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Not Explaining the Why of Terrorism

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Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan (second from right) in the Situation Room as President Obama and his national security team monitored the raid against Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011. (White House photo)

John Brennan, President Obama's chief adviser on counter-terrorism, has again put on public display two unfortunate facts: (1) that the White House has no clue as to how to counter terrorism; and (2) (in Brennan's words) "the unfortunate fact that to save many innocent lives we are sometimes obliged to take lives."

In a speech on April 30, Brennan did share one profound insight: "Countries typically don't want foreign soldiers in their cities and towns." His answer to that? "The precision of targeted [drone] strikes." Does he really mean to suggest that local populations are more accepting of unmanned drones buzzing overhead and firing missiles on the push of a button by a "pilot" halfway around the world?

Beneath Brennan's Orwellian rhetoric lies the reality that he remains unable (or unwilling) to deal with, the $64 question former White House correspondent Helen Thomas asked him repeatedly on Jan. 8, 2010, about why terrorists do the things they do:

Brennan: "Al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland."

Thomas: "But you haven't explained why."

Is it possible he still has no clue? To demonstrate how little progress Brennan has made in the way of understanding the challenge of "terrorism," let's look back at my commentary in early 2010 about Brennan's vacuous non-answers to Helen Thomas. At the time, I wrote:

"Thank God for Helen Thomas, the only person to show any courage at the White House press briefing after President Barack Obama gave a flaccid account of the intelligence screw-up that almost downed an airliner on Christmas Day 2009.

"After Obama briefly addressed L'Affaire Abdulmutallab and wrote 'must do better' on the report cards of the national security schoolboys responsible for the near catastrophe, the President turned the stage over to counter-terrorism guru John Brennan and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

"It took 89-year old veteran correspondent Helen Thomas (now 91) to break through the vapid remarks about rechanneling 'intelligence streams,' fixing 'no-fly' lists, deploying 'behavior detection officers,' and buying more body-imaging scanners.

"Thomas recognized the John & Janet filibuster for what it was, as her catatonic press colleagues took their customary dictation and asked their predictable questions. Instead, Thomas posed an adult query that spotlighted the futility of government plans to counter terrorism with more high-tech gizmos and more intrusions on the liberties and privacy of the traveling public.

"She asked why Abdulmutallab did what he did. Thomas: 'And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.'

"Brennan: 'Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. ... They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he's (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.'

"Thomas: 'And you're saying it's because of religion?'

"Brennan: 'I'm saying it's because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.'

"Thomas: 'Why?'

"Brennan: 'I think this is a -- long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.'

"Thomas: 'But you haven't explained why.'"

Neither did President Obama, nor anyone else in the U.S. political/media hierarchy. All the American public gets is the boilerplate about how al Qaeda evildoers are perverting a religion and exploiting impressionable young men. There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they are inclined to resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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You've nudged up against the underlying truth, but... by Philip Zack on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 2:48:47 PM
Thank you for pointing out the use of this old tac... by for_hibakusha on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 5:39:10 PM
In my comment below I mentioned that part of the U... by E. J. N. on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 9:45:54 PM
2001 TWIN TOWERS BOMBING(World Trade Center) - Ob... by obamais osamais on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 9:16:15 PM
It's easy to see why terrorism began. One of the f... by E. J. N. on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 9:31:48 PM
As always, "former" CIA officer McGovern, now post... by Michael David Morrissey on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 4:39:51 AM
You can believe that fire can melt steel.... by larry payne on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 8:34:58 AM
I think the bible can be taken as poetry. Not the ... by Michael David Morrissey on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 12:44:14 PM