Step.”

More to the point, Scheuer asserted: “For anyone to say that our support for Israel doesn’t hurt us in the Muslim world … is to just defy reality.”

Beyond loss of work, those who speak out can expect ugly accusations. The Israeli media network Arutz Sheva, which is considered the voice of the settler movement, weighed in strongly, citing Scheuer’s C-SPAN remarks and branding them “blatantly anti-Semitic.”

Read the rest here…

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  • Believer

    Great provocative posts.

  • Binyamin

    George Carty, yes, but don’t you think the Middle Eastern countries who want Israel wiped off the map are at fault here? Their pride and honour does not permit a Jewish state in the Middle East. If ultimately, it does come to the Samson Option, the world economy will go down with much of the Middle East.

  • George Carty

    I think American support for Israel is the key reason why the United States has a more destructive role in the Middle East than elsewhere in the world.

    In order to maintain its hegemony, the United States must prevent the rise of a rival hegemon in any other part of the world. This can usually be done at relatively low cost by maintaining a balance between regional powers (such as Chile, Argentina and Brazil, or the UK, France and Germany, or China, Korea and Japan).

    The Middle East on the other hand is a special case, due to the US commitment to Israel. Israel is a tiny country which practically every non-Israeli Middle Easterner wants wiped off the map. This means that its protection requires that the rest of the Middle East be not just divided, but also crippled (by puppet dictators, economic sanctions or outright military occupation).

  • Anticipated Serendipity

    I completely disagree, being a life-long Westerner and all, I don’t think that and I haven’t come across anyone who feels that way. The idea is absurd and I think you’ve expressed it before. Perhaps you should look into societies where life literally has monetary value and where some lives are figuratively and literally “cheaper” than others (cough *Saudi Arabia* cough). I agree with JSB 100%, except for where he said ZAS has a point.

    @Nur Alia
    I don’t think you’re making too much sense. I’m sure you’d consider an Amazonian a foreigner and there’s nothing wrong with that. Acknowledging that something/someone is foreign is not offensive, unless you’re ashamed of where you’re from or ashamed of being foreign and that’s your problem and no one else’s. You chide Western culture for being hateful of foreigners by expressing your hatred of the West/Western culture.

    Completely agree with InPeace that ZAS’s comments are “dumb” and have no relationship with reality at all. It’s not Western culture that sees “other” lives as being cheaper, it’s the simple fact that America is on top of the world right now, and they like it up there, if some people have to die, some villages have to be levelled, some entire nations bombed to the Stone Age to maintain that and to of course keep the US safe then so be it. It’s definitely very wrong and amoral but it has very little to do with Western culture and everything to do with power. Look at how countries like Iraq (under Saddam), North Korea, etc treat their OWN citizens; can anyone seriously argue that societies that have that little regard for their own are going to attach any kind of value to “foreign” lives? I don’t think that’s a product of ANY culture, Hussein, the Kim Jongs, and all the other despots had an insane amount of power, and that was more important than anything else, hence the disregard for human life. I don’t think the US has an agenda of killing brown people either, they put their interests before all else and the result is…

  • Waqas Zia

    I think the following video sums up the above article nicely while driving home the key point:

    @Just stopping by says: This also leads to the interesting question of whether the West would have had the same sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq if the resulting civilian deaths had been more easily broadcast as directly tied to those sanctions

    Civilian deaths in Iraq were tied to sanctions quite publicly:

    Any sweeping generalization about westerners thinking their lives are worth more than others is obviously false, as all usually generalizations are. The western public came out in huge numbers to protest before the launch of the war against Iraq, despite being shown “evidence” of WMDs. What most politicians and certain MSM channels did and still do is another story.

  • Abu Rashid

    @Brad Welch,

    Are you so devoid of arguments that all you can muster is a lame attempt to associate this site with the bogeyman “terrorism”?

    That word probably doesn’t have as much power here, amongst the thinking people of the world, as it obviously does in your circles. In the last 10-20 years, that term has been reduced to nothing but a propaganda tool to help further one country’s foreign policy goals in the resource rich regions of the world.


  • Abdul-Rahman


    The non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia are almost all expatriate workers in the Kingdom, and their general treatment doesn’t really depend on religion at all. In fact Western expats (many of them being non-Muslims) living in the Kingdom are sucked up to by the monarchy and live in plush gated villas with armed guards and make nice salaries and send their kids to private schools in the Kingdom, etc. On the other hand migrant workers who do the dirty work in the Kingdom (and migrants do the dirty work in all countries whether that be the Mexican migrants abused in the US, the Thai or other Asian and African migrant workers in the Zionist entity, or practically anywhere else in the world) are not treated well. Many of these migrant workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are from Asia and are often Muslims themselves from nations like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, etc. So your claim has no validity about what you claim Saudis allegedly think, as many of them again are prone to sucking up to Western and European (non-Muslim) expats in their midst (i.e. a form of cultural imperialism).

    The Saudi monarchy does promote dislike of the Shi’i in particular, and this explains both oppression of the Saudi Shi’a (in the oil rich Eastern Province of Saudi) and some of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s targeting of the Iraqi Shi’a. However, the leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq was mostly native Iraqi according to most sources and this was largely because many Iraqi Sunnis were angry at how the US invasion and occupation of their country had given the Iraqi Shi’a majority the majority of the power in the central government in Baghdad; whereas Saddam had been a Sunni.

  • JT

    “..are more acceptable than others.”

    JihadBob, did you even bother reading what others have posted following his comment? Quite a number of people, including myself, objected. However, the cheapness of Muslim life may not be something that is taught but it is true that many only worry about the actual outcome of the war or the consequences for their side and don’t care about the Muslim casualties. I don’t believe it’s some conspiracy, or something that’s wrong with Western culture, but it does happen.

    As Danios demonstrated last year:

  • InPeace

    Zakariya’s dumb comments reminded me of the fact that non-Muslims are literally worth less than Muslims in Saudi Arabia. I wonder how many Muslims in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are be raised to believe that they are worth more than non-Muslims? Surely this add to the high proportion of Saudi al-Qaeda members and suicide bombers – many hundreds of whom have gone over to Iraq and blown up Shi’ite markets and mosques (who are undoubtedly “worthless” unbelievers).

    One can only imagine the impending rant article that would be posted on LW if Robert Spencer had made the same blanket statements of the Muslim world as Zak and a few others made in the comments section here. Which just goes to show that some stereotypes of the other are more acceptable than others.

  • Géji

    Just Stopping By Says: “Perhaps the difference is that I don’t think that the example has anything to do with Westerners’ supposedly being taught that our lives are worth more than others’ lives”

    My dear akhi, if you’re referring to the example I gave from your own comparison of the two, oh yes it does. Here’s why

    Let’s say Americans kills innocent lives in the process of blowing-up stuff in foreign nation they had no business being there in the first place. By you own admission, you yourself stating they claimed to blew-up in the first, quote – “to help clear the path to the liberation of the Iraqi people” – and then excuses the result as, quote – “actions [that] are usually presented in a way that they are providing ultimate benefits at the unfortunate cost of the loss of innocent lives (collateral damage) – So doesn’t that proves thus the whole point of Zakaria when he said – ” If you need to wipe out an entire family, an entire village, simply for the possibility of killing one terrorist (who may or may not actually be the person you want) then its collateral damage. People SHOULDN’T be outraged, they shouldn’t demand revenge or recompense for it, they should be grateful” – Proving the innocent lives Americans takes are of none-importance?

    > ” I think that almost every group tries to justify its actions”

    Except that in this case of example, one group is the only one violating the sovereignty of the other’s group nation to blew-up stuff to then justify it’s despicable actions with dehumanizing excuses.

    > “In the case of the United States, it has done so by claiming that it imposes sanctions or invades countries to help the people in those countries (whether they want our help or not).”

    Precisely the dehumanizing excuses I’m referring to.

    > “But, in a weird sense, that justification does rely on a belief that Americans do attach at least some value to others’ lives and would agree with the goal of helping others improve their lives. It also relies on Americans’ willingness to believe that the end result will justify the initial suffering.”

    Only dare said by America and not according to the facts of reality on the ground. Sorry to say this, but Americans invading people’s sovereign nations to murder millions, destroying entire lives and their nations. I’m sure for those who’s countries were destroyed and lives ruined for them such action do not equate to “improve their lives”, does it? Many of us call that precise action, Terrorism, with capital T. I’m afraid Americans themselves need to at least begin by admitting such.

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