Weekly Standard

The President's Confusion

Former Senior Fellow
US President Barack Obama makes a statement on the mass shooting at an Orlando, Florida nightclub in the White House Briefing Room in Washington, DC on June 12, 2016. (YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama makes a statement on the mass shooting at an Orlando, Florida nightclub in the White House Briefing Room in Washington, DC on June 12, 2016. (YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)

Barack Obama is confused. After 49 people were murdered last week in a gay nightclub in Orlando, in the most deadly Islamist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, the president turned his wrath on domestic opponents.

Many Republicans argue that Obama should identify the ideology that has motivated so many terrorists to kill Americans. That list would include, among others, Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers, Nidal Hasan, the Tsarnaev brothers, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, and now Omar Mateen, whom a former colleague described as driven by hatred, especially of African Americans, Jews, women, and homosexuals.

The list of those who have turned their arms against Americans is a roster of radical losers, troubled and damaged by a host of factors that are bundled together with a barbaric interpretation of Islam that brooks no difference. Christians, Jews, gays and lesbians, even Muslims who do not observe their precise method of worship are ripe for the slaughter. “Radical Islam" is as good a name for it as any. Even Hillary Clinton now says she agrees.

But Obama won't have it. "There's no magic to the phrase 'radical Islam,'" Obama snapped. "It's a political talking point. It's not a strategy."

It's true, certainly, that the phrase is not an incantation that will cast a spell to keep Americans safe from those who would butcher them. And it's also true, as Obama says, that a phrase is not a strategy. However, strategy requires clarity, and the president is confused.

Obama said that using the label would displease Muslim allies. That's a strange concern given that they, too—from Saudi Arabia and Jordan, to Egypt and Turkey—are targeted by Islamist terror, and all are able to distinguish between moderates and extremists. Moreover, Obama had no compunction about alienating America's Muslim allies when he called them "free riders" in a magazine interview two months ago.

We can't fall into the trap of painting all of Islam with a broad brush, said Obama. But no one is condemning an entire civilization for the actions of a few. Except of course for the president, who in the same interview said that unlike productive and innovative Asian, African, and Latin American societies, all Arab youth care about is how to kill Americans.

"If there's anyone out there who thinks we're confused about who our enemies are," said Obama, "that would come as a surprise to the thousands of terrorists who we've taken off the battlefield."

There are indeed lots of people who believe that the White House is confused about America's enemies. And it's not a coincidence that the confusion is a result of the White House's obfuscation regarding the word "radical."

The administration has certainly killed lots of terrorists in places from Yemen to Afghanistan. But the White House also struck a nuclear arms deal with a state sponsor of terror, Iran, that has killed lots of Americans. How did that happen?

As Obama aide Ben Rhodes explained a few weeks ago in a New York Times Magazine profile, the administration fudged the distinction between moderates and radicals. Sure, the White House had been negotiating while the regime was under the management of radicals. But it was the election of the so-called moderate president Hassan Rouhani that gave the administration political cover to take the negotiations public.

Former CIA director and defense secretary Leon Panetta explained to the Times that the Iranian regime has always been under the control of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani—i.e., not moderates, but radicals. But from Obama's perspective, it didn't matter.

"The purpose of the agreement is not to bet on the notion that Iran will moderate," Obama said. "The purpose of the agreement is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon throughout the duration of the agreement."

Yes, that's right. The president of the United States made a deal that recognized the right of radicals to enrich uranium, a deal that frees up billions of dollars for the murderers of Americans, a deal that, once expired, nearly guarantees a nuclear weapon for a regime staffed by thousands of Omar Mateens.

Americans think the president is confused because he is.