‘Americans Are Sometimes Collateral Damage’ – Jeffrey Goldberg’s shocking exposé of Obama’s views on Islamic terror.
Barack Obama’s Boswell, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, is out with a new exposé cleverly disguised as an apologia. Peel away Goldberg’s reassurances of Obama’s competence, and the ritual denunciations of Donald Trump, and you uncover a picture of a president who not only is dishonest but displays a shocking indifference to American lives.
The piece, published yesterday, is titled “What Obama Actually Thinks About Radical Islam.” Subtitle: “The president does not suffer illusions about the pathologies afflicting the broader Muslim world.” Translation: When Obama insists on denying that Islamic terrorism has anything to do with Islam, it is not because he is naive or burdened by some cognitive disorder. Rather, he is lying in a conscious, calculated way.
Everything is about Donald Trump these days, and Goldberg’s piece, despite being about Obama, is no exception. He sets it up as a response to something Trump said Monday, which the Washington Post quotes at length:
“Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind,” Trump said in a lengthy interview on Fox News early Monday morning. “And the something else in mind—you know, people can’t believe it. People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.”
“Something else in mind”? “Something going on”? What does that mean? Trump’s statement was pure innuendo, a verbal Rorschach test. We saw an inkblot. Here’s what Goldberg saw: “[Trump] insinuated that Obama is sympathetic to the Islamic State terror group.” Goldberg regards that hypothesis as absurd on its face, and we agree.
After another round of anti-Trump virtue signaling (“a neurotic belief in the president’s malevolent otherness . . . Trump’s critique of Obama’s handling of terrorism is, among other things, analysis-free and comprehensively unserious”), Goldberg gets around to acknowledging that “there are non-hysterical critiques to be made” of the president’s approach.
He makes an argumentum ad temperantiam on the president’s behalf, noting that even as critics on the right fault him for misrepresenting the threat, critics on the left object to his use of drone strikes against faraway terrorists. We’ll pass over the latter point except to say we’re with Obama.
But what is going on with the refusal to acknowledge that Islamic terrorism is Islamic? What does Obama have in mind? Goldberg dispels with [sic] the fiction that he doesn’t know what he’s doing:
Obama, in my reading, does not—contra his right-leaning critics—suffer illusions about the pathologies afflicting the broader Muslim world. If anything, his pessimism on matters related to the dysfunctions of Muslim states, and to the inability of the umma—the worldwide community of Muslims—to contain and ultimately neutralize the extremist elements in its midst, has, at times, an almost paralyzing effect on him. . . .
Again and again in our conversations, Obama spoke about the Arab and Muslim worlds in ways that ran counter—dramatically counter—to the caricature of his views as advanced by critics. At one point, he suggested, to my surprise (I’m not immune to the power of these caricatures) that far too many Arab Muslims, in particular, have given themselves over to hatred and violence. . . .
“There is . . . the need for Islam as a whole to challenge that interpretation of Islam, to isolate it, and to undergo a vigorous discussion within their community about how Islam works as part of a peaceful, modern society,” Obama told me.
He immediately pivoted from this statement, though, by addressing Donald Trump—not by name, but his target was obvious. “I do not persuade peaceful, tolerant Muslims to engage in that debate,” he said, “if I’m not sensitive to their concern that they are being tagged with a broad brush.”
So it all comes down to politically correct politesse. The president knows very well that Islamic terrorism is an Islamic problem, but he denies it when addressing the American people (excepting Goldberg, and to some extent excepting his very good February speechat a Baltimore mosque) because “peaceful, tolerant Muslims” might find it off-putting.
That’s not an unreasonable concern. But it does not speak well of the president’s oft-vaunted rhetorical and analytical abilities that he is evidently unable to come up with any solution to this public-communication problem other than denying the obvious truth. Further, the logic of avoiding the “broad brush” is obviously faulty: By insisting categorically that Islam and Muslims are peaceful, Obama is painting them with a broad brush.
Moreover, whatever the meliorative benefits of Obama’s rhetoric, it comes at a cost: Official lies are corrosive to public trust in government. Josh Earnest, Obama’s press secretary, said yesterday: “The president is quite proud, as he should be, of his record of making the country safer.” Do you believe it?
The Associated Press reports that John Brennan, the CIA director, said in prepared congressional testimony: “Despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach.” That’s believable in large part because it contradicts the official White House line.
Here, though, is the shocking part of Goldberg’s piece:
The fundamental difference between Obama and Trump on issues related to Islamist extremism (apart from the obvious, such as that, unlike Trump, Obama a) has killed Islamist terrorists; b) regularly studies the problem and allows himself to be briefed by serious people about the problem; and c) is not racist or temperamentally unsuitable for national leadership) is that Trump apparently believes that two civilizations are in conflict. Obama believes that the clash is taking place within a single civilization, and that Americans are sometimes collateral damage in this fight between Muslim modernizers and Muslim fundamentalists.
That tedious Trump-bewailing parenthetical ensures that many readers’ eyes glaze over before they reach the revelation that President Obama views murdered Americans as “collateral damage in this fight between Muslim modernizers and Muslim fundamentalists.” The words are Goldberg’s, but he is a solid journalist, and he is, as we said, Obama’s Boswell, intimately familiar with the president’s foreign-policy thinking.
The idea that American victims of terrorism are “collateral damage” is a misuse of the term. “Collateral damage” is a term of art in warfare; it refers to deaths, injuries or other damage inflicted on an unintended target. When the U.S. mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999, that was collateral damage.
In order for the victims of the Orlando attack to have been “collateral damage,” the scenario would have to be something like this: A soldier of the Muslim Fundamentalist Army plans an attack on the Muslim Modernizers Army’s fuel depot, which for some reason is in Central Florida. He gets the address wrong and goes to the gay nightclub across the street instead, where he shoots everyone in sight before realizing his mistake.
That is not even close to what happened. There is no Muslim Modernizers Army, and across the street from the nightclub is a Dunkin’ Donuts, not a military fuel depot. The Orlando victims weren’t “collateral damage,” they were the intended target.
Indeed, the term “collateral damage” is nonsense in the context of terrorism. By definition, terrorists target civilians, and practitioners of legitimate warfare try to avoid hitting them even inadvertently. Both Obama and Goldberg know that: Earlier this year, Goldberg quoted Brennan as saying that before authorizing a drone strike, “the president requires near-certainty of no collateral damage.”
Goldberg, who opened by accusing Trump of insinuating that Obama is sympathetic to ISIS, closes by making a similar, if less subtle, suggestion about Trump:
His main sin is to refuse to listen to experts on counterterrorism, including experts in the U.S. military and intelligence community, who argue that he is helping ISIS by demonizing Muslims. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the so-called caliph of Islamic State, argues that there is no place in the West for a devout Muslim. Donald Trump often gives the impression that he shares this view, and that he is advancing the cause of ISIS, by endorsing its premise that the struggle in which it is engaged is, in fact, civilizational.
It is difficult to see how an attack on a nightclub in Florida (or local government employees in San Bernardino, Calif., or the Boston Marathon, or the World Trade Center, or any number of non-Islamic targets outside the U.S.) is part of a war within Islam as opposed to a war that a part of Islam is waging against Western civilization.
But even if we’re wrong about that and Obama is right, shouldn’t the top priority of the U.S. president be to prevent the Muslim civil war from being waged on American soil?