Pres­i­dent sweeps out hard-liners on Is­lam

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The White House to­day is nearly de­void of the hard-liners who ar­rived in Jan­uary want­ing to use the bully pul­pit to ex­pose rad­i­cal Is­lam as the root cause of global ter­ror­ism.

Se­bas­tian Gorka, a schol­arly but in­tense voice on the need for Is­lam to re­form it­self, ex­ited af­ter a num­ber of other like-minded thinkers were shown the door. Mr. Gorka was a cable news reg­u­lar who took joy in bash­ing Mr. Trump’s crit­ics, es­pe­cially CNN.

The ex­o­dus be­gan with re­tired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who had planned to use his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser role for the Gorka-type mes­sage. Next were a cadre of his peo­ple on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil staff. Then chief strate­gist Steve Ban­non left the White House and re­turned to fight­ing his wars at Bre­it­bart News Net­work.

Crit­ics see the cleans­ing as a vic­tory for Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Mr. Flynn’s suc­ces­sor as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser.

As an Army strate­gist and prom­i­nent public speaker, the his­to­rian-war­rior has ex­pressed a con­sis­tent theme that the Is­lamic State ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, al Qaeda and other ul­tra­vi­o­lent Mus­lim groups do not re­flect Is­lam.

It is much the same ar­gu­ment made by Pres­i­dent Obama, who saw him­self as a per­sonal de­fender of Is­lam.

Hard-liners have held out hope that Pres­i­dent Trump, as com­man­der in chief, will counter the McMaster cul­ture.

But the White House shift from the Gorkas and Ban­nons came into even sharper fo­cus last week when Mr. Trump de­liv­ered his first prime-time TV ad­dress to the na­tion. His speech on how to win in Afghanistan against a col­lec­tion of vi­o­lent Is­lamic groups never men­tioned the word “Is­lamic,” only the generic term “ter­ror­ist.”

“Trump point­edly did not re­fer to ‘Is­lamic ter­ror­ists,’ but only to ‘ter­ror­ists,’ for the very first time,” said Robert Spencer, who runs the non­profit Ji­had Watch. “He cam­paigned on the prom­ise that he would deal hon­estly with the mo­ti­vat­ing ide­ol­ogy be­hind the ji­had threat. He has be­trayed that prom­ise.”

In an in­ter­view, an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial who asked to speak not for at­tri­bu­tion told The Wash­ing­ton Times that crit­ics such as Mr. Spencer and Mr. Gorka are miss­ing the point.

Mr. Trump an­nounced not a re­treat but rather a war plan against Is­lamic ex­trem­ists. Mr. Gorka men­tioned the miss­ing words as mo­ti­va­tion to leave.

“The fact that those who drafted and ap­proved the speech re­moved any men­tion of rad­i­cal Is­lam or rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ism proves that a cru­cial el­e­ment of your pres­i­den­tial cam­paign has been lost,” Mr. Gorka said, ac­cord­ing to The Fed­er­al­ist.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial told The Times that nei­ther Mr. McMaster nor any other of­fi­cial made a con­scious ef­fort to leave out the words “rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror.” If Mr. Trump wanted those words in the speech, then they would have been in­cluded, the of­fi­cial said.

“It was not a de­lib­er­ate omis­sion in any sense,” the of­fi­cial said. “It’s not some­thing any­one thought about.”

Mr. Ban­non wanted U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, a nexus of Is­lamic ter­ror­ism.

“I find it ex­tremely odd that the same peo­ple who are com­plain­ing he didn’t use that spe­cial phrase in his speech are also com­plain­ing about the pol­icy, which is to go and fight and kill and blow up rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ists,” the ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said. “So we’re up­set that the tal­is­manic three words are not there, and we’re up­set about the pol­icy which is to go and kill the peo­ple the tal­is­manic three words sig­nify.”

Is­lamic ter­ror­ism or ig­no­rance

Dur­ing his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Mr. Trump called for with­draw­ing U.S. mil­i­tary forces from Afghanistan. His Aug. 21 speech was a com­mit­ment to a con­tin­ued Amer­i­can pres­ence with­out a timetable for leaving.

At its core, that speech was a call for war against the Tal­iban, the Is­lamic State and al Qaeda, the ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said.

“That’s kind of the great triumvirate of rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ists,” the of­fi­cial said.

Early in Mr. McMaster’s ten­ure, the pres­i­dent over­ruled his ob­jec­tions to ut­ter­ing the phrase “Is­lamic ter­ror­ism.”

“The pres­i­dent will use it when he wants,” the of­fi­cial said. “I’ll make a pre­dic­tion here that may turn out wrong: You will hear Trump use the phrase ‘rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ism’ again. He will use it. It’s one of his phrases.”

Peter Man­soor is a McMaster ally and re­tired Army colonel who served in Iraq and teaches at Ohio State Uni­ver­sity.

Hours be­fore the Gorka de­par­ture was an­nounced, Mr. Man­soor told The Times: “With Ban­non gone, cer­tainly McMaster’s views hold more sway, but with Se­bas­tian Gorka still in the West Wing, una­nim­ity is still elu­sive.”

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks, con­ser­va­tives have adopted a view that, to de­feat Is­lamic ter­ror­ists and their ide­ol­ogy, the U.S. has to la­bel them for what they are: ex­trem­ists within the re­li­gion who rely on its schol­ars, mosques and money to jus­tify and spread death.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Is­lamic State’s founder, stud­ied at a sem­i­nary in Iraq.

Span­ish au­thor­i­ties on Aug. 19 raided the home of an imam who is sus­pected of su­per­vis­ing the Barcelona van at­tack for which the Is­lamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Mr. McMaster takes a well-doc­u­mented view di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed to Mr. Spencer’s Ji­had Watch.

“There is a cy­cle go­ing on where groups like ISIL, who use this ir­re­li­gious ide­ol­ogy, this per­verted in­ter­pre­ta­tion of re­li­gion, to jus­tify vi­o­lence. They de­pend on ig­no­rance and the abil­ity to re­cruit vul­ner­a­ble seg­ments of pop­u­la­tions to fo­ment ha­tred, and then to use that ha­tred to jus­tify vi­o­lence against in­no­cents,” Mr. McMaster said last year at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. “Ig­no­rance” is a McMaster theme. “They use that ha­tred, then, to jus­tify vi­o­lence against in­no­cent peo­ple,” he said in 2014 at the Carnegie Coun­cil for Ethics in In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs. “So to break that cy­cle, ul­ti­mately I think you have to ad­dress the ig­no­rance. I think the long-term, multi­gen­er­a­tional bat­tle­ground is a bat­tle­ground of ed­u­ca­tion.

Con­ser­va­tives say they do not be­lieve the “ig­no­rance” la­bel fits al-Baghdadi, who skill­fully used Is­lamic schol­ar­ship to jus­tify mass killings. They also say it does not fit the thou­sands of ed­u­cated Mus­lims who flocked to Syria to join the Is­lamic State and sup­port its killings.

“In­deed, al-Baghdadi has a Ph.D. in Is­lamic stud­ies,” Mr. Spencer told The Times.

‘Know the en­emy’

NBC News ac­quired Is­lamic State per­son­nel files on about 4,000 for­eign fight­ers who en­tered Syria. Far from be­ing poor and un­e­d­u­cated, the cadre in­cluded 629 busi­ness­men, 76 po­lice and mil­i­tary per­son­nel, 103 skilled white-col­lar work­ers in­clud­ing lawyers and en­gi­neers, 69 in­for­ma­tion tech­ni­cians and 28 me­dia work­ers.

“Over­all, the size of the Is­lamic State re­cruit­ing pool pro­vides for a larger num­ber of oc­cu­pa­tional [back­grounds] present and there­fore more di­verse re­sources avail­able to Is­lamic State lead­ers,” said the Com­bat­ing Ter­ror­ism Cen­ter at the U.S. Mil­i­tary Academy at West Point, New York.

In his Aug. 21 speech, Mr. Trump re­ferred to “ter­ror­ist” or “ter­ror­ists” 18 times but never la­beled them Is­lamic.

He re­ferred to “a ter­ror­ist group called ISIS” in one in­stance and in an­other “des­ig­nated for­eign ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

Mr. Spencer con­tends Mr. Trump has re­treated on other is­sues.

Still in place is an Obama-era “Coun­ter­ing Vi­o­lent Ex­trem­ism” pro­gram that awards money to non­profit groups and gen­er­ally ig­nores the ji­had threat. The study of ji­had ide­ol­ogy is still down­played in law en­force­ment and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.

The De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity can­celed CVE grants to some or­ga­ni­za­tions and has been work­ing be­hind the scenes to di­rect more at­ten­tion to Is­lamic ex­trem­ism.

Se­bas­tian Gorka

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.