Why won't Obama call the men he keeps killing “radical Islamic terrorists”?

Why Won’t Obama Call the Men He Keeps Killing Radical Islamic Terrorists?

Why Won’t Obama Call the Men He Keeps Killing Radical Islamic Terrorists?

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May 24 2016 4:14 PM

Why Won’t Obama Call the Men He Keeps Killing Radical Islamic Terrorists?

When it comes to calling our enemies names before blowing them up, the president is soft.

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the National Convention Center in Hanoi, Vietnam May 24, 2016.
Why won’t he say the words? Above, President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the National Convention Center in Hanoi, Vietnam, May 24, 2016.

Carlos Barria/Reuters

President Obama has failed America again. He has killed another radical Islamic terrorist while refusing to call him a radical Islamic terrorist.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Obama doesn’t understand the war we’re in. As Sen. Ted Cruz, one of our nation’s bravest lawyers, has repeatedly pointed out, the president refuses to “utter the words radical Islamic terrorism.” In January, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus noted that Hillary Clinton “has refused to call radical Islamic terror by its real name.” In a speech last month, Donald Trump—a steadfast supporter of veterans who served while he was playing squash (except those who were captured) complained: “We’re in a war against radical Islam, but President Obama won’t even name the enemy! Hillary Clinton also refuses to say the words radical Islam, even as she pushes for a massive increase in refugees.”

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A detailed Slate investigation finds that these Republicans are correct. Obama has stubbornly distinguished refugees from enemy combatants. And in more than seven years of killing radical Islamic terrorists, he has consistently refused to call them radical Islamic terrorists.

Under Obama, according to the New America Foundation, the United States government has conducted 355 drone strikes in Pakistan. That’s more than seven times as many as were conducted under George W. Bush. Obama has authorized more than 140 strikes in Yemen, a country Bush hardly touched, and another 17 strikes in Somalia. We’ve launched more than 12,000 airstrikes against ISIS. The total number of enemy fighters killed on Obama’s watch, depending on how you count them, is probably around 30,000.

Some Republicans say Obama has been too quick on the trigger. Others say he’s been too cautious. But they agree on one thing: When it comes to calling our enemies names before blowing them up with Hellfire missiles, he’s soft.

In March, the Pentagon announced that U.S. forces had killed the ISIS ministers of war and finance. Obama, in remarks on these killings, failed to denounce ISIS as Islamic. In April, speaking at the CIA, he delivered a longer progress report:

Coalition forces captured Abu Dawud, a leader of [the ISIS] chemical weapons program, giving us critical information that’s allowed us to unleash more strikes against those sites. We have removed Abu Sarah, an ISIL financier in Iraq; Haji Iman, their finance chief … In Syria, we targeted a senior leader of al-Nusra, Abu Firas al-Suri.  In another strike in Syria, we took out five other al-Qaida operatives. In Yemen, our recent strike against a training camp used by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula took out dozens of terrorist fighters. In Somalia, we took out a senior leader of al-Shabaab …
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Obama referred to “ISIL’s hateful ideology” but again refused to call it Islamic. Instead, he resorted to nonjudgmental liberal terms such as depraved, horrific, vile, barbarism, and revulsion.

This week, he’s at it again. On Monday, the White House confirmed that a drone strike over the weekend killed Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the leader of the Afghan Taliban. Obama, in a written statement and a briefing with reporters, couldn’t even bring himself to call Mansour a mullah. Instead, our politically correct president called the incinerated terrorist leader Mr. Mansour.

Obama has been sticking his head in this same desert sand since the day he killed Osama bin Laden. “The United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam,” the president said at the time. “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader.” 

How can you fight radical Islamic terrorism when you refuse to call it by its name?

Obama’s cowardice blinds him to the importance of destruction for destruction’s sake. He thinks military force is just one tool in a broader strategy of diplomacy. In his March statement on the killings of ISIS leaders, he didn’t declare victory. Nor did he pledge to “carpet bomb” or “bomb the shit out of” enemy-controlled territory. Instead, he emphasized the “global coalition” pursuing “an international effort to bring the Syrian civil war to an end.”

In his speech to the CIA in April, Obama focused not on the ISIS commanders he had killed but on helping Iraq “to stabilize liberated areas and promote governance and development that is inclusive of all Iraqi communities so that ISIL cannot return.” And this week, Obama said he had targeted Mansour because the Taliban leader was blocking “efforts by the Afghan government to seriously engage in peace talks.” Obama urged other Taliban commanders to “seize the opportunity” created by Mansour’s death, by “joining the Afghan government in a reconciliation process.”

This can’t go on. All these killings of enemy commanders—Taliban, ISIS, al-Qaida, al-Shabab—must have some larger meaning. The president has to understand that this isn’t just a war against terrorism or “violent extremism.” It’s a war against radical Islam. If Obama won’t learn that—if he won’t see what the rest of us can see, that the leaders who keep dying in these airstrikes are radical Muslim terrorists—how can he wage the war?