Senior counterterrorism advisor John Brennan visited the Washington Times Editorial Board on June 24, as he took issue with our writers on our June 11 editorial titled Terrorists are the real victims? The piece describes how the Obama administration, particularly John Brennan himself, believe:
“United States cannot be at war with terrorism because terrorism is only a ‘tactic.’”
The editorial is critical of a speech a Mr. Brennan delivered in May on why individuals turn to terrorism. Mr. Obama’s counterterrorism advisor disapprovingly pointed to the particular piece below, in the editorial, where we discuss his ideas relating to why individuals turn to terrorist activities:
Mr. Brennan also asserted that “violent extremists” are victims of “political, economic and social forces.” This dense statement implies that counterterrorism should focus not on terrorists themselves but the underlying causes that purportedly “victimized” them. It’s similar to the discredited argument that the way to fight urban crime is through big-government social programs rather than putting more police on the beat. Making terrorists into victims also legitimates their grievances, which is a strange way to fight them.
Interestingly, Mr. Brennan agrees that if the United States helps improve such factors like education, health, and other basic services, there would be less terrorists. Not only does this show the Obama administration’s top counterterrorism official not view acts of terror as acts of war but the administration is also treating international terrorism like local crime that can be solved through feel-good but expensive federal initiatives similar to Bill Clinton’ midnight basketball program that was part of the 1994 anti-crime bill.
“I think John Brennan should be fired. I think John Brennan does not do a good job. He’s arrogant and egotistical,” said Rep. Peter King, New York Republican and member of the House Intelligence Committee. During an interview with me, Mr. King explained his criticisms of President Obama’s counterterrorism advisor.
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“Here’s the problem…and this is from people from the intelligence community too. John Brennan is running intelligence policy from the White House. He is getting in the weeds in different intelligence organizations that are out there. He’s doing this from the White House. Obviously, he is not subject to Congressional scrutiny, because he’s on the White House staff, and it’s a very dangerous situation, where you have a homeland security advisor who is beyond the reach of Congress actually making, running, and carrying on intelligence policy. It’s wrong. I’m not aware of it happening before.”
At our offices on New York Avenue in Washington, Mr. Brennan had a contentious disagreement with Washington Times deputy editorial page editor David Mastio over Mr. Brennan’s belief that social, political, and economic factors have more to do with creating terrorists than anything else.
TWT: We have a copy of your speech here from whitehouse.gov, which I assume is the correct speech and the way I read this, and I think the plain English reading is : ‘This includes addressing the political, economic and social forces that can make some people fall victim to the cancer of violent extremism.’
BRENNAN: Right…victim to the cancer of violent extremism. Victim to that cancer as opposed to
TWT: But, you’re not talking about dead bodies here. You’re talking about the people who fall under the sway of the terrorist ideology and…
TWT: …and commit acts of terror.
BRENNAN: Absolutely…as you say fall under the sway of, and what you say in your editorial is that ‘the terrorists are victims of political, economic, and social forces.’ That is not what I said.
TWT: That’s exactly what you said.
BRENNAN:That is not exactly what I said.
TWT: Immediately afterwards, you start talking about how you’re going to address this, and you say that ‘we need to show that legitimate grievances can be resolved, that we need to have good governance, that we need to reduce corruption, we need to renew partnerships and improve education, health, and basic services.
BRENNAN: Right, but don’t you think those are worth while endeavors? And don’t you think that some factors contribute to the spawning of terrorists and extremist forces?
TWT: You’re saying that the people who are terrorists are victims of these things.
BRENNAN: I didn’t say that. Read what I said literally
TWT: We did read what you said.
BRENNAN: And you still don’t get it…do you?
TWT: No. Particularly since, if my knowledge of history is anything, that the terrorists who strike us over and over again are not people who are victims of these things. They are people who have the opportunity to become westerners. They are people who have the opportunity to…
BRENNAN: Opportunity to become westerners?!?! Boy if that is not an arrogant attitude. Opportunities to become westerners…people who strike us wherever they’re from?
TWT: People who are so oppressed, that they have college educations at western schools. People who are so oppressed that people who have middle class lifestyles even in that places that they come from that are poor.
BRENNAN: Right. They are ideologically driven by a perverse and distorted version of Islam. Absolutely.
TWT: That has nothing to do with their social situation. Their social situation is just fine.
BRENNAN: So you don’t think that people who become ideologically driven are influenced at all by the political, social, and economic forces of their environment? You’re saying that they do this irrespective of their environment…of those social, political, and economic forces that are out there?
TWT: You’re not accurately describing their environment.