Give the president this much: At least he didn’t call the Chattanooga, Tenn., shooting workplace violence.
Speaking from the Oval Office just hours after the attack, President Obama did not once use the word “terrorism” in relation to the assault by Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez on military sites in Chattanooga.
Contrast his statement with that of U.S. Attorney Bill Killian at his news conference after the attack. The situation “is being treated as a terrorism investigation,” Killian said. “It is being led by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. And we will continue to investigate it as an act of terrorism until proof shows us otherwise” (emphasis added).
Why couldn’t Obama have said that? If the FBI is treating this as an act of terror, why isn’t the president of the United States?
Instead, he declared “we know that what appears to be a lone gunman carried out these attacks.” No, we did not. Obama was speaking just a few hours after the attacks. He could not possibly know that this was a lone gunman. Indeed, the FBI is still investigating whether the shooter had any associates who might pose a threat.
So if the FBI does not know the shooter was acting alone, how can Obama?
And if the president is willing to go out on a limb and say it “appears to be a lone gunman,” why then he can’t he also bring himself to say it “appears to be” an act of terror? After all, we know that the Islamic State recently posted a “kill list” with the names and addresses of U.S. service members and has called on its supporters to kill U.S. troops. Now a Muslim extremist, using an AK-47-style weapon, attacked not one, but two military sites — so there is no way that the targets were in any way random. He was going after the U.S. military. That certainly appears to be an act of terrorism.
One might forgive Obama’s caution if it was not for the fact that this is this is part of a long pattern of playing down acts of terror. This is the same president who called the 2009 Christmas Day bomber an “isolated extremist”; whose administration insisted that the Fort Hood, Tex., shooter (who killed U.S. troops while shouting “Allahu Akbar!” and was in direct contact with al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki) had committed “workplace violence”; whose administration blamed the Benghazi, Libya, attacks on an “Internet video”; who dismissed the Islamic State as the “JV team”; and who declared that the attack by Islamic radicals on a kosher supermarket in Paris was a random shooting.
The president didn’t simply play down the terrorism angle; he lumped that Chattanooga shooting in with all the other recent shootings that have gripped our headlines in recent weeks.
“We take all shootings very seriously,” Obama said.
First, tell that to the family of Kathryn Steinle. Obama had nothing to say about the innocent woman gunned down in San Francisco, allegedly by an illegal immigrant with seven felony convictions. No words of condolence or calls for policy changes. Second, this is not like those other shootings. This is not another example of “gun violence.” Whether the attack was planned by the Islamic State or inspired by the Islamic State, or the gunman was self-radicalized, it was an act of terrorism.
Obama’s refusal to utter the word “terrorism” in relation to this attack is a symptom of a much larger problem: He does not want to be leading a fight against Islamic radicalism. This is not what he signed up for when he took the reins of power from George W. Bush. He came to office to end Bush’s wars, not to win them. As a result, he consistently underestimates the threat and fails to do what is necessary to defeat the enemy.
The fact is, we cannot defend every place, at all times, against every possible technique. The only way to stop such attacks is to shut off the spigot of volunteers signing up to carry out attacks for the Islamic State at home and abroad.
Right now, terrorists like Abdulazeez are attracted to the Islamic State because it is winning. The United States has been bombing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria for more than eight months, and not only are the terrorists still standing — they are also advancing. The Islamic State appears to be, in Osama bin Laden’s famous words, the “strong horse,” while the United States appears to be the “weak horse.” And as long as the Islamic State is seen as the strong horse, it will continue to attract recruits from all over the world — to come Iraq or to carry out attacks here at home.
The way to turn off the spigot of terrorist recruits is simple: Defeat the Islamic State and take away its caliphate. Once the Islamic State is seen retreating — and its leaders are seen in orange jumpsuits instead of its victims — the pool of would-be jihadists willing to fight for them will begin to dry up.
But you can’t defeat an enemy unless you are willing to name it. The first step is for the president to stop hiding behind rhetorical walls and call this what it is: Islamic terrorism.
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