The New Republic: Defining "Isolated Extremism"

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Umar Farouk Abdulmutalleb i i

This Dec. 2009 photo released by the U.S. Marshall's Service on Monday Dec. 28, 2009 shows Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in Milan, Mich. Abdulmutallab, 23, has been charged in federal court with trying to detonate an explosive device on a Dec. 25 flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. AP/U.S. Marshall's Service hide caption

itoggle caption AP/U.S. Marshall's Service
Umar Farouk Abdulmutalleb

This Dec. 2009 photo released by the U.S. Marshall's Service on Monday Dec. 28, 2009 shows Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in Milan, Mich. Abdulmutallab, 23, has been charged in federal court with trying to detonate an explosive device on a Dec. 25 flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

AP/U.S. Marshall's Service

Joe Klein, who spent a lot of print trying more or less to exonerate Dr. Major Nidal Malik Hasan by dint of his being a nutcase, has been curiously silent about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. In fact, there's been a certain shyness among the whole left-wing blogosphere (and among Democrats, generally) about the skivvies terrorist. There is no place for these journalists to hide and no logic, however dubious, with which they can transfer the guilt to us. And, believe me, if they can't invent this, there is nothing to invent — nothing.

The fact is that the only personage of note to call Abdulmutallab an "isolated extremist," which is the closest thing to a solitary crank, was the president himself. And he said it when he already knew that American intelligence, in several of its iterations, had long ago been informed that the would-be bomber had been connected to Al Qaeda in Yemen.

Now, Yemen is a special problem for Obama. We are now fighting (after Iraq and Afghanistan) on an unacknowledged but probably appropriate third front in Yemen. It is there that the president has repatriated several "reformed" Guantanamo prisoners. Based on the experiential records, there is little chance that many such men will stay free of the intoxicating elixirs of jihad, the common jihad of murder.

But Yemen is also the foundation of the "close Guantanamo" program, which is way off schedule already, having passed the White House deadline, and has been dealt a body blow by recent events. Either Guantanamo stays or its prisoners go to a federal penitentiary, in Illinois or elsewhere. Obama has this tic about the jailhouse at the tip-end of Cuba. And Congress might force him to lump it. Yet, it is the Congress — primarily Republicans, but Democrats as well — that is being demagogic. There will be no breakouts from stateside prisons by these oh-so-pious convicts.

Moreover, the Republicans and the right-wing opinion centers are, of course, riveted on the president's instinctive detoxification of what was intended as a faithful act of Islam. They are milking it for what it's worth. But the Democrats and the vast liberal opinion industry are simply ignoring what is, frankly, an historically naïve and dangerous bewitchment. They do this at their peril.

I believe that it is Obama's perception of Abdulmutallab as an "isolated extremist" that is the real source of the intelligence calamity so dramatically revealed in this case. It is true, of course, that this dispiriting intelligence failure goes back to the Clinton and Bush years, even though Bush did almost uniquely grasp the very essence of the holy Muslim terror. But what the president has done is to wrap the Islamic orbit in a sweetly scented cashmere afghan (if you'll permit this ironic choice of words) that disguises the reality of the real Islam of this world. Obama has done this grandly several times, most especially with his addresses in Istanbul and Cairo, but also in his more quotidian remarks. The failure of the CIA and the other alphabet agencies to connect the dots is a methodological failure. The president's failure to grasp the realities is an ideological and psychological failure. In a top-down structure, the top always has the advantage.

It is a thorny matter to design grand tactics for both the world as it is and the world as Obama imagines it. Yes, the president's representatives and, to some extent, he himself are now talking factual essentials. Already during the campaign, he liquidated the war on terrorism. It was not apt. It was diversionary. And, oh, what a relief this was to his ecstatic crowds.

But for what are we mobilizing in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and apparently now also in Yemen, other than war against the terrorists of Islam? In Pakistan, in a little village called Shah Hassan Khel, the Taliban struck a volleyball game — an innocent volleyball game, for God's sake — played and attended by altogether harmless and guiltless men and boys. Deutsche Presse Agentur says that no fewer than 95 dead were left on the ground.

The president's cool cannot change that. All that he can do, if that is what he wants, is to divert America's attention from a massacre culture. But it is not likely to work. The economic imbroglio may allow him to divert us a little longer from this historic crossroads. There is also just a chance that he'll realize he was wrong and admit it to the great public. I'm not sure I'd bet on that. In any case, the American people see the facts and they will be fooled no longer. It's ironic that a terrorist assault that had no victims has clarified the truth of our circumstances.

P.S. A few minutes after I posted this Spine, news came over the Web of an Al-Qaeda-related and also-failed attempt by a Muslim terrorist to commit murder. The target was the Danish cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, who drew a bomb in Mohammed's turban four years ago. The head of the Danish intelligence service said the attacker, who was caught red-handed in Westergaard's home, was attached to Al-Shabaab, a Somali branch of Muslim Murder Inc., and to other Al Qaeda principals in eastern Africa.

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