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The More Things Change…

Wednesday February 25, 2015

Countdown Vol. 13, No. 4

 

You Say it Ain't So... But is it?

We have been repeatedly, thoroughly, annoyingly, and sometimes beautifully reminded that the White House’s “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) programs are not aimed at the American Muslim community. We were first assured when the CVE program was announced in 2010 by Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, and even though it was done so at a Muslim community center (why?!), we still wanted to believe it. Again we were promised that it wasn’t about us by Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco; she did it on the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing – but still we hoped the Administration understood that violent extremism is not a Muslim problem. Then Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson tried to assure us we are part of the solution. But in doing so he conflated domestic terrorist threats with international counterterrorism operations against ISIL – which are two incredibly different issues that need to be addressed separately. To be clear, we understand and agree that ISIL—even Al Shabab in Minnesota—has a specific program targeting Westerners, and are effectively using social media to do it. That threat is real and requires a response. However the current CVE program is predicated on debunked theories and unproven models.

Bush Reunion Tour Getting Under Way

In another case of “listen to what I’m saying, but don’t pay attention to what I’m doing,” Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush is in the headlines for demanding that everyone respect that he is not his father or his brother. He says, with emphasis, "I'm my own man, and my views are shaped by my own thinking and my own experiences." Yeah, ok. The former Florida governor recently announced his foreign policy team fully stocked with key players from the two Bush administrations and the Ronald Reagan administration and the architects of the two most recent wars in Iraq. We can look forward to the sage wisdom of neoconservative old hand Paul Wolfowitz once again. So much for new ideas.

Love, Not Actually

Rudy Giuliani made some atrocious remarks at a dinner he hosted last week for 2016 Presidential contender Gov. Scott Walker— who is also no stranger to questioning the President’s motives. In the much covered address, Giuliani said he does "not believe that the president loves America," and that the President wasn't brought up the way he and the others in the room were brought up (let’s not forget the room was full of educated, conservative, moneyed folk). The former New York mayor, and sole judge of 9/11 levels of patriotism, casts President Obama as a scary outsider by accusing him of coming up short in his role as chief evangelist of American exceptionalism, a role he said was more expertly carried out by  JFK, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. Giuliani’s comments clearly allude to comments the President made at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast reminding us that religiously motivated violence "is not unique to one group or one religion.” Moving from his expertise on patriotism to his musing on history, Giuliani went so far as to say that he's "not sure how wrong the Crusades are. The Crusades were kind of an equal battle between two groups of barbarians." It seems the merits of the Crusades are still up for debate nine centuries later—if it helps cast our President as a self-hating American. It seems that no matter what, President Obama has more ground to cover in terms of stating his unwavering belief in American primacy in the world. 

ISIL Lattes

Judging by the recent media fervor, the Oscar for article of the week went to Graeme Wood’s What ISIS Really Wants in the latest issue of the Atlantic. Taking ISIL at their word—or at least that of the self-identified supporters with whom he met—Wood goes to great lengths to explain why the fanatical, genocidal group "is Islamic. Very Islamic.” Wood's exposé confuses philosophical arguments with political strategy. In an effort to assert the “truthiness” of ISIL religious underpinnings, Wood’s article is nothing more than a coffee shop conversation about inner feelings and identity issues (which are 1,000% debatable). What we need from the Atlantic’s esteemed journalists is a hard-hitting policy analysis. Whether theologians and PhDs call them Islamic, not Islamic, ahistorical, or reformation-esque—ISIL is a terrorist group. The attacks continue against President Obama’s principled (and correct) refusal to acknowledge the group as a religious actor, and are now emboldened by an academic backbone provided by armchair ISIL theologians and American academics. 

Sisi's Prize-Winning Arab Army

Following the ISIL murder of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians last week in Libya, Egyptian President and former General Abdel Fattah El Sisi said "the need for a unified Arab force is growing and becoming more pressing every day." A unified Arab force may be necessary to counter ISIL's expansion and brutal violence. But Sisi? American conservatives seem to agree that Sisi might be the right man for the job. In the most astounding call to praise, Fox News contributor George Will recommended Sisi for the Nobel Peace Prize. Putting aside the potentially good idea of an Arab force to combat ISIL, we're not sure Egypt's new strongman is the right candidate for a Nobel Peace Prize. And that's us putting it mildly.

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