The White House’s official policy of banning the word “Islam” in describing America’s terrorist enemies is in direct conflict with the U.S. military’s war-fighting doctrine now guiding commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan.
John O. Brennan, President Obama’s chief national security adviser for counterterrorism, delivered a major policy address on defining the enemy. He laid out the White House policy of detaching any reference to Islam when referring to terrorists, be it al Qaeda, the Taliban or any other group.
But Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the man tapped by Mr. Obama as the new top commander in Afghanistan, led the production of an extensive counterinsurgency manual in December 2006 that does, in fact, tell commanders of a link between Islam and extremists.
The Petraeus doctrine refers to “Islamic insurgents,” “Islamic extremists” and “Islamic subversives.” It details ties between Muslim support groups and terrorists. His co-author was Gen. James F. Amos, whom Mr. Obama has picked as the next Marine Corps commandant and Joint Chiefs of Staff member.
Mr. Brennan on May 26 told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that “describing our enemy in religious terms would lend credence to the lie propagated by al Qaeda and its affiliates to justify terrorism, that the United States is somehow at war against Islam. The reality, of course, is that we have never been and will never be at war with Islam. After all, Islam, like so many faiths, is part of America.”
In a speech that also severed the Obama administration from President George W. Bush’s “war on terror,” Mr. Brennan also said: “The president’s strategy is absolutely clear about the threat we face. Our enemy is not terrorism because terrorism is but a tactic. Our enemy is not terror because terror is a state of mind and, as Americans, we refuse to live in fear. Nor do we describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists because jihad is holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam meaning to purify oneself of one’s community.”
Asked about the discrepancy between the White House policy and the military’s counterinsurgency doctrine, Michael Hammer, Mr. Brennan’s spokesman, said “We don’t have anything to add to John’s speech.”
Larry Korb, a military analyst at the Center for American Progress, said Mr. Brennan is correct to avoid linking Islam to terrorism.
“Once you attach a religious thing, you’re basically saying somehow or other this is caused by the religion,” Mr. Korb said. “Most Muslims are not that way.”
He added, “If you put that term [Islamic terrorist] on there, it causes you more problems in the long run. You don’t want to see this as a war on quote unquote the Muslim world. If I took a look at all the people, for example, who killed abortion doctors and I said they’re Christian terrorists, or something like that, and they are all who have done that. That is their interpretation of the Bible. But most people are not. Some of these people will quote the Bible and say I had to go after this doctor because he’s killing innocents.”
Asked how to define the enemy, Mr. Korb answered, “Al Qaeda. That’s what we went in there for.”
Mr. Brennan said that describing the enemy as Islamists “would actually be counterproductive. It would play into the false perception that they are religious leaders defending a holy cause, when in fact they are nothing more than murderers, including the murder of thousands upon thousands of Muslims.”
Mr. Obama made an outreach to Muslim countries one of his early priorities as president. He has praised Islam and its contributions to American life. His new NASA director recently said one of his agency’s “foremost” goals is reaching out to Muslims.
The Petraeus counterinsurgency manual takes the position that, to understand the enemy, commanders must recognize terrorist links to Islam — its leaders in some cases, its fundraising and its infrastructure. Forces must fight “Islamic extremists,” it says, differently from the Viet Cong or followers of Saddam Hussein.
“Islamic extremists use perceived threats to their religion by outsiders to mobilize support for their insurgency and justify terrorist tactics,” the manual states.