- - Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Barack Obama doesn’t like the word “terror” and its derivatives. Hence we discuss “overseas contingency operations” instead of the “war on terror,” and we are reluctant to call the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, what it was: a terrorist act. Most observers attribute the Obama administration’s post-Benghazi reticence to cynical political calculation. This is too simple. Mr. Obama has shunned the “T-word” since Day One of his presidency.

Mr. Obama, born in 1961 — two years before Kenya’s independence from Britain — came of age in the 1970s and ‘80s, the last years of brutal insurgencies in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), Angola and elsewhere. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe’s insurgents were called “terrorists,” or simply “terrs,” by the generally white Rhodesians, while Mr. Mugabe’s sympathizers saw them as “freedom fighters.” (That’s why people say, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”)

“Terrorist” was seen as a pejorative by those whose sympathy rested with the insurgents. Mr. Obama’s parents and mentors, especially Frank Marshall Davis, surely were in this camp. Likely his left-leaning grandfather, who was friendly with Davis, was as well. As a child and young teen, did Mr. Obama hear these adults complaining of the term “terrorist” being used to describe a movement they sympathized with? Was he taught that this was a colonial slander? Did this influence his linguistic preferences?

Admittedly, the word terror and its derivatives can be overused. Terrorism is a tactic, not a political movement, and a terrorist can be of any ethnic description. One could argue, correctly, that the tactics used in Benghazi were small unit infantry (mortars, rocket launchers) or guerrilla warfare rather than terrorism like the Sept. 11 attacks or a suicide vest attack. Or we could talk about asymmetric warfare.

But for convenience’s sake, we call all of this deadly violence “terrorism” in everyday usage. This conveys a sense of the deadliness of these incidents. Certainly such tactics are not what any sane person would consider political protest, as the Obama administration seems to be arguing in the case of the recent attacks in Libya, Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere across the Middle East. To call these deadly acts of violence mere political protest is absurd.

The war we are engaged in is against radical Islamists, but we cannot say this because it comes too close to sounding like a crusade against Islam. So the term “war on terror” was chosen instead. If Obama dislikes the “T-word” so much, perhaps he should call this war what it is: a deadly protracted military struggle against radical Islam. But he should not write off well-organized military actions as political protest against some stupid Internet video.

Chuck Fremont is a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier.

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